To Be a Great Leader, You Must Inspect What You Expect

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

What does it mean, exactly? And what does it have to do with leadership?

Well…

Have you been guilty of spouting a directive then letting it die a natural death? We’ve all done it at one point or another—whether accidentally or intentionally, we’re all guilty.

When a leader sets out a goal or directive, that goal can only be achieved with good monitoring, or, inspection.

Whether you run a big business, a team, or are working on a small project, in order to achieve any sort of success, you have to be mindful of these simple words: inspect what you expect.

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

Great leadership principles you need to know. Leadership powered by common sense

The “inspect what you expect” principle takes many forms.

During my days as a second lieutenant, we conducted regular health and welfare inspections.

While the military inspects a lot of things, this was unique. Those of you who have served in the military know why.

Those of you who don’t: buckle your seatbelts.

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

One early morning at 3:30 a.m., the entire cadre (all of the managers and supervisors) of our training unit surrounded a barracks where a portion of our troops lived.

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

This “health and welfare inspection” was actually a search and seizure mission.

We burst into the barracks and surprised all of the soldiers sleeping there. They were ousted from their bunks and told to stand at attention beside their footlockers while we searched the premises.

Sure enough, we found a stash of drugs and some paraphernalia tucked inside one of the footlockers.

Our target was achieved.

We could have preached and threatened the law about drugs, but we had to inspect what we expected.

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

Because even the best strategic planning simply won’t matter without proper execution.

A great leader must push forward to make things happen. They cannot stand still; they must be in constant motion, pushing towards a goal to reach success.

They must be focused.

Every plan and strategy associated with a goal must always be monitored and inspected to ensure proper execution and achievement.

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

Six Sigma is a specific set of tools and techniques used to to help businesses improve their processes.

Inspecting what you expect is an integral part of Six Sigma. It is also an integral part of overall good project management.

For process improvement, a concept known as DMAIC is applied.

DMAIC

DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

With DMAIC, you analyze results as they occur, checking them against expected outcomes.

If you find yourself off the mark, adjust and do it all over again. In other words, you are staying alert—at all times—to the things happening around you that affect your process and your progress.

The devil is in the details.

There is so much more to being a great leader than stating your plans and giving directives.

Great leaders walk the floor.

If you’re not walking the floor, you’re not being a good leader. You’re doing it wrong.

Leaders who don’t walk the floor find that things are not happening as they expect. Always remember: the devil is in the details.

You have to constantly be checking in, seeing what’s going on—walking the floor. You have to constantly ensure the appropriate measures are being put in place to achieve the right outcome.

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

For example: if your business enforces things like safety or regulatory compliance, your role as a leader is to inspect and review events and circumstances. You have to check work every single day to ensure proper compliance.

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

When issuing a directive, always be clear about your expectations. Be as specific as possible.

Volumes, dollars, incidence rates, hours, cost saves, the list goes on. The expectation you give will determine the outcome.

2. Be Consistent

Constantly inspect, and keep your inspections consistent. Keep communication open and be consistent in everything you do. Be open and don’t beat around the bush. Share your results.

3. Stay Visible

People need to know you are engaged and involved in the review process. Don’t get stuck behind your office door. Show your team you are active in the process. Be around them. Answer their questions. Motivate them.

Remember: you are the leader guiding the vision to the final outcome. Be available to talk it through with those who have questions. Walk the floor.

If your team is spread out geographically, remain visible with the right frequency of check-in calls and team meetings.

Let your team know that part of executing the mission is routine reviews.

So…do you inspect what you expect?

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Have You Turned Away from Networking Groups?

networking

We are T-minus 2 weeks into 2021. Are you having fun yet? Have the New Year’s resolutions taken root or been abandoned?

People are still trying to make sense of the new normal we call COVID. I’m no different.

But today I want to drill down on a topic that has been recurring more and more often in my circle of business owners and corporate execs I talk to. That topic is business ‘networking’.

What Is Networking?

There are a lot of different meanings when you say networking. Most often in the business sense, it has to do with sales and lead generation; go to some event, meet people, and get new prospecting contacts.

However, the one I want to talk about is the mastermind, the roundtable, or peer-to-peer advisory type. Call it what you will. It’s the situation where a few people sharing the same general profile gather. There is a common thread reaching across the group. The meeting is usually facilitated by someone. The events can be paid for or free.

On one hand, the concept here is a good one. “Iron sharpens iron” is a Biblical principle taught for 2000 years. Napolean Hill in “Think and Grow Rich” preaches the idea of the power in a Mastermind Group. That was 1920. It’s been around ever since.

So gathering with peers to share experiences and offer solutions makes sense, right?

Over my career I’ve participated in dozens of these group formats, logging hundreds of hours of participation. And yes, I’ve gotten great value. Hopefully, I’ve shared some value too.

Even today, I belong to or facilitate several.

The Rub

The concern I’m hearing from clients and prospects though is that in today’s business VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), the measurable value in these meetings is in doubt.

mastermind

I can honestly say, I have more clients exiting their groups than I do joining groups. Why is that?

Here are five BIG reasons I see today.

First, with the pivot to everything being virtual, you get a mixed reaction. While you’re saving time commuting to the breakfast, lunch or dinner meeting, you’re just tired of Zoom/Teams calls.

Having one more virtual gathering is painful. Plus the connection with the group may suffer by doing it virtually. Yes, we’re all getting better at communicating this way, but the deeper, more meaningful connection (like these should be) gets compromised.

Next, the group dynamic may be skewed. In almost every group, there will be one or two ‘know-it-alls’; people who have something to say about everything. You know in your gut they don’t really know it all, but these geniuses will convince you it’s true.

Having to spend a portion of your time with the group either debating or ignoring the know-it-all personality is unproductive.

Thirdly, the focus is unclear. If the organizer/facilitator is not skilled at bringing value to the group, then there may not be any sense of purpose. Who needs to spend an hour or more each month without focus? It just becomes a social event.

Likely you have other circles of friends and colleagues you’d rather spend your social time with, not a peer business group. And certainly not one you may be paying to attend.

Next, a sense of trust is missing. In any small group, especially one committed to sharing thoughts and ideas, there has to be a ‘cone of silence’ or TRUST. The group needs to be expressly committed to protecting trust with each other.

If you do not feel the trust in the group, the depth of the issues you open up will suffer. You’ll be more likely to skim along, never reaching deep into concerns and questions.

Lastly, do you struggle to fit in? Not all groups are created equally. Depending on the sponsor organization building the groups there may be little to no filter on the way groups are set. You can waste several months exploring the fit, only to find it’s not going to be good.

Issues like conflicts of interest, competing business markets, and company size can be alignment factors that impact the effectiveness of the mastermind.

These five reasons are the main objections I hear now. I am sure there are others.

But id this to say STOP all your group attendance? No, of course not. If you are finding value, then by all means stay with it. Just be certain you are receiving a meaningful return on invested time or money.

The Alternative

If you are still hungry for advice and counsel, what can you do?

The other choice apart from those networking groups is to engage a single advisor. This is someone who can be your personal, trusted guide. Just like a personal trainer at the gym or a yoga or golf instructor, having a business advisor makes sense.

With a single advisor or a small group of advisors, you get the exact attention your business needs. There are no distractions from others creeping in and consuming the time. It is YOUR time.

Selection of your advisor takes a little work though.

The market has been flooded with new, young professionals offering to be business coaches and consultants. Beware. The canned programs that many of these agents subscribe to are ‘business in a box’ solutions. One size does NOT fit all.

You need someone who has been there before, accomplished the greater things you want to achieve, and someone who knows the realities of running bigger businesses.

call a coach

Why not align with someone who has proven success at the higher level you want to go to? What could anyone possibly tell you about growing from $1,000,000 annual revenue to $5,000,000 or from $10MM to $25MM, if they haven’t already done it themselves?

If these thoughts resonate with you, perhaps we should talk. Click the button below to arrange a call. I look forward to hearing from you.

5 Ways Managers Can Get More from Their Teams

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

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

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

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

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

Learning about Discretionary Effort

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

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

fitness and effort

The Leaders and Managers Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

manager answering questions

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

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

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

More Ways to Get More for Managers and Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspect what you expect.

Anonymous

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

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

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

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

There you have it

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

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

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

Solving Productivity Challenges in Small Teams

servant leader

You’re a small team, and you often feel like you need to do a lot with a little. But, despite the fact that you don’t have endless resources and limitless hands to share the load, you want to help your team figure out how to be productive.

Even when you have everybody fired up and ready to crank through their tasks, you still get stuck. Deadlines are missed, team members are burnt out, and you end each day with a to-list that’s barely been touched.

What gives? Productivity challenges are common on teams of all sizes, and even more so now that a good chunk of your team is figuring out how to be productive at home. 

Let’s dig into the details of why achieving peak output can be such a struggle, as well as how you can help your small but mighty team get over those hurdles. 

Why is productivity so tough? 

If operating at maximum productivity was easy, a lot more teams would be doing it. But, let’s face it: getting a lot done is hard. 

In their quest for to-do list domination, your team is dealing with some (or even all) of the following barriers: 

  • Lack of clarity and communication: Communication is always challenging, and that’s especially true when your team is working remotely. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that collaboration and communication are the biggest struggles when working remotely. When wires get crossed, team members don’t know what to do next — and that makes it tough for them to keep the wheels in motion.
  • Overwhelm and burnout: Perhaps your team isn’t making progress because they have too much to do. When they’re stuck on a hamster wheel of endless tasks, they can burn out entirely. A Gallup survey concluded that 23% of workers say they feel burned out more often than not, while 44% reported feeling burnt out sometimes. 
  • Tool fatigue: A separate survey found that 43% of workers believe they need to switch between too many apps to get their basic work done. Not only does that waste time, but it also contributes to confusion. When they’re working between too many platforms, team members might miss important updates and notifications. 

7 strategies to boost productivity on your team

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

Yikes. There’s no shortage of issues that can throw your team’s productivity off track. But here’s the good news: You can do something about them. We’re breaking down seven strategies to help your team figure out how to be productive during quarantine — and well beyond. 

1. Streamline your intake process

Does this sound familiar? Work lands on your team’s plate, and then you need to spend hours (or even days) tracking down all of the information you need to get started.

That’s not only a hassle, but it also slows you down. Standardize and streamline your intake process with Wrike’s request forms. They require that project requesters submit all of the information your team needs, and then automatically trigger a project or task in Wrike from that predesigned blueprint. No more hunting for those must-have project details.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 2

2. Integrate and automate what you can

Only 39% of the workday is spent on actual work. Where does the rest go? Emails, unproductive meetings, and administrative tasks are some of the biggest culprits monopolizing your team’s time.

Give them some of their hours and energy back by integrating and automating work. Wrike integrates with a ton of the platforms you’re already using, so that you can automatically create tasks from emails or Slack messages, seamlessly share image files across platforms, and collaborate in real-time. You can also automate entire workflows and take some manual effort off of your team’s shoulders. 

3. Use dashboards for increased clarity

Half of employees don’t understand what’s expected of them at work. When your team members don’t understand what to start on next, it’s impossible for them to be as efficient and effective as possible.

Wrike can help boost clarity and empower your team to get more done. Wrike’s Dashboards enable team leads to get a bird’s eye view of team performance, spot any risks or bottlenecks, and nudge overdue tasks along. Team members can drill down to personal or project-based dashboards, so that they always understand what to do and when. 

4. Understand task dependencies

Nothing will stall your team’s productivity levels like a bottleneck. They can’t make any progress when they’re waiting on approval from a client or a resource from another team.

That’s why it’s important that you account for task dependencies, and Wrike’s Gantt Chart can help you do just that. You’ll be able to visualize how different items are connected, plan for dependencies, and keep projects moving forward.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 3

5. Track your team’s time

If you want your team to be more effective with their time, you need to understand where it’s going. That’s where time tracking comes in. It not only helps make things like billing more straightforward, but it also enables your team to get a grasp on where they’re investing your hours — so you can work toward better effort allocation. 

Wrike’s Time Tracking feature allows your team to log their hours with the click of the button. Worried that your team members don’t want to be watched that closely? Don’t panic. 79% of respondents in one survey said they’re fine with their employers monitoring their workplace-related activities. 

6. Reevaluate your processes

The working world has changed a lot in recent months, and now your team is trying to navigate how to be productive working from home. 

This means some of your old processes might no longer be helpful. Fortunately, your procedures and workflows aren’t set in stone. Reevaluate them regularly to determine whether they need to be revamped, reconsidered, or even removed entirely. 

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

7. Be realistic about workloads

38% of employees feel overwhelmed by how much they have to get done at work. One of the best things you can do to support your team in increasing their productivity is to ensure you’re being realistic about their workloads.

Wrike’s Workload charts help you visualize your entire team’s workload and bandwidth. You can easily allocate tasks and ensure you aren’t spreading any one team member too thin. 

Wondering how to be productive? This is your guide

Productivity isn’t a piece of cake, especially on small teams. Your team is responsible for a lot, and sometimes it feels like you’re all struggling to keep your heads above water.

You can support your team in getting even more accomplished, without needing to deal with extra stress and elbow grease. Use the strategies we’ve outlined here, and your team will work smarter — not harder. 

Learn how to boost your team’s productivity (and how Wrike features can help) by watching this webinar and signing up for a free two-week trial.

Editor’s Note – This article was written by Kat Boogaard at Wrike. It first appeared on September 23, 2020.

7 Strategies for Being a Better Manager

team leadership and better managers

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

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

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

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

Talk less, listen more

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

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

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

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

Zig Ziglar

Play to your (and your team’s) strengths

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

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

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

swot analysis

Manage teams, not individuals

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

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

building team trust

Accentuate the positive

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

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

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

Be inspirational

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

Give feedback frequently

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

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

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

Make performance reviews about people

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

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

Get going

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

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

Leaders – Stop Solving Everything!

problem-solving team

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

That sounds like a crazy person talking, right?

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

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

Yes face picture
Person getting promoted

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

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

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

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

Lead People, Don’t Solve Their Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Applies to Entrepreneurs Too

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

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

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

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

Doesn’t that take more time?

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

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

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

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

What else could be a factor here?

Have you thought about anything else?

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

If X happens, what will Y do?

The list is endless.

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

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

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

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Happy November

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaders: Can You Get Too Focused?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leader Focus

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

When was the last time you got focused like that?

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Tricky Balancing Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Leader’s Challenge

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

The Naked Truth About LinkedIn Jail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Back Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover illustration by Sally Thurer, NYTimes

What is Trust Anyway?

You and I share many different things. As leaders, we share common needs, goals, and attributes. Depending on who you talk to, you and I score at different levels depending on the topic we choose to ask about. However, there is one key area frequently cited as a critical factor in determining whether a leader is effective or not. That factor is TRUST.

Business leaders don’t consciously go about their day specifically trying to build trust. This would be like having ‘building trust’ on your to-do list. Let’s see, go to the bank, check; wash the car, check; build trust, wait, what? No, that’s silly.

They will let their decisions and their actions impact the level of trust bestowed on them by others. Age-old wisdom says trust is earned. Children are taught at an early age. Leaders know it too.

A Manager’s Challenge

Anyone who has ever assumed management duties understands how critical trust can be in persuading a team to perform. The collective efforts of the team can be hurt if individuals on that team have doubts about the boss.

There is usually some kind of default mindset at work between employees and the employer. Workers often start out not trusting the boss. Sadly, too many bosses start out not trusting their teams either. It truly is a two-way street.

Experts found that trust, social connectivity, and a general sense of well-being are all intertwined. There are scientific studies revealing that two sections of the brain involved in sensing trust.

Based on perceptions of trust, the participants (in the study) reported positive interactions with the “close friend” to be more rewarding than interactions with a stranger—and were more likely to interact with this player. This illustrates our innate human desire to connect with others and create close-knit bonds even if these ties are based on blind trust or lead to [other bad outcomes].

Brain imaging of the participants showed that two specific brain regions were actively engaged when someone thought they were trusting a close friend. Increased activity of the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex were correlated with positive social value signals when participants made decisions based on a belief they were playing with a good friend.

But science aside, what makes trust so hard to build? Think about all of your own experiences with friends, co-workers, bosses, and leaders. You likely watched three levels of interaction that factored into how deeply you felt you could trust the other person.

Technical Ability

In a work setting, the team leader must demonstrate a certain level of technical ability to begin earning trust from the team. New, first-time managers struggle with this because they might have been promoted in recognition of their skills in one area, but they lack comprehensive knowledge of the whole team’s scope of responsibility.

Lacking that technical knowledge, they are deemed incapable of performing as team lead, so trust is denied.

New bosses moved in from outside the department suffer this same kind of gap. Until they can prove they know their stuff, the team will be reluctant to give the trust that might be needed for respecting the ‘new guy’.

I once was a department head of a large administrative group supporting a $5 billion asset portfolio at a large regional bank. I had several teams reporting to me, responsible for 5 different lines of business. One day, while walking through the department, one of the administrators stopped me and asked a fairly technical question. I paused and began coaching him on the topic, explaining the process and the calculations he needed for the problem he presented. He seemed shocked. I asked why? He said, “I didn’t think the Big Dog would know this stuff.” To which I grinned and replied, “How’d you think I got to be the Big Dog?”

Cultural

The next level is what I will call cultural trust. After technical trust is established there is still a void at the cultural or corporate level. The key question here is whether you demonstrate consistent, reliable actions and behaviors.

No one can trust someone or something that acts inconsistently. Roger Ferguson, founder of ISI HR Consulting and creator of “Big Five Performance” talks about this corporate trust as whether a leader is known to be trustworthy, delivers as promised, and is generally known to be a person of character.

Being consistent in the way you act and interact creates a level of trust that grows with each passing day. As soon as you make a serious deviation from the pattern you start, trust takes a step backward. This is why it is so critical for leaders to be mindful of the direction they want to go, centered on core principles, and committed to consistent behavior as a leader.

Personal

This is the most intimate of trust levels. This is the deep, one-on-one trust. This kind of trust with individual employees has people thinking “I don’t care what others say, I know what I believe about this boss, and I am very good with it.” Further “I will follow them wherever they want me to go.”

Why would someone be willing to say that? Because the other two levels have been satisfied and now opportunities to deal personally with the person have proven to be reliable and solid. The pattern is there, the details are there, and, even more importantly, the experience is there.

Complexity

This is why trust cannot be won overnight. It has to be earned. All three levels have to be engaged. You cannot make it to the gold ribbon level of personal trust without first achieving the other two levels.

Think about personal relationships. These same three levels are at work. Anyone who starts dating someone runs the same sequence of steps trying to test for trust. When you are the person wanting to earn someone’s trust, you have to be faithful to build these stages, carefully and thoughtfully.

More relationships crater over breakdowns in trust at one of these three levels. Repeated disappointment is the reason for the eventual failure of any relationship.

We just don’t want to be around people we cannot trust. Certainly not for any meaningful reason.

Leadership Lessons

For team leaders and executives at all levels, I teach a program called Team Trust. In it, we explore ways that teams and their leaders can use a proven, reliable, and repeatable process to build trust, eliminate unneeded distractions, and improve performance.

There are core disciplines that can be deployed to improve team performance by building trust at all levels of the organization.

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