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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Leave It Better Than You Found It

hiking and camping

Many years ago, when I was a boy Scout, my Scoutmaster had a mantra. Wherever we went camping, we were supposed to leave the surroundings better than we found it. That meant that before we left the area, we had to do a thorough cleanup, pick-up, and canvas of the area.

If there were rocks lining the paths, every rock had to be properly in line whether we had disrupted them or not. If there were trash cans in the area, each one had to have the lid properly secured. Any litter that was found had to be picked up, again whether we had created or not. As we left, we even brushed the pathways behind us, erasing our footprints in the dirt. A little extreme? Perhaps. But the teaching stuck.

Later, as I apprenticed with a master woodworker/craftsman, he too had a similar mantra about borrowing tools and equipment. If he borrowed something from someone, it had to be returned in better condition than it was first received. That meant cleaned, lubricated, polished or dusted off. This too was a further reminder of the basic teaching. The mindset got fixed in my brain.

tools in a box in a garage for repair work

We don’t hear that principle shared much anymore these days. Yet there is so much that can be learned from it. The concept applies to leadership in its highest form.

If you are selected to lead a team or organization, why not leave it better than you received it? Leaders are supposed to accomplish things, right? But what about truly trying to leave things better off than they were before you started.

Before we get into more details, there’s one other key element here we should discuss. If you know you’re going to be doing a big clean-up at the end, you are more likely to take care of things during the stay rather than have to do a big bunch of work at the end.

The same is true about leadership dedicated to this kind of mantra. Do little things daily to create the end result that is better than before. That way you don’t have to make a big push at the end to accomplish the same result.

The Leadership Influence

Choosing to apply this ‘leave it better than before’ principle to your leadership mindset will build a lasting legacy with those around you. If you become the leader that strives to make everything better, you will create a memorable impression that won’t go away.

Sadly, the opposite is equally true. How many of us have worked for bosses who left scorched earth behind their reign? You were happy to see them leave.

But the boss or mentor who looked out for your well being and helped you grow in your career or skill set will long be remembered.

Ways to Leave It Better

What are the ways a leader can make things better? Here are a few I’ve benefitted from.

First, genuinely learn who your people are and what they know how to do. Get into the details of their experience and skill set. Let them know you care about their ability to contribute. If you see gaps, encourage them to grow. Give them tips and ideas on ways to expand their tool kit of abilities.

Be a mentor. Be ready and willing to come alongside your people to show them ways to grow.

Help people with networking inside and outside. This is a tricky one. In today’s complex business world, people are feeling overwhelmed with knowing they need to be able to network more, but they are either afraid of doing it or don’t know how.

Stop solving all the problems. Nurture the growth in your team by using key questions when they bring you problems. Encourage them to propose a solution to every problem before they merely lay the problem on your desk. Then share with them the logical process you use to get to a good answer.

Model the right behaviors. Whenever and wherever you show up as a leader, people are watching. Even the most subtle behaviors can become big influencers for those who are following you.

You likely will never win 100% of the time. Accept the 84% rule. A local Texas politician shared this one with me. He had won his election for Mayor by an 84% popular vote. While that is huge by today’s standard for electoral margin, he decided to not alienate the 16% that didn’t vote for him. Instead he started to earnestly reach out to them and include their views in decisions facing the city.

Give people some slack or you might call it grace. People will make mistakes. The way you as a leader respond to those moments is what will make the difference.

Decide to break old habits. If the bosses you worked for modeled bad habits, don’t let those be yours to keep. A company’s culture evolves in time. The patterns of employee/employer relationships are what really define a culture, not some poster on the wall.

Handing it down

The Conclusion

I once coached a senior executive who was responsible for a national network of high-dollar manufacturing facilities. There was big machinery operating under high pressure with potentially toxic environments. People could get hurt or killed. In the day when he was rising up the organization, being a site manager and having to report a problem to the big boss meant getting a chewing out before you got to talk about the details. It was automatic.

I asked this exec about that dynamic. He sheepishly admitted he tended to do the same thing to his people. I asked if it made any difference. He said no. He knew they felt bad and were already dealing with the disappointment. His adding to the dogpile didn’t help. So he agreed to stop doing that.

Things still happened in the plants, but the team culture changed. Site managers realized the big boss was there for them, not a voice to condemn what had happened. They needed his wisdom to orchestrate the resolution. He began focusing on administering those coaching and mentoring moments to help them grow rather than berating and belittling them.

His decision as a leader to show up differently, and make things better than before, broke a legacy of old-school management practice that had lived for decades. In one turn in the leader’s seat, he engrained a newer, more positive mindset in the hearts of the various site managers who would one day be the big boss themselves.

That, my friend, is how you can make a difference, leaving things better than they were before you got there.

Daniel Mueller on Leadership

leadership banner

From time to time, anyone working as a manager needs to decide whether they really are a leader. Several years ago, I began an association with a long-time executive coach, Daniel Mueller. He’s a pioneer in the field of executive coaching having served senior executives across most of the Fortune 500 companies. Daniel has graciously shared some of his information with me. Here is a discussion about leadership.

Change Agents

A leader, by definition, is a change agent. Leaders have the ability to look beyond the status quo, determine the change needed, and introduce it in such a way that the organization successfully grows to the next level of effectiveness.

“Leadership . . . is the ability to step outside the culture to start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive” (Schein, 1992).

Effective leaders are competent in gaining and maintaining followers. They communicate at an expert level, inspiring others to go in a certain direction while setting clear expectations of high-level roles and responsibilities. Leaders ensure that all employees understand the mission, vision, values, strategy, and overall direction of the company, along with their own area of responsibility.

They over-communicate, gain buy-in to key initiatives, and obtain strong commitment to achieving the organization’s mission. Developing and communicating the organization’s vision, philosophy, and values is an essential competency of effective leaders, who also model the right values by example, thereby gaining credibility and respect from others.

“Leadership is about articulating visions, embodying values, and creating the environment within which things can be accomplished” (Richards & Engle, 1986).

Developing Leadership Competentcy

Both nature and nurture play a role in developing excellent leadership competencies. It’s helpful, but not essential, to be born with the genetic predisposition toward leadership.

Nevertheless, leadership competencies can be cultivated and developed. Factors positively associated with the development of leaders include having at least one parent who is a leader; being the eldest child; taking opportunities to lead peers or siblings; having influential childhood role models (e.g., family members, coaches, mentors); holding leadership roles in high school, college, graduate school, or early in a career; taking leadership training programs; and undergoing leadership coaching.

It is useful for leaders to take regular behavioral assessments and to review their self-assessment reports with others who know them well. A spouse or significant other is a good place to start. This review may serve to further validate the report, as well as to remove blind spots that the leader may have.

Deciding on a Style

People tend to prefer their own styles, with a strong propensity to view the world through the filter of their behavioral styles, thus projecting those preferences onto others.

This tendency limits the ability to understand co-workers and others to the fullest extent possible. It is easy to see how this can lead to frustration with others’ behavior, which leads in turn to difficulty in developing high-performance teams.

Through the process of understanding their own leadership styles and being able to identify and understand those of others, effective leaders become more accepting of others’ styles, and others become more accepting of theirs. Each leadership style is valuable in the workplace.

People with the same narrow behavioral style will approach a problem in the same way, usually with sub-optimal results. A leadership team that encompasses a diversity of styles provides a diversity of thought, which leads to peak team performance. Leaders who understand their own behavioral styles are much better able to identify others’ styles.

As leaders grow in their understanding of, and their ability to control, their own styles, they may become more willing and able to adapt their styles to meet the needs of others and of the organization.

Being Adaptable

Demonstrated adaptability is a powerful approach, resulting in increased influence over others. In order to reach full effectiveness, leaders need maximum adaptability. An inaccurate understanding of their own behavioral tendencies will weaken the ability of leaders to effectively adapt their styles to the needs of others.

Effective leaders are able to develop or improve positive relationships in much less time than would normally be needed. Most effective leaders are unconsciously or consciously adept at identifying and adapting their leadership styles to the behavioral styles of the people with whom they work. The leadership quadrant comprises anything related to influencing people.

Setting the Right Focus on Leadership

Good leadership includes having the right focus. Who are you? Where are you going? Who do you want to be as a leader? That sort of thinking.

There was once a middle manager who was well known for creating great results. Quarter by quarter, his numbers were always good. His team loved working for him, but his peers hated him.

The peers did not simply dislike him, but the loathed him. And the reason why is not what you might be thinking. Jealousy over his good results? Nope. Not even close.

The reason is that he was an ass. Plain and simple. He had no regard for his peers. Yet it was true what I said, his people loved him. How can that be?

bad boss
Bad colleague disrupts meeting

Careful Analysis

The senior executive to whom this man reported had a conundrum. The performance of the single unit was solid and reliable, yet the harmony across the leadership team was crumbling daily. What to do?

Well, a coach was called in. After a few meetings with the gentleman, it was revealed that his #1 goal was to be seen as the best boss anyone could ever work for. It was a noble goal but shrouded in self-aggrandizing glory.

He bent over backward for his team. They loved him for that indeed. He could push but in very special ways. Yet amongst his peers, he was cut-throat, brazen, and very unapproachable.

The focal point he chose for his management career prohibited him from becoming an effective leader.

The Cure

When the manager’s goal about ‘being the best boss’ was finally revealed to the coach. The coach responded with a question.

“What about adding a second goal to be the best team player too?”

This was a classic epiphany for the manager. He was shocked at how shallow his goal actually sounded. You see, he really did have ‘the greater good’ at heart, but he was so focused on the boss thing, he never thought about what it might take to be a good colleague across his peer group.

It was truly a life changing moment for him. He committed to adjusting his plans and his focus.

Viola!

He actually became both.

The Twist

It is so easy to get misaligned as a manger and a leader. You take in so much information on a daily basis, but you can easily get distracted if your personal vision and goal is not set straight.

Here are three quick tips on staying focused the right way.

First, have a vision and a plan. I am routinely surprised by how many of my executive clients fail to establish personal vision for being the leader they want to be.

Yes, they may have corporate goals to conquer, but personal vision counts too. In fact, I argue that your personal vision is really the foundation from which you must lead. Without it, your leadership is on shaky ground.

Next, you need to review your vision with trusted advisors. Get solid and candid feedback before launching out. Had the hero in our story above done so early on, he might have learned the one focus area was not enough.

Lastly, review your vision regularly. Keep your vision and plans evergreen. Have a cycle and a discipline for reviewing what you have set in motion.

Things change. So should your view of the world around you. Having a good vision and a plan is not one-and-done or set-it-and-forget-it.

If you’re looking for a trusted advisor, I’m available for a quick call to meet. We can discuss your situation and talk about ways a coach might help.

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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.

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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.

Finding a North Star in 2021

It seems the world is spinning out of control. But I choose not to believe that.

Rather, I believe we have temporarily lost our way. As someone who coaches, teaches, and writes about leadership, it is time to talk about one very vital aspect of what it means to be a leader.

While I spend a great deal of my time with clients and colleagues talking about casting a vision for their work, there is still one critical ingredient for determining the right vision. Just like in baking that delicious secret recipe your grandmother passed down, you cannot ignore critical ingredients. Otherwise, the cake will be a miserable failure.

The vitally important ingredient for leaders is their sense of True North, the “North Star.”

In the cosmos, the northern start stays almost constant while the rest of the night sky swirls around it. Ancient travelers in the northern hemisphere used this beacon to direct their travel.

north star
Time lapsed picture of stars swirling around North Star

Your Core Purpose Sets Your North Star

For leaders today, your sense of purpose becomes your North Star. If you don’t know why you are doing something or for what purpose your efforts are dedicated, you’ll live a groundhog’s day existence. Life will be about getting up and walk the same steps, doing the same things, day after day.

You can write great business plans and maybe even accomplish a few good things, but you will feel empty. You’ll have this nagging sense that there is more.

We have all been brought here for a purpose. You are no accident.

Your life is no accident, but the way you live it may be random.

Doug Thorpe

Finding and having a true sense of purpose becomes your North Star.

Lost Identity

In my book “STRIVE”, I share the experience of founding and running a career transition organization, coaching over 4,500 people through job search after the great recession of 2008.

In the early going, I discovered a deep need for people to reconnect with their sense of purpose. Losing a job for the first time in a career path of 10, 15 or 20 years, left people feeling lost.

When I really dug into that fact, I discovered the way out was to help people reconnect with their sense of purpose. Purpose has nothing to do with a job title or station at work. I began teaching people about ways to redefine who they were and what they were about.

THEN, they could think about targeting a new job. They were finding their North Star.

The same thing is being repeated today. People impacted by the COVID pandemic have lost their identities because the work they were doing has either shifted or been lost. The work should never be your True North. But your sense of purpose for the work you are doing is.

Managing a Team

Anyone in a position of responsibility, whether managing a team or owning a business, deals with not having a North Star. When you lose your purpose as a team, everything else in the circle of trust breaks down. (See more on that HERE)

Leaders need to have their own sense of True North and they should help their teams find and understand theirs.

Time and time again, I hear clients struggling with not knowing True North. They say things like “if only I knew true north…”

True North keeps us stabilized and centered. It helps us avoid wasted effort and meaningless pursuits.

Having the right sense of True North lets you go to bed a night with a feeling of accomplishing something because your day was focused on following that True North.

How Do You Know It’s Gone

How do you know for sure you’ve lost your North Star? Here are several key things to consider.

First, you feel very empty. You’re tired from all the effort, but there is no real sense of accomplishment. Trying to do more and be more just keeps you feeling that emptiness.

Next, people on your team may express their sense of being lost. They question everything. They challenge your authority. They’re not pointing the stick at you, but the chatter is about having no clarity. They no longer know what a ‘win’ looks like.

Finally, you feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to see things ahead of you. This actually happens literally out on the ocean. Ships trying to navigate by the stars lose all bearing when the sky is overcast of foggy. You lose the North Star so all other navigational effort is compromised.

Reconnect with Your North Star

If any of this sound familiar, it’s time to do the work to reconnect with your sense of purpose, your North Star. Strip away all of the distractions and re-center on who and what you think you are.

If you need help with this effort, I provide the whole second half of “STRIVE” to walk your through a personal purpose process. It’s a classic look at the areas of life that mean the most to you. It helps you chart personal values and aspirations into a clear, purposeful definition.

By having your personal purpose, you will be ready to cut through the clutter, the sense of being lost, and create more meaningful visions for your business, your family and your community.

We need leaders today who have this proper sense of purpose to guide and direct. I hope you’ll join me in becoming one of those kinds of leaders.

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PS – In some of my seminars, I ask the audience to stand up, close their eyes, and point to North. Then I tell them to hold their point and open their eyes.

Everyone is pointing in different directions. There’s a chuckle.

As they sit down I tell them that finding True North is a bit like this for the individual. While magnetic north and the North Star are fixed, your personal sense of purpose is going to be unique.

Cover photo courtesy of Credit Union Times.

Just Ask for It

choices

Why do we agonize over things we want? I’m talking about those situations where there seems to be an opportunity, but we freeze before acting. We’ve all been in those situations; ones that require a simple ask. That new opportunity, that raise, that account, that job order.

It’s right there, but we stop short of taking action. Usually, we start over-thinking the ‘what-ifs’. What if they say no? What if they don’t like the idea? Fear takes over.

The simple answer is to “just ask.”

A Valuable Lesson

I learned a valuable lesson in high school. My senior year, the Homecoming Weekend was getting ready to happen. I needed a date for the big dance.

On a total whim, I decided to ask the prettiest, most popular girl on campus to be my date. We were in a couple of classes together so we knew each other only a little. I stress that because it was not like I was on her radar at all.

I picked my moment between classes and threw out the question. Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?

She said “Yes.” SHE SAID YES!!!!

I was more surprised than I should have been. But I had the prize! A Homecoming date with the prettiest girl in school. Well, word spread rapidly. The other guys couldn’t believe it.

The big day came and we had a nice time. It never turned into anything else, but I had achieved what I wanted to do.

Plus, I learned a very valuable lesson. You have to ask.

Current Story

I have a client who owns a multi-million dollar company. They’ve been in business for many years, but recent market shifts have required a total revamp of the business. Old product lines are obsolete and new technologies have taken front and center.

The team has done well making ‘pivots’ to support new products and services. The owner calls the business a “25-year-old start-up.”

At the core of the recent success and seismic shift in business has been the owner’s willingness to ‘just ask.’ If there’s a meeting with a new national distributor and some opportunity arises, just ask.

Or a meeting with new clients, just ask for the business. If they run into a problem with an order, just ask about the details.

‘Just ask’ has become their battle cry for newfound success.

And guess what. It’s working!

Roadblocks

Yet why is it so darn hard to just ask? I meet many clients who have opportunities, but they fail to make that one next step… asking.

procrastination

From my view, there are several key reasons why asking the big questions runs into roadblocks.

First, you can over-think the situation. Smart, well-educated people do this a lot. Their brain goes into high gear when a situation comes up. What about this? What about that? The list gets longer than the original idea.

Pretty soon you talk yourself out of the opportunity before you ever pursue it.

Next is perfectionism. I see this a lot. The person with a perfectionistic personality will over-analyze the idea. “If it can’t be perfect, I won’t do it.”

So many opportunities are missed because of perfectionism. Remember “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

There are some great moments that get lost because you think your involvement won’t be perfect. So you miss out entirely.

Then there is procrastination. Procrastinators bridge between perfectionism and just plain avoidance. I’ve seen procrastination play out in many forms.

Generally, the person who procrastinates usually has some deeper drivers at work. Since I’m not a psychologist, I can’t go into those details, but I know how debilitating they can be. I’ve watched it with far too many clients.

On the other hand, if you avoid delaying the ask, you might just strike the perfect timing. In high school, my timing for asking for the Homecoming date had to be spot on.

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Summary

These are the big three reasons people have trouble making the ask. If you suffer any or all of these, just try being bold for a short period of time. Stop over-thinking, quit being a perfectionist and don’t wait.

Just ASK! You might be pleasantly surprised at what it can do to your business, your relationship status, and your sense of well-being.

One last thought to share about asking for something.

I grew up being mentored by many people. I was an only child of a single Mom. She had wisdom beyond her years to go out and find willing individuals who would take me in and become my mentor.

They didn’t literally have me come live with them, but they made time to teach me things. Through the grace and strength of a long list of great men, I learned all the things a young boy should learn; how to hit a curveball, how to fish, how to do woodworking, repair things, play tennis, throw a spiral, build things, plus a few life lessons. (Like asking the prettiest girl to the dance.)

As I grew older, I still valued mentorship. So I asked for it. If I met someone who I learned to respect and admire, I’d ask for time to hear their views and learn how they got to where they were.

The point of this is, don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. A lot of very skilled and talented people will be honored that you did ask. And they’ll be happy to come alongside to help.

When Things Stop Working

Here you are, rocking along, trying to make the best of tough situations; COVID lock downs, remote working, wearing masks, Zoom meetings Teams meetings…. the list goes on.

You think you and your team are making progress. Stakeholders and customers seem happy. Life is good.

Then BAM!

It happens. Someone in your network lights up and informs you that things are very wrong. There is a heated exchange with very clear expressions that feelings have been hurt.

Your leadership has been challenged. The cart is in the ditch. A valued professional relationship is in jeopardy.

You get presented with a long list of grievances, many of which were related to things from the past. And it is said that YOU were responsible for creating the whole mess.

You had no idea. What went wrong? How are your conflict resolution skills?

Serious Analysis to Fix Serious Problems

First, let me say feedback like this comes with the territory. You assume a role of leadership, people create their expectations. These expectations can be fair or not, most often not.

When expectations, false or otherwise, get denied, people’s feelings do get hurt. Maybe even anger enters the room. Hostility toward your leadership can fester.

What should you do?

First, you’ve got to stay calm about it. Don’t let the level of hostility coming at you churn you up. Are the allegations unfair? Do you disagree? Likely so. But responding with hostility only suggests lower emotional intelligence.

As the old saying goes, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

A quick response fired off in retaliation only sets you up to lose. You need to apply a calm resolve to assess and prepare. Avoid escalation of the hostility.

Clearly you owe the wounded party a response, and respond you should. But what do you say?

The Thoughtful Response

Your response needs to be carefully crafted. Acknowledge the claims the other person made. You don’t have to accept them directly, but you need to empathetically ‘hear’ the other person.

By delivering a true sense of empathy, you can help diffuse the situation quickly so you can get down to resolving the differences.

balancing the scales

Find the common ground. If the person is a peer in your organization, meet them appropriately where they are coming from. Show a genuine recognition of their role too.

Ask yourself what you really know about the person. What are their skills, experiences, duties, and responsibilities? Are their grievances well-founded in the facts of their role? Or is this just a misunderstanding, a personality clash, or a serious breakdown?

Take Ownership

Conflict resolution taxes your grit. Take ownership of what is truly yours. The accusations might be spot on. If you failed to do something, left them out of communication, or didn’t seek their input before making a key decision that might involve their area, then you are culpable, plain, and clear. Say so. Admit it. Own it.

Begin laying out a detailed response. Think thoroughly and objectively about the issues being cited. Spell out your side of the story, but avoid argumentative tones.

You can still assert yourself appropriately, but don’t sound defensive. That implies embarrassment at being caught in the act. If there is an issue, resolve the issue.

Carefully Choose the Communication Vehicle

Too many careers have started and died on email. If issues need to be resolved, arrange an in-person event. If Zoom is your only tool, then use it. Don’t relegate important communication to text, voice mail, or email. Too much gets read into or ignored via email.

Arrange a meeting to have the right discussion. Prepare yourself in advance. Be ready but be calm. Remain confident in the tone you choose but never be overbearing, defensive or argumentative.

A good leader wants to influence thinking not demand outcomes.

If you have this meeting and tensions cannot be resolved, then others in the organization must be brought in to mediate. This is a ‘next level’ discussion. Not just a company hierarchy issue, but ‘next level’ of familiarity with the matters in question.

Stopping the domino effect concept for business solution, strategy and successful intervention

Above all, don’t let these kinds of surprises smolder. It can become a cancer in the company or the organization. If missed expectations are not resolved, attitudes about leadership will erode your effectiveness.

A leader cannot allow that to happen. And by ‘allow’, I mean ignore or deny the issues.

The Leadership Journey

Great leaders have their stories about resolving problems just like these. Getting them handled with solid, positive, resolution based outcomes are what makes the difference between managers and great leaders.

You can do this. You just need a dedicated, thoughtful effort to get there.

We’ve changed the way things look at DougThorpe.com

Please spend a minute and see what’s changed.

Handling the Smartest Guy in the Room

smartest guy in the room

We’ve all been there before. You’ve either worked with or for THAT person; “The smartest guy in the room.”

They can make you feel small, disregarded, uncomfortable. They have ways of expressing their thoughts to make your ideas seem so wrong.

I once knew an executive who was always the smartest guy in the room. His IQ was off the charts. He could dissect any argument, slicing and dicing his way to outcomes that were usually his.

The story is told of this man one day actually being stumped by a new topic that had been brought up by a junior member of his team. He seemed stunned but undaunted.

The next day a follow-up meeting was held. This gent had gone home, opened his vast libraries and began studying the topic. His academic prowess proved once again superior.

As the new meeting began he was now and would evermore be the smartest guy on the subject. And he was.

Being the smartest person in the room is not just about academic skills alone. It can come from vast experience through years of exposure to all aspects of a business or industry. The knowledge that gets captures is retained.

Typically executives who are tagged the smartest guy have very little interpersonal skill. They plow through the day problem solving and sharing their superior knowledge, leaving hard working souls in their wake.

Working with these people is very hard to do. When they are stakeholders on a project, they can become the derailer.

What can you do?

Finding ways to work with or through these special people can be very frustrating. If you’re not intimidated by their knowledge, you might be put off by their behaviors. They often make terrible bosses.

So what can you do?

Over the years, I’ve had several clients who reported being frustrated by TSGITR (the smartest guy in the room). Whenever I hear this, I recommend one solution.

Arrange a one-on-one. Present to TSGITR the following comments or whatever version of this works for you.

“Look, whenever we meet to talk about ____________________I want to acknowledge you are the smartest guy in the room. You are an important stakeholder in the project. Whenever I try to explain the alternative ways we are working on this problem, I’d appreciate your help resolving it, not just dismissing ideas that don’t stand up to your standard.”

“I am sure no one is trying to challenge your wisdom on these subjects. I’d like to find a better way for you and me to work together. Is that ok?”

Whenever a client has used this approach, they tell me it worked well. The senior person stopped and admitted they had no idea their communication was impacting people that way. I’ve even heard of situations where TSGITR asked for help being called out when they start down that domineering path.

Managing Up the Organization

I don’t believe in the concept of managing up the organization. See my mention of that here.

However, those who are true leaders, regardless of your level in the organization, can garner respect and thereby influence those above you.

To have that kind of respect, you have to bolster your confidence, speak boldly but gracefully. Don’t find fights to fight. But likewise, don’t shrink away from objections and stronger personalities. Create your boundaries. Fight for what you know needs to get done.

If you discover that important information is missing, you can change your position. But don’t do it because of intimidation and boldness from TSGITR.

Try this out next time. Let me know how it went. Then if you’d like to discuss it further, feel free to schedule a call or leave a comment.

Also, I am offering coaching on demand through my sister site at FLASHCOACH.ME

Coaching on demand is the ability to arrange professional coaching support without a long term, ongoing contract. You can buy blocks of hours on specific topics you believe a coach could help you with. Try it out!

Why Trust Matters to Leaders; Leaders Build Trust

team trust

For decades, business leaders have been equipping themselves with every book, philosophy, reward, and program the so-called experts have convinced them to buy into, yet companies everywhere continue to struggle with toxic cultures, low performance from teams, and the unhappiness that go with them. Yet how can leaders build trust?

From our earliest days on the playground to modern-day business board rooms, there is one giant factor that makes the difference between success and failure.

That factor is trust.

Companies work long and hard, spending millions of dollars to build brand awareness that shows trust. Consumers have to trust something before they buy. Managers and CEOs spend time and money trying to build better work teams.

Recent studies in several sectors have discovered the biggest contributor to team success is TRUST.

Building Team Performance

Google broke the ice on this topic with their “Aristotle Project.” Following the success of Google’s Project Oxygen research where the People Analytics team studied what makes a great manager, Google researchers applied a similar method to discover the secrets of effective teams at Google.

Code-named Project Aristotle – a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (as the Google researchers believed employees can do more working together than alone) – the goal was to answer the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?”

The runaway winning attribute in highly successful teams was “psychological safety” or simply trust.

The Google study found that this element of trust was the most significant factor in helping teams do more, even among their peers of highly educated, well trained employees.

When trust is broken, relationships of all kinds stop working well.

The Brain Science Behind Trust

Adding to this interesting discussion comes the book “The Trust Factor” by neuroscientist Paul Zak.

In Trust Factor, we are shown that innate brain functions hold the answers we’ve been looking for. Put simply, the key to providing an engaging, encouraging, positive culture that keeps your employees energized is trust.

When someone shows you trust, a feel-good jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This simple mechanism creates a perpetual trust-building cycle between management and staff, and–voilá!–the end of stubborn workplace patterns.

The book incorporates science-backed insights for building high-trust organizations with successful examples from The Container Store, Zappos, and Herman Miller. The Trust Factor explains:

• How brain chemicals affect behavior

• Why trust gets squashed

• How to stimulate trust within your employees

• And more

What’s a leader to do?

For you who are sitting in the corner office or who are building a small business, you hear these things and wonder. I understand it, but I have no idea where to start. I’ve had so many ‘bad hires’ I can’t imagine getting this thing going. And trust an employee????

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Let’s turn back to the Aristotle results and get the answers. Leaders build trust. Here are five key action areas that leaders can control.

The five key dynamics of effective teams that the Google researchers identified are rooted in the wider world of team performance research. Whether you’re coding at Google, riffing in a writers roompreparing for a trip to Mars, or skating in a hockey rink – teams are essential to the work experience and output.

At Google, now that the Project Aristotle team has identified what makes for an effective team at Google, they’re conducting research to figure out how to take the next steps to create, foster, and empower effective teams.

Whatever it is that makes for effective teams in your organization, and it may be different from what the Google researchers found, consider these steps to share your efforts:

  1. Establish a common vocabulary – Define the team behaviors and norms you want to foster in your organization.
  2. Create a forum to discuss team dynamics – Allow for teams to talk about subtle issues in safe, constructive ways. An HR Business Partner or trained facilitator may help.
  3. Commit leaders to reinforcing and improving – Get leadership onboard to model and seek continuous improvement can help put into practice your vocabulary.

Here are some tips for managers and leaders to support the behaviors the Google researchers found important for effective teams. These are based on external research and Google’s own experience:

Psychological safety:

Dependability:

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of team members.
  • Develop concrete project plans to provide transparency into every individual’s work.
  • Talk about some of the conscientiousness research.

Structure & Clarity:

  • Regularly communicate team goals and ensure team members understand the plan for achieving them.
  • Ensure your team meetings have a clear agenda and designated leader.
  • Consider adopting Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) to organize the team’s work.

Meaning:

  • Give team members positive feedback on something outstanding they are doing and offer to help them with something they struggle with.
  • Publicly express your gratitude for someone who helped you out.
  • Read the KPMG case study on purpose.

Impact:

  • Co-create a clear vision that reinforces how each team member’s work directly contributes to the team’s and broader organization’s goals.
  • Reflect on the work you’re doing and how it impacts users or clients and the organization.
  • Adopt a user-centered evaluation method and focus on the user.

If after considering these things, you still struggle to get your head around this complex challenge, I can help.

I’ve developed a Team Trust Model that provides a clear, concise framework that teams can embrace. In places where I have introduced this framework, it becomes that vocabulary the team uses to communicate with each other. It allows a structure and process to something that otherwise may feel too vague. With it, leaders build trust.

This model has been used by leaders at corporate giants like ExxonMobil and UPS. But it has also been used by small business owners too.

Anywhere you have three or more people assembled for performing tasks, you need Team Trust.

PS – I realize that the new era of COVID remote workers really impacts your ability to connect with your teams. However, as you study the key elements here, it is easy to see why following these ideas is more critical now than ever before.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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