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What Are You Waiting For?

waiting

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

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

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

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

First a story

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

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

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

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

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

The flip side

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

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

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

Let’s make it personal

Waiting

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

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

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

Fear

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

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

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

Confidence

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

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

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

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

Procrastination

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

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

Perfect is the enemy of good. ~Voltaire

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

Question: What are you waiting for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAIT!!!!!!!!!

The Right Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of Derailers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leaders Getting It Right

team manager talking to team

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

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

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

Knowing the Fundamentals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Lights Your Fire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few powerful ideas you might try.

Show Them Why the Outcome Matters.

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

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

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

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

Know Your People

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

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

Learning is Still Important

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

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

There’s a Fine Line Between Success and Significance

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

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

Ownership, Not Just Accountability

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

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

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

Respect, Not Just Recognition

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

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

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

Bold Leader Moves in the Current Market

bold leadership

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

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

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

Ezra’s Findings

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

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

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

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

1. Listen to them

2. Encourage open communication

3. Work in ways that suit THEIR life

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

5. Prioritize their wellbeing

Task #1, Listen to Them

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

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

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

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

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

Task #2, Encourage Open Communication

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

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

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

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

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

Task #3, Work in Ways That Suit THEIR Life

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

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

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

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

Task #4, Invest in L&D

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

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

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

Task #5 Prioritize Their Wellbeing

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

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

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

The Last Question

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

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

Leaders: Setting a New Standard

best boss

Be a Better Boss

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

As for me, I have chosen a noble task.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature or Nurture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Human Resources

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

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

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

Today’s Situation

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

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

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

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

Should You Be Surprised?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communication is King

Also, don’t rehearse tragedies.

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

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

Finally, learn how to read the room.

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

The New Year

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

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

How to Be a Better Communicator

Communication is the key when it comes to anything that involves collaboration. Since humans are a social species, communication is involved in nearly everything you do.

Some people are born with the natural ability to communicate well, while others may struggle with it. No matter what category you fall into, it’s likely that you can benefit from paying attention to improving your communication skills.

Why Better Communication Helps You

Did you know that most businesses consider your communication skills to be the most important characteristic about you? This means that you could have top-notch knowledge and job skills but still fail to land a job if you’re lacking in the communication department.

Communication is certainly not only important when it comes to your work life, but it’s also vital in having a successful home life as well. Couples and family members that are good communicators lead happier lives overall.

Proper communication will prevent misunderstandings and save you time so you won’t have to go back and explain yourself again and again. You know you’ve gained good communication skills when you can communicate your thoughts effectively with as few words as necessary!

How To Improve Communication With Others

Communication is a two way street. This means that you could have excellent skills, but if the recipient is lacking, then you may not be understood. This is why it’s important not only to develop our speaking skills, but our listening skills, too.

Since you can’t affect the skill level of others, the only thing you can do is strengthen your own communication skills. Besides, when you’re an excellent communicator, more people will understand you, everything around you will run more efficiently, and you’ll more often get what you want!

Try these strategies to improve your communication skills:

Avoid arguing. If you run into a snag in a conversation and it starts to morph into an argument, step back and realize what’s going on. It’s easy to get swept up into the blame game, but ultimately it’s not important who’s at fault. What’s important is the mutual understanding of the issue at hand and a desire for a solution that benefits everyone.

Don’t be afraid to compromise. You may be tempted to try and “win” but that’s not the best way to reach a mutual agreement. You may be happier with getting your way, but it may come at the expense of the other person, which can cause further issues. Find a good compromise that you both can willingly accept.

Work on listening. Your listening skills are even more important than your speaking skills. After all, how will you know what you should say – and when – if you haven’t effectively listened? Listen more than you speak and you’ll gain a profound wisdom of others, too!

Keep your focus. Communication will get overly complicated if you worry about too many issues at once. Avoid bringing up the past or other issues and, instead, focus on the one topic at hand.

Stay calm and take responsibility. Adopt a calm and cool manner of handling situations. When things remain low key, it’s easier to communicate and get your point across. This also means that you need to take responsibility for what you say. Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes when you’re wrong.

Becoming a better communicator doesn’t happen overnight. But if you keep practicing and tweaking your skills, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Leading From the Front … or Not

Being an effective leader requires a keen awareness of the situation. One size never fits all. Among the many choices leaders have to make, a very pivotal one involves what leadership position to take. Therefore, today we explore the question of whether to lead from the front or lead from the rear.

To set our footing, let me define the two options.

Leading from the Front

This brand of leadership is the kind we see often depicted in movies. Mel Gibson, in The Patriot, grabs the flag and rallies the troops when there is a break in the front lines. He’s right up there, standing tall, waving the flag, yelling “follow me!!!”

The Patriot – Mel Gibson

In business, the follow-me style leadership is usually found in organizatinal cultures where there is a large dose of command and control thinking. Employees are programmed to wait for direction. There is very little empowerment. Seldom does anyone ‘step out’ to take a chance.

Often these cultures are found in large scale engineering or manufacturing environments. On one hand it makes sense. You wouldn’t want employees being creative at the controls of a refining process. Things need to be prescriptive for everything to operate smoothly and efficiently, not to mention safely. Plans and specs need to be followed or severe consequences may happen.

Leading from the Rear

This style of leadership is not really opposite in thinking, just different. Leading from the rear represents the situation where the workteam is fully capable, empowered, and somewhat autonomous in how things need to happen.

One exmaple might be a large regional sales force. Sales reps need to be out in the field making calls and meeting prospects and clients. They should know the guiderails, but are expected to operate with a degree of independence, only checking back in when a truly unique special request comes up.

The sales executive can lead from the rear, providing the guiderails and encouragment, but otherwise staying handsoff on the effort.

Where Things Get Tough

In larger companies, managers usually get assigned to lead roles. They get placed into teams that are already operating together. Sometimes there are company reorganizations where teams get scrambled, but even then, managers haven’t really picked their teams.

What this means is, you as the leader must evaluate what your team needs. Do you need to lead from the front or from the rear? Figuring out the best approach helps solidify your role and your effectiveness as the leader.

Executives who join a new company (new to them) must navigate this landscape too. Missing the mark can seriously delay your progress.

Here’s How It Plays Out

If your leadership style is to empower and naturally lead from behind, applying that to a team who craves leadership from the front can cause fear and doubt in your team. If they are waiting on being told what to do, your expectation that they figure it out only causes confusion.

The more you encourage them to choose their own path, the more likely they are to withdraw and shrink away from the work. If they want to do the right hing, but you’re not telling them what that might be via speciifc assigned tasks, they will freeze.

On the other hand, if you are more likely to opeprate with a command and control approach, leading from the front, independent thinkers and doers will balk at your authority. They will object to being told what to do.

It becomes a balancing act. Good leaders adjust their style to the situation. If your team needs speciifc direction (you leading from the front) but you’d prefer them to be more empowered, then you have to coach them there. You have to coax them into understanding being empowered.

There needs to be a demonstration of good permission and protection. The leader gives permission to try things new while offering protection if things don’t work out just right. That way, the employee is not penalized for agreeing to step out and try something foreign to them.

Choosing Right

In most cases the need to lead from the front or from the rear can be figured out by simply asking the team about how they like to operate. If however, the team is new (due to a reorg), they likely have not found their identity yet.

The leader can help cast that vision and purpose. Then the pieces may come together naturally. If however, it is not yet clear, then the leader must dig deeper into the talent they have around them. By having one on one sessions you can glean the best ideas for structuring the team, leveraging the expereince and motivation each member brings.

The core message here is to be nimble as the leader. Don’t force your will on the team either way. If you prefer leading one way, but they want something else, be agreeable to make that pivot. You can begin shaping them to go the other way in time. Take advantage of the growth opportunity in yourself.

Use the situation as a personal stretch goal. You might just realize you like the view.

trust at work

PS – My new book “Trust at Work” is available a popular retailers in print and online. In the book, Roger Ferguson (co-author) and I explore the Team Trust Model. We explain the model and share examples of when and how it can work. Plus there are over 30 tools manaegrs can use to help gain trust with your team.

Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders

business leader

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

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

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

Motivate others to do their best:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still More to Think About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play the Whole Game

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

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

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

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

Building Trust at Work – Improving Team Results

building team trust

Trust is a critical element in our everyday lives. The relationships we enter are centered on trust. Whether we are going to work, shopping online, or meeting a stranger, trust becomes the yardstick for how far that relationship may go.

For those of you in a significant relationship with a life partner, trust means everything to that relationship. Break the trust and the relationship bond shrivels and dies.

Bob Burg is famous for coining the phrase “know, like and trust (KLT).” His teaching says we only do business with people we know, like and trust. It’s a progression of experience that gets us over the goal line. You visit each of the three stages before you are ready to make the bigger commitments.

The same is true at work. We spend most of our waking hours dedicated to work. Trust in the workplace should be a vital part of success and reward. Yet managers seldom focus on building trust to build a great team. Instead, they focus on the tasks at hand. They agonize over process and procedure to get things done.

Yet employees struggle to perform at the higher levels of success.

If I can’t trust my boss, why should I give much effort to the task? A low or no trust situation is like meeting the clerk at the convenience store. I don’t have much vested in that transaction. I give the clerk my money to buy my gas or pack of gum. If I watch them put the money in the cash register…end of relationship. It doesn’t require a high level of trust.

However, when I take a job, I expect a lot more in the way of trust from the boss. He/she needs to drive that train. They need to be the ones demonstrating how trust is going to work in that situation. Once I can determine the level of trust I am going to get (remember know, like, and trust), then I begin opening up my trust bank to give back.

By the way. The whole notion of trust is just like a bank account. Deposits must be made for funds to be available from which you can spend. I must get trust to give trust.

But as a leader, that model shifts in a big way. YOU must be the one making the deposits in your people. Show them trust and confidence, then they will begin to pay it back.

join our team graphic

The Trust Gap

Trust is never mentioned by my coaching clients as a ‘top of the list’ goal. Often, they have been introduced to leadership frameworks that are intended to build a certain leadership culture or change an old one. They engage me for helping direct those leadership development efforts.

With the focus on conceptual principles, leaders forget the value of simply building trust. When we start doing the coaching work, we inevitably run head-long into the issue of low trust.

They acknowledge a sense of no trust, yet they are stuck when challenged to think about ways to build better trust.

Talking about trust gives way to more frustration about how to get there. After all, think about how you chose your spouse (if you have one). Was there a specific, tangible set of criteria or did you just ‘know.’?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

That is why I like the Team Trust Model as the answer for practical and tactical ways to build trust. Since the model is really a process of logical thought about the dynamics of how trust can be built, a leader can craft a methodical and measurable system for gaining better trust within the team.

team trust model

Building trust is a process to answer a list of key questions. The questions might be obvious or subtle, but they are questions, nonetheless.

When the leader effectively and systematically answers all of the questions his/her team may have, then trust begins to evolve. The process naturally fits the KLT method. As employees, the more we know about the work team, the better we are equipped to like what we’re about. If we like it, then we can begin trusting it.

At the Core

The Team Trust Model is here to promote trust at work. It does so by inspiring people to invest their discretionary effort. Every employee comes to work with a certain capacity to deliver. However, this overall capacity is divided into segments. The first, and most basic level, is the bare minimum. We agree to deliver our bare minimum effort to keep from getting fired.

It’s the lowest of effort expended. It keeps things moving at an acceptable pace. But it won’t set records.

Discretionary effort, on the other hand, is that extra effort; the 110%. Employees all have the ability to spend this extra. The question is whether they want to.

For leaders, the challenge is to inspire folks to do that on a regular basis. Come to work and give the extra all the time.

When the team setting is right, people never question the willingness to give it all.

A New Series

The preceding message is the start of a series of articles presenting the dynamics and power of the Team Trust Model. Over the next few weeks, I will be diving deeper into this approach for practical and tactical ways to improve your team’s performance while building a more rewarding work experience.