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The Truth Is in the Middle

Conflict resolution is a natural part of running a business; any business. Conflicts happen with customers, colleagues, and employees. In your personal life, you see conflict popping up at home with your spouse or your kids. Family dynamics can be a big source of conflict. Simply said, conflict is eveywhere.

As a coach, I get asked about dealing with conflict on a regular basis. My first answer is an old saying I was taught many years ago.

“The truth is in the middle.”

Seldom are you perfectly right or wrong. It is not very often that you are completely spot on with a solution. Instead there are always other considerations to weigh.

When two opposing ideas collide, the moment can be emotionally charged. One side can feel indignant if the other has dared to oppose the idea. The situation becomes a fight to the death.

It simply doesn’t have to be that way.

Emotionally mature leaders learn to look at conflict more objectively. Rather than jump immediately to one side or the other, the smart leader hears the arguments, then weighs the merits of each before making a decision.

Really great leaders seek the truth in the middle first. But if a settlement is still not there, you can move to this next idea.

The Marriage Bed

No relationship in life can be more complex than the marriage of a couple. Two otherwise independent souls agree to join together to become one couple.

On one hand it’s the definition of compromise. I give something up and you give something up so we can be together. Said outloud it sounds very unworkable.

However, to better understand the ways to solve conflict at work, I am going to borrow a guide from the Gottman Institute, an organization dedicated to helping marriages and families.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman present this exercise will help partners to make headway into the perpetually gridlocked problems you face in your relationship. It requires compromise.

Therefore the real question is about how can we reach a compromise?

The Art of Compromise

Step 1: Consider an area of conflict where you and your partner are stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.

Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.

Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:

  • Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
  • What are your guiding feelings here?
  • What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
  • Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
  • How can I help you to meet your core needs?
  • What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?

Applying these principles to a business situation may take some other thinking.

From a career standpoint, compromise is something that one must become comfortable with, particularly in leadership roles. Whether it’s negotiating a new contract with a vendor, discussing a potential new business venture, resolving a complaint or trying to reach an important business decision, mastering the art of compromise is key.

Compromise 6

Here’s how to do so effectively without giving up too much or putting yourself in a bad position.

First understand what is at stake. Prioritize the key issues in your own mind. Evaluate the real significance of the issue first.

Next, determine the potential outcomes. What will ultimately happen if you give in or stand your ground? How much of an impact would compromising have on your business? In many cases, you’ll likely find that giving in won’t have many repercussions at all.

Draw a mental line in the sand. Know your limits, focus on what is key to your longer term goals and vision.

Next, Genuinely listen. Stephen R. Covey encouraged seeking the win-win position. You have to listen carefully to find the opportunities for the win for each party.

Then, give something worthwhile. Recognize that the other party is also going to need to compromise to some degree. To reach that middle ground, you’ll need to be willing to give your opponent something worthwhile.

Finally, always be professional. When it comes to compromise, there’s always going to be those situations in which the results aren’t as favorable as you’d have liked. Regardless of outcome, it’s imperative that you maintain the utmost professionalism at all times.

Leadership Values

Becoming a leader who is effective at managing conflict and achieving compromise is easier than you think. However, it takes intentional effort, focused on facts not emotions. Other articles in my blog address these topics too.

Be a leader who is dedicated to delivering value. Value your people. Provide them with value day by day. Enrich and influence the lives of those around you. Lead your people to overcome the conflicts. That will become your legacy as a leader.

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!!!”

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.

Top 10 Essential Leadership Skills

leadership banner

It’s all about skills in the modern world. It’s never been more challenging to be a leader than it is today. Markets and entire industries are changing rapidly. For any leader to be successful, it’s important to have the proper skills.

There are thousands of books describing good leadership. You can find lists of skills and attributes in most of those books. But if you want to be a good leader, you need to find a solid list and get busy embracing what it says. Many of the names and terms are interchangeable. So find a good list and run with it.

Many of these skills are evergreen. For example, leaders will always need to be able to communicate well and delegate tasks. Some are table stakes. Take heart that your leadership skills will be valuable for a long time!

Here is a good list to start with.

Shore up these 10 leadership skills and protect your future:

The ability to motivate others. Great leaders are great motivators. Think about how you motivate yourself. It’s not that much different to motivate someone else.

Communication skills. Leaders must be excellent communicators. This includes public speaking, addressing small groups, and one-on-one. Remember to practice good listening skills. Fortunately, educational materials abound and there are plenty of willing victims to practice your skills upon.

Delegation skills. You can’t do it all alone. Many high-achievers have trouble letting go and giving up control. You must be able to trust others and use them in the most effective way possible. It’s not enough to just delegate, you must delegate assignments to the those who will excel in that particular task.

Create the proper culture. Leaders must create a culture that matches the industry and the employees. A Wall Street investment bank has a different culture than an elementary school or a pharmaceutical company. Even departments may have their own unique culture.

Adaptability. The challenges facing leaders change regularly. Industries change. Customers change. Economic conditions change. Technology is rapidly changing the way organizations do business. Leaders have to be able to evolve to meet the changing landscape.

Still more leadership skills to consider

Time management. Leaders are busy. There’s always more to do than there are hours in the day. Choosing the most important tasks and making the time to complete them is paramount. Time management skills are easily learned, but don’t come naturally to many people.

Relationship management. Great leaders have strong relationships with their direct reports, hourly employees, executives, and customers. The stronger your relationships, the more you can accomplish. During great challenges, your relationships can make you or break you.

Change management. Leading an organization or department through change is a valuable skill to develop. As companies add technology and reduce workforces, change comes more rapidly.

Be a good follower. Leaders have to follow, too. Leaders that don’t follow are considered dictators. Once you inspire a team, they become largely self-sufficient. It is then your job to follow and provide occasional guidance.

Poise. Leaders face challenges. Poise is a necessary trait for a leader to possess. Without poise, small challenges become bigger, and employees lose faith. When you’re stressed and panicked, your employees are uncomfortable. Build your poise if you want to excel as a leader.

How do your skills measure up?

You can try to predict your success as a manager from this list of skills.

Leaders are much more than Managers. Good managers run processes. Leaders inspire people.

Build your leadership skills and your long-term results will be enhanced. Even with all the big changes in modern businesses, leadership skills continue to be highly valued in the workplace. Great leaders are always in high demand.

If you need help working to understand these or any other leadership skills, I can help.

I offer a free, no-obligation, no upsell exploratory call so you can share your needs. Then we can talk about ways to help. Just click Https://DougThorpe.com/chat

More Than a Sales Trick – What is WIIFM?

sales pitch

Many sales training programs teach a principle called WIIFM. Have you heard it? Know what it means?

It stands for “what’s in it for me?” The concept says a good salesperson must be prepared to answer that question on behalf of the prospect.

In other words, if I am the salesperson, it’s not about ME. It’s about my prospect. I’m supposed to get out of my own story and think about their story.

The prospect will ALWAYS be asking what’s in it for me? They don’t care how slick, smooth or smart you might be. (That helps for sure, but is not enough to win the deal.) You have to answer their questions using their terms AND their story.

It’s not your story.

It also applies to Leadership

I have discovered there is a similar powerful application of the WWIFM idea when coaching leadership development. Clients often ask, how can I be better at engaging my stakeholders or being able to influence ‘up’ the organization.

The answer? WIIFM.

Think about what’s in it for them. Why should they be listening to you? It’s not enough to try to impress people with your skills and knowledge.

You have to approach them on their wavelength, their mindset, using their standards for communicating. Some might call this “know your audience.” I like that too.

If you engage others using the WIIFM mindset, you can become more effective at delivering the value proposition you are responsible for executing.

Delivering Value

You see, we all go to work to create and deliver value. It might be tangible goods, services, or more academic thinking, but it’s incremental value being added to the overall value chain of your business. Otherwise, why should you be there?

If you’re not delivering value in some form or another, you are expendable. The faster you figure out how to demonstrate that value-add to your business partners and stakeholders, the better you will be.

So stop trying to be the resident expert pushing the cart up the hill. Rather think first about what that stakeholder really needs. Get them to share with you the key questions in their mind. While these questions help resolve the WIIFM for your stakeholder, you also need to explore how they engage.

Recently a client was telling me about one stakeholder who never responds to their internal instant messaging system. I asked if anyone else experienced that pushback from the stakeholder. Sure enough, others also complained this person never responded to IM. That’s a clear signal they don’t like that tool. How about an old-fashioned face-to-face?

In the process of learning your audience, ask them how they prefer to engage. In today’s fast-paced world of slick tech tools, there are so many options.

Do they like internal messaging systems, emails, or periodic face-to-face meetings? Figure out the most desired medium for them to receive information. Then stick to that answer.

Senior Execs Need More

The more senior the person you need to engage, the more likely is their sense of WIIFM. They are making split-second decisions about how to spend their minutes each day. If they can’t see a quick and obvious WIFFM answer, they will cut you off and send you away. It doesn’t matter how slick your PowerPoint was going to be.

Plus you should never take that kind of rejection personally. It’s just their way of subtly saying, “…you didn’t answer my WIIFM. Get me a better answer for that and I’ll engage.”

I had a mentor who taught me the phrase “Be bright, be brief, be gone.” The better I perfected that technique the more often I was getting asked to the senior executive floor for consultation. It was obvious I was doing a better job of answering WIIFM.

You can too.

Lead by Example – Learn by Example

When starting with a new executive coaching client I often ask ‘what kind of leader do you want to be?’ ‘Someone who leads by example‘ gets a lot of the votes.

As much as I like that answer, it can often be an easy idea to speak, but the hardest action to take. Where do you start? Many folks start by talking about technical expertise. They want to leverage subject matter expertise. That’s fine if you are sitting in a middle management chair within an organization.

But what does it really mean to lead by example? What things should you do? How do you do it? Who’s paying attention? When should you do it?

A Story

Let me share a story. Recently, I began a coaching engagement with a large publicly-traded company. I have several of their leadership team members assigned to me. Just as I began my weekly round of meetings, I was informed a very senior executive had passed away suddenly, at work, on the job.

Apparently, this man had been with the company for almost 30 years. He had been integral in its growth and success.

All of my individual clients were visibly shaken when speaking of this man. It was easy to see how revered and well respected this gentleman was. Each person shared with me their own personal experience being mentored and inspired by him. No one was without a story about “Bill” (the name has been changed to protect confidentiality).

The leadership examples Bill modeled were clear, distinct, and memorable. Truly the acclaim a leader should create. As people began explaining the things Bill did to endear his tribe, I asked “why don’t you try doing that?” The usual answer was, “Yes, I really should try to be that way.”

We see examples of leadership in small gestures, calm ways, meaningful mentions, and quiet resolve, yet we often struggle to decide how to add a skill or trait to our leadership tool kit. Why?

7 Ways

One of the best ways to build trust with the team is to lead by example. Here are seven ways to lead by example and inspire your team.

Get your hands dirty.

Do the work and know your trade. Stay present with the team where they work. Walk the floor, the shop, and the field. Don’t let yourself get caught behind closed doors in the corner office.

As to the details, you don’t have to be the most advanced technician on the team, but you must have an in-depth understanding of your industry and your business. Learn the subject matter if you have to. Leaders have many responsibilities, but it is important to work alongside your team. This is a great way to build trust and continue to develop your own knowledge and skills.

Watch what you say.

Actions do speak louder than words, but words can have a direct impact on morale. For better or for worse. Be mindful of what you say, to whom, and who is listening. Always show support for all team members.

If someone needs extra guidance, provide it behind closed doors. Keep explanations simple and clear. Remember a confused mind says “NO”. Don’t confuse people with lofty technical speak. Just get to the point.

Respect the chain of command.

One of the fastest ways to cause structural deterioration, foster confusion, and damage morale is to go around your direct reports. All team members need to respect the leadership at every level. If the senior leaders don’t respect the chain of command, why would anyone else? This includes the ranks below you in the organization.

Don’t skip level jump a supervisor to talk with a worker. Sure you can share casual banter in the workplace with anyone, but when you have directives, follow and support the chain.

Listen to the team.

As leaders, sometimes we are so consumed with providing directives, giving orders, and, well, talking that we forget to stop and listen. If the recruitment and training engine is functioning well, you should have a whole team of experts to turn to for advice.

One sign of good leadership is knowing that you don’t know everything. Listen and get feedback from your team regularly.

Take responsibility.

As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. Blame roles uphill. Great leaders know when to accept that mistakes have been made and take it upon themselves to fix them. It doesn’t matter if one of your team members messed up or you did.

If you are the leader, you need to take responsibility. We hear about the notion that “I’ve got your back.” Prove it by taking flak when it’s aimed at the team. Let the buck stop on your desk. Put the monkey on your back.

Business leader

Let the team do their thing.

Stop micromanaging. Communicate the mission, vision, values, and goals. Then step back and let the team innovate. Setting this example for the team will encourage your other managers to do the same.

Coach and mentor when you have to or when someone presents a problem, but stop solving all the problems. Teach others how to do that.

Take care of yourself.

Wellness and fitness are essential for good leadership. The more you take care of yourself, the more energy you will have and the better work you will do. The only way to build a fitness-oriented culture is to lead by example.

Get in shape and lead from the front. This part is not just about physical fitness but also mental toughness. Find time to recharge, especially after long-distance runs in fast-paced, high-pressure situations like big project delivery or special market shifts. You must re-calibrate periodically. Renew your mind as well as your heart for what it is you are doing.

If you are still wondering how to up your leadership game, let’s have a chat. I can schedule a free call to explore your leadership ideas and plans for growth. Click the image above to set your time to talk.

Real Leaders Don’t Lose the ‘Person’ in Personality

Whether you own a business or run one for a bigger company, your role as manager/leader is in the spotlight. When people start searching for leadership development tools or management training, you often run into a large segment of the market focused on Personality.

The logic says ‘if I understand my personality, and the personalities of those around me, I can be better leader. Why? Because I can learn to meet them where they are, etc.’

Logic like that is like a 3-year strategic plan. It looks great on paper, it’s a cool workshop to sit in, but what do you really do with the information? Too often it gets implemented poorly and soon forgotten. (I happen to hold a strong bias on the use of common personality tools. Email me and I’ll share that discussion.)

For now I want to challenge you to think about something else.

What’s at the Core

Throughout my coaching career I have often found executives and business owners who struggle with their personality defining the person they think they need to be. Or vice versa. The person they believe they are does not show up when the work gets going. Instead, some different personality appears.

My challenge to you is to consider separating your thinking about the person you want to be from the personality that actually shows up.

Getting a solid grip on the person you want to be has nothing to do with title, role, and financial status. But it has everything to do with the kind of friend, neighbor, and fellow human being you believe you are. It’s about core values, principles, and beliefs. Most leaders, when asked, have a good list defining those things in their personhood.

And, ok, I’m going to say it….

There are some solid jerks in the world (keeping it PG-13). For me, the good news is, I just don’t get many of those folks reading my articles or asking me for coaching. And I’ll never take one as a client.

Instead, I talk with people who are already successful at some level and they want to do more, be more.

The Derailers

First, let’s talk about some common contributors for why personality may interrupt personhood. In the Hogan world we call these ‘derailers.’

One issue that appears most often is the idea that a strength used in excess becomes a derailer. For example, if you are naturally empathetic, you might not drive your team hard enough. Your personality shows up ‘friendly’ and well-intended, but when the going gets tough, people want direction and drive from their boss.

Next, you might be covering something. I don’t mean in a criminal way, but rather in a defensive way. If you are uncertain about a subject, your personality may be too comical, trying to laugh off the tension in the moment. This usually shows up as the boss who cracks jokes at inappropriate times, taking serious discussions off track.

Also, people with highly focused technical ability may come across as too robotic, not enough ‘people’ skill when interacting. Their personality is plastic. Yet when you peel the onion, you find a wonderfully motivated mind wanting to do great things.

The Options

While doing a ‘post-game interview’ wondering what went wrong with a particular situation, you likely may be thinking “I know what I wanted to say or do, but somehow it never came out that way.”

If that is you, then you, my friend, may be suffering from the conflict between person and personality.

First, doing the post-mortem on a meeting or a one-on-one interview can help tremendously to isolate the areas where you are disconnecting person and personality. Do your own analysis.

If it is possible, ask for feedback. Ask for specifics like “When I said ‘X’, how did that strike you?” When you think your personality usurped your personhood, then you have an opportunity to fix it.

When feedback highlights specific gaps, check first to see if the gap is properly covered by those core beliefs and key principles you claim. Not the other way around. Then search for reasons your personality may have thrown up a different solution in the moment. Here are some of those situations.

  • You cracked a joke when you should be serious.
  • You got technical when empathy would have been better.
  • You quoted company policy when a warmer more collaborative idea could have been put to play.
  • You genuinely love your team, but you go to performance issues too often when talking to them.

Ask a mentor or a coach to help you make the distinction between the person you believe you are and the personality that often shows up instead.

Don’t lose the person in personality.

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How We Work – Perfect vs Imperfect

wabi sabi

There is a struggle in modern business. As people show up for work, there is a tension between forces that push us to be perfect in what we achieve, yet we know in our hearts and minds we are imperfect in many ways. And the work goes on.

We add more hours to the day to meet that deadline or deliver the project. We agonize over the work in front of us. We shape our words and stories to present the image that a perfect outcome is on its way, ‘almost there.’

Then, when the work is delivered, there is a nagging sense that we could have done more.

Explore the Source

First let’s explore where this voice comes from; the voice demanding perfection.

For many it comes from childhood memories (or nightmares) pressed into the psyche by that third-grade teacher or gym coach or, sadly, a parent who demanded ‘better.’ I’m not talking about the loving mentor who encouraged us, but rather the mean-spirited ogre who said hurtful things. Even with many years between their angry words and your own revelation of real truths, the messages that are remembered from these horrible souls shape our sense of what we need to accomplish.

Teacher complaining about schoolboy in elementary school class.

Another source of expectation comes from the bad boss who sets unrealistic demands for the team. They plot goals and standards that look like perfection, but usually won’t stand up to objective scrutiny. Unfortunately, too many workers buckle under these bosses. Instead of pushing back, you go to work and try to deliver.

Team or organizational culture can impact this too. On occasion I run into a work environment that demands 100% of the information be covered in an analysis before making a decision. There might even be punitive personnel assessments written for those who fail to hit the 100% mark.

Lastly, your own definition of perfection can be a force. I often encounter clients who have the perfectionistic personality. It torments them and drives those around them crazy. The interesting contradiction in this personality is that they usually don’t get enough done at all because they fear the work not being perfect, so they never start.

Here’s a Fresh Idea

Wabi sabi is a Japanese design concept. It means beauty in that which is temporary or imperfect. Things that come off of an assembly line, for example, are perfect, but things made by hand, like the glaze on a Japanese ceramic bowl, are imperfect. It is their imperfections that give them their beauty. (see the cover picture)

The same is true for people. It is the combination of all of our imperfections that make us vulnerable and beautiful.

If you are a leader, have you thought about applying the wabi-sabi mindset as a metaphor for the work you do? If you let your view of things shift to embrace the idea of life as a journey. Give yourself and those who work for you the grace to believe we are all working to become better versions of ourselves. The idea of a “work in progress” can become a great strategy for the work you do.

You can implement a system for constant improvement rather than always chasing perfection. As I write that last phrase it almost seems redundant and contradictory at the same time. ‘If I am working on constant improvement aren’t I seeking perfection?’

I argue NO. Perfection comes with the moment by moment, project by project expectation of scoring 100. Even college grads with a 4.0-grade point average (considered ‘perfect’ by most systems) don’t have to score 100 on every exam.

However, constant improvement is about learning from prior experience to make small adjustments or tweaks in what you are doing so that the next body of work can be a little better; not perfect, but better.

Closing Remarks

I know there will be readers who say ‘you don’t get it. If I don’t do perfect work, I’ll lose my job.’ My question is first to define exactly what ‘perfect’ is supposed to mean. There is an old saying:

Perfect is the enemy of good.

I’ve seen big corporations miss an entire market shift that could have earned them millions of dollars because their effort to analyze the situation took too long. Why?

Because they were working on the perfect analysis, covering 100% of the angles. In hindsight, an analysis that only addressed 50% or 70% could have given them enough validation to go forward. The extra effort to fill out the remaining margin to get to 100% didn’t add value. It actually cost them the opportunity.

Adopt wabi-sabi. There is beauty in imperfection if you just decide to look at it differently.

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How Do You Do What You Do?

Gaining Experience

From time to time, I have a mentee say “I am interested in doing what you do. Please tell me how to do that.”

Often I struggle with that ask, because if I was honest, I’d say “You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know what I’ve been through to get here?”

John Maxwell said it much more eloquently. He said “OK. Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to do what I did to get to do the things I do?”

Do the Things I Did

Doing things in the past created the experience required to do today, what I do. Without living through the leadership crucibles I’ve lived, I’d not have any of the material I share with clients today. Starting as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I took on management roles.

Later, joining a regional bank, I was recruited there because senior leaders inside the bank were former military officers and knew the kind of experiences I had. They could relate to the experiences and had automatic confidence in knowing I could assume a management role there too.

After 20 years in banking with successive growth roles along the way, I took an early retirement from banking and started several businesses. I knew I loved entrepreneurship, so I took the knowledge I gained at the bank (watching and working with many many client companies) and applied it in those start-ups.

It was at times a painful learning experience. Until you lay awake at night sweating the ability to make your next payroll, you have no idea what it takes to run a business on your own.

Experience earned the hard way. Plain and simple.

The same is true in many other professions. Plumbers and electricians have job grades starting with apprentice roles. You watch the masters, observe what they do, learn about the finer points. Then, with time, you test for and achieve the higher grade status in the profession.

Doctors spend years of schooling and rotations to learn about practicing medicine. You wouldn’t want a first year MD doing your heart or brain surgery. Most people I know, when the need arises for surgery, they ask the doc how many of these have you done?

Experience is a Cruel Beast

Gaining experience is the big hurdle for young people entering the job market. There aren’t that many positions available to start at the ground floor and work your way up. Yes, larger companies create starter jobs and recruit the top of the class graduates to fill those roles. They might even have training programs to grow and nurture the less experienced to fill future job needs inside the company.

However, for many, finding those experience learning opportunities is tough. Couple that with a new found impatience about career advancement and you have a frustrating situation.

Yet, there is no denying the need for experience to do the right thing in later roles. ‘Do the things I did to get to do the things I do.’ I love that.

Tips to Achieve the Success You Want

So for those who are in the early years of your careers, here are some thoughts to follow.

Understand Your Purpose

First, work on the need to understand your purpose. You were put on the earth for a reason. It was not some happy accident. You are created, wired, and pre-disposed for a purpose. Identify what that might be, then create a roadmap for fulfilling that purpose.

It won’t happen overnight or in the next 24 months. It’s a life journey. You can learn more about writing your own personal purpose statement here.

Play the Long Game

Next, learn how to play the long game. Stop worrying about tomorrow and the next immediate thing. Try to envision the picture of your future state lloooooonnnngggggg down the road. Not just tonight or tomorrow. Search for opportunities that serve that plan.

As an example, if you really want to be a consultant, get some analysts jobs first. Learn how to run studies and surveys. Compile big reports and findings for customers. Do the heavy lifting on those kinds of jobs so that you build experience in the tools of the trade.

If you think you want to be a coach, get some ‘people’ jobs first. Work your way up to become a shift supervisor at a Burger King. Learn how to deal with all kinds of people, not just your circle of friends from school.

Find Mentors

Then find some mentors. Let them help you along the way. Don’t just ask for a 30-minute session then be done. You’re not done. You have lots to learn. Mentoring is a process that evolves over time.

You’ll notice I said mentors (plural). Find people who will help you in all areas of life, not just work things. If you’re starting out in married life, get a mentor. Need spiritual help? Find a mentor. If you have a hobby you’d like to improve on, get a mentor.

It’s not that hard to find mentors either. All of my friends are willingly helping people in all walks of life. They just need to be asked.

Perpetual Learning

All of the best coaches and leaders I know are perpetual learners. They read, study, and research to keep their edge sharp. In addition, they attend workshops and participate in mastermind groups. They rely upon peer-to-peer advisory work. Lastly, they hire coaches. Similar to top tier professional athletes, great thinkers and leaders turn to coaches to help up their game.

It’s a layered effect. You achieve one level, then start working on the next level. That is true in experiential growth as well as job promotion.

Wrapping it Up

When you ask an older, more experienced person how to do what they do, you have to recognize they did what they did before, so they now can do what they do. You can’t skip the steps in between.

They wouldn’t be who they are, doing what they do today without having done what they did to get here.

I know those are tongue twisters, but you get meaning. Do the work, find the experience, then you can do the big thing you want to do, your life’s purpose.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment. Click a share.

The Greatest Growth Lever – Trust

Trust concept with hand pressing social icons on blue world map background.

Part 1 – Why Leverage Trust?

Contributed by Andy Hass and Richard Bents

“Trust is the highest form of motivation. It brings out the very best in people.” Stephen R. Covey

Google conducted a massive research project to study what made their most successful teams and called it Project Aristotle. After studying 180 teams, using 250 variables and 32 statistical models, they found the absolute #1 variable by far in their highest performing teams was trust / psychological safety (we’ll explain similarities and differences in the two – in Part 2) – above intelligence, accountability, responsibility, diversity, strategy, process and everything else.

Neuroscientist / NeuroEconomist Paul Zak found high trust organizations had 50% higher productivity, 50% higher retention, 74% less stress, 76% more engagement, 106%, more energy, 17% more pay. Zak is also a researcher of the brain chemical Oxytocin which is released when we trust.

Professor Amy Edmondson from Harvard has studied and established best practices for effective teaming – across multiple industries, and the critical element of trust and psychological safety for team success.

In MIT’s Executive Education Course on Neuroscience for Leadership, one of the four areas of focus is “Creating the conditions for success in your organization by leading teams and shifting the culture from fear to trust.”

Trust is at the foundation of our own research, consulting, and collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, the University of Wyoming and business partners across Europe. We seek to better understand trust levels over a period of time and the associated impact on organizational performance. We are also in the process of writing our I TRUST book.

grid for high trust v low trust

We like to approach individual, team, and organizational leadership developments like scientists by collecting and interpreting data. In a 360 review of a leader, we look at 22 aspects of management and leadership.

We take a holistic, systems-based approach to leadership, but if we could greatly emphasize just one aspect, we would frequently help a leader develop more trust – self-trust, trustworthiness, and a propensity to trust others. We’ll explain more on this in Part 2 of the Greatest Growth Lever.

Part 2 – What is Trust and How is it Measured?

“Trust is the conduit for influence; it’s the medium through which ideas travel.” Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy

Trust:

A belief in the reliability, goodness, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something; it is that in which we have faith or confidence. In this sense, trust is an emotion. In addition, trusting or placing trustworthiness includes a process of analysis, a cognitive, more objective thought process. Trust typically is earned or developed over time.

Some people like to understand the differences in Trust versus Psychological Safety.

Psychological Safety:

“A shared belief within a team that it is safe for interpersonal risk taking… and that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson.  It is the instantaneous feeling of safety that someone has to feel free to speak up.

We find it helpful to think about trust in 3 ways to leverage it to its full power. Self-Trust (how you view and trust yourself), trustworthiness (how others view and trust you), and propensity to trust (trusting others, looking for the good in others, seeing their strengths, and giving them autonomy to perform).

It is critical for the leader of a team to exhibit (or develop) sufficient self-trust (having self-confidence, self-esteem and self-acceptance), because without it, it is difficult to be seen as trustworthy by others (show integrity/responsibility, show benevolence/kindness, and show their abilities/competence) and for them to have a propensity to trust others.

In addition, the leader has to show enough benevolence (authentic concern for others) to be seen as trustworthy. “It’s not uncommon for people to overvalue the importance of demonstrating their competence and power, often at the expense of demonstrating their warmth.”  (Amy Cuddy).

Benevolence is critically important in psychological safety and is typically more important than the other two. Finally, your behaviors in your collaborations will influence your collective results with others.

We use a variety of assessments and instruments to measure various aspects of trust in our efforts to accelerate individual, team, and organizational trust and performance. It involves self-evaluation questions and team/group member questions.

We’ll share more about closing the trust gap between the desire for high trust relationships/teams/organizations, and the acceptance of what it takes to get there in Part 3 of the Greatest Growth Lever.

Part 3 – The Trust Gap –

Closing the gap in the Desire for Trust… and the Work it takes to Achieve Trust

We believe there is increasing awareness in the value of trust. We see organizations putting it in corporate Vision, Mission and Values statements.

It feels good to say trust is important in relationships and even with customers – and from Part 1 (Why Leverage Trust), we shared research where high trust organizations had 50% higher productivity, 50% higher retention, 74% less stress, 76% more engagement, 106%, more energy, and 17% more pay.

Unfortunately, awareness of the value of trust, or declaring you or your organization is all about trust, doesn’t always translate to a high-trust organization and the corresponding benefits.

Research Case Study 1:

We conducted a 2-hour awareness training along with measurement assessments on various aspects of trust with the senior executive team of a US-based company. At the time, they were completely aware of the benefits and elements of trust.

With this company, we did not do any coaching/consulting. A year later, when we did a post 1-year measurement assessment, there was no statistically significant change in levels of trust. The takeaway – awareness does not always lead to change and results.

We were later brought in to help the leadership team through a combination of 1:1 executive coaching and team development using our assessments, change process and coaching.

Case Study 2:

Another client, a large European Insurance company, faced a difficult future with declining sales and profitability in a competitive insurance market. In less than a year, they successfully reversed and transformed sales and profitability. 

The top 86 executives were assessed, then went through a 7-month program using our change process involving coaching and training. They exceeded their sales plans.  The post-assessments showed statistically significant increases in all levels of trust. The following year showed increased market share and increased profit.

“I am very confident of the next steps. I already know that management skills development is a long road requiring patience, willingness and determination, and of course measurement. People are understanding what is happening now because they started experiencing that behaving differently is possible and can be a source of success. As a ‘rational’ leader, we just have to admit that time to time it is worth investing much less in IT tools and process …and a bit or much more in human potential.”  – Yann Menetrier, CEO

Our “I TRUST” Change Process

One example of an assessment we use measures the character and emotional intelligence of a person. It has high correlation to how effective individuals and teams are in their ability to create a high-trust, high-performing team.

Our efforts are to move individuals into the transforming, WeGo, quadrant, where they exhibit behaviors, actions and characteristics of self-trust, trustworthiness and trusting others. When the vast majority of people in a team are in this quadrant, we often see breakthrough results (e.g. innovation, productivity, sales and profits).

What will you do to increase self-trust, your trustworthiness, and your trust in others to realize the benefits of the greatest growth lever?

Consider working with a trusted colleague, mentor or coach/advisor to improve:

  • Creating a safe environment for your team to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes
  • Your showing vulnerability and stating you need the entire team for mutual success
  • Self-trust, insecurities, imposter syndrome, being authentic
  • A specific relationship
  • Your benevolence/kindness to others
  • Your solicitation and sincere listening to other points of view and new ideas
  • Results – shore up skills through self-learning/education and pay attention to results

If you want to learn more about building a high-performing team by increasing the trust within the team, learn more here. Visit Doug’s Team Trust Model.

Or if you’d rather just talk about your business, schedule a time with Doug Thorpe www.TalkwithDougT.com