Leaders: Are You a Pretender or a Contender?

If your desire is to be a better manager at work, at home, or in the community, you may want to develop some actual leadership skills.

However, if you are already following certain leadership principles, there is always room for lifting the lid to expand your reach and influence.

After many years working with clients of all kinds, I see one recurring theme, time and again. The biggest difference between managers and leaders who are pretenders versus contenders is a small six-inch piece of real estate; the distance between your ears.

Yes, I am talking about the space inside your head. The things you allow to happen in your thought life will drive the rate of success. You can be a pretender or you can be a contender. The difference is isolated in this really small space.

In the following diagram, you can see the natural progression of thought, action, reaction and behavior that is derived from our beliefs, expectations, and experiences. It’s all centered in the mind.

BELIEFS

Beliefs are your values, judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and attitudes. When you wake up each day, you have a whole set of these beliefs waiting ready in your head. The sum total of all these makes up your outlook for the day, often before you even begin. The collection of these beliefs set the stage for the way each day might unfold.

If a string of circumstance has tainted your set of beliefs, you will look at new opportunity through a jaded lens. On the other hand, if you have achieved a certain success, you may be more inclined to view new opportunity with a more optimistic mindset.

BEHAVIORS

Your beliefs drive your behaviors. Your “style” openness (or not), your habits, skills, practices, and actions stem from the beliefs you carry.

If you prefer mustard over mayonnaise, you are expressing an eating behavior based on some belief you established a long time ago. And so it goes with many of your daily choices, clothes, cars, hobbies, reading, entertainment, music, etc.

RELATIONSHIPS

Even the people you may choose to call friends will be governed by your beliefs turned into behavior. The kind of tribe you may join at work or in the community will be influenced by your behaviors.

If you align with a certain religious belief system, that will dictate the house of worship you choose to attend. Political affiliations, other social settings, and even workplace choices will be heavily swayed by the relationships you think you want to make; all having root in your mind’s eye.

RESULTS

Finally, the results will reflect the collection of beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. The direct circles of activity you choose will have a specific set of outcomes. These results (outcomes, impact, improvements, and “performance”) will all serve to reinforce your belief system.

When the results align with your original beliefs you say “see, I told you so.” You feel you knew it all along.

On the other hand, if an outcome somehow runs counter to what you expected (as many things will do), you may be inclined to fall deeper into your beliefs saying things like “I will never do THAT again”, or “I wish I had followed my gut.”

The Remedy

The successful leader will learn how to control that delicate real estate between the ears. Negative thoughts will be replaced by ones that provide a more meaningful value. The cycle of belief, behavior, relationship, and result will become a momentum-generating machine for positive action and success.

Whenever limiting thoughts creep in or pop up, the prudent, experienced leader will properly address the thought and prevent it from taking root to undermine the rest of the experience.

Whenever in doubt, the seasoned, learning leader will seek advice from trusted counselors and coaches or mentors and friends, to better evaluate the thought. If the thought has merit, then it can be addressed with a balanced, healthy view, never interrupting forward progress.

When you handle the root belief system, you set the stage for a more positive outcome. More importantly, you set the process by which you can grow, profit, and prosper in all areas of your life.

team building via trust

I’ve coached hundreds of business people helping them develop more effective leadership skills. Whether you own the business or you’re climbing the ladder in a larger corporate setting, you can benefit from finding a close, confidential advisor to help you develop the extra skills that make a difference. Use the contact forms here to reach out. Let me introduce you to my proven programs for leadership growth.

Leaders: What Holds You Back?

It’s the Leader’s responsibility to make the big decisions. Yet there are times when leaders freeze. They can’t make the call. They can’t pull the trigger. What holds them back?

In my early career I was a banker. We had a saying. “There are old bankers and there are bold bankers, But there are no old bold bankers.”

Bankers were supposed to be the pillars of strength in the community. Seldom was the banker looked upon as the guy on the leading edge. Being bold and daring was typically something no one did.

Taking Risk

The issue at the center of the matter is risk. Take the risk or not take the risk, that is the question.

The same holds true for decision making in general. Every choice has its consequences. We teach that to our kids. You make a choice and something is going to happen; good or bad.

In business, the choices might make or break the company. Should we expand? Could we relocate? Should we sell or merge? Add staff or cut back? Hold firm or change?

The list goes on.

But what holds us back?

Here are the main reasons decision can be so darn hard.

Fear of failure or being an outlier – not everyone is a natural risk taker. The self-talk going on inside our brains keep us from being bold. The messages may even go all the way back to childhood, when you were told ‘you’re too slow, not smart enough, not good enough.’

Maybe you were brought up being told ‘you should never bring attention to yourself’.

Making the big decision may do just that; bring a lot of attention.

Fear of reputational risk, internally and externally – Businesses of all sizes have something called ‘reputational risk’. You work hard to build brand identity or at least you should be working on that. Having a solid brand identity is your reputation as a company. Taking a departure from that identity can hurt your reputation.

Think about 2010 and British Petroleum’s Texas Gulf rig fire Horizon. It brought severe reputational risk and brand damage to BP.

Lack of resources (human and capital) – This is possibly the biggest reason decisions get stalled. Whether fact or fiction, the sense that resources are lacking causes many delays and misses when it comes to key decisions.

reviewing numbers

Fixed way of thinking (mental schemas) – Companies with a tradition or legacy get lulled into one way of thinking. As an example, having a large fixed asset base does not guarantee you will make money by simply ‘not screwing it up.”

Competitive decisions must be made daily to keep your winning edge. As the times change, so must your ways of thinking and guiding the organization.

Defining “Bold” – The meaning may vary according to the individual. When a leader senses it is time for a ‘bold’ decision, the level of boldness may be limited to just his or her mindset.

Sharing the idea with your team may reveal the idea is not so bold after all. It’s just a necessary choice about next steps.

Groupthink can lead to complacency – This too is a big derailer for great decisions. If you are a leader committed to team empowerment, you want the whole team to weigh in. That is a noble idea most of the time. But habitual development of a group-think mindset can lead to a false sense of security.

The Leader is still on the hook for the final decision.

groupthink

Lastly, being bold would not be received well by the organization (or the Board). You might possibly even get penalized for stepping out there. This is a simple reality about leadership. You ARE on point. You were put there to make decisions.

Not all of your choices will be applauded. That is your risk of being the leader.

Take Inventory

I challenge my executive coaching clients to periodically re-calibrate by reviewing their decision making patterns. The question is whether the recent decisions have been consistent with the picture of the leader they want to be, not the leader they’ve been before.

Staying true to the leader you want to be should drive your decision-making process. You can still incorporate all of the team dynamics you want, but the final choice rests squarely on your shoulders.

That’s why they pay you the big bucks! (OK, that’s funny for many of us.)

Important Versus Urgent, or Both?

increase your productivity

We live in a crazy, busy world. That won’t be a surprise to anyone. The at-home quarantine for COVID-19 have even increased the load on workers and families everywhere.

Your day gets crammed with to-do list items that feel overwhelming. What can you do?

If you’re like most people I know, (myself included) you want to get it ALL done. But how do you decide what gets done first and what can wait?

In the face of this global crisis, turning to some old-school thinking just might help you.

Prior to becoming the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower served as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during WWII. As a general officer, Eisenhower was faced with daunting decisions concerning the tasks he needed to focus on every day. This led him to create a principle that can help us priorities our tasks by looking at whether something is urgent and important.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower uses four squares to define various stages. Stephen R. Covey in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People further popularized Eisenhower’s concept.

Here is how the four boxes work:

Box 1: Do First

I like to call these things that are both important and urgent your “big rocks”. These are the must win items to get done.

Many of my clients admit that the big rocks can get pushed aside in favor of clearing out a bunch of smaller things. There’s a flaw in that idea though. Fill your day with a bunch of little things like those 135 emails, and your day will be gone before anything got done on the big rock.

The things you know you need to do first can be put aside because of perfectionist tendencies. The thinking sounds like this, “I know this is big. I am not prepared to make it perfect, so I am going to wait.”

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Get busy on those Big Rocks, now!

Box 2: Decide When

Box 2 items are important but not urgent. So what they need is a decision about when.

Items placed in box 2 can have life changing impact; remember they ARE important. Yet you have time to decide when they get done.

Here’s where we need to talk about urgent versus important. People often associate urgent matters with being important, which is not always true.

There are many examples of Box 2 items. Getting another degree can be very important to your career advancement, but does it have to be done right now? Exercising is important for health, but you can schedule the right amount of exercise.

Staying productive

Box 3: Delegate It

Have you ever spent time doing something you thought was so urgent and important, but when it was done you realized it was not?

If so, congrats. You are in great company.

For Box 3 it is important to learn when and how to delegate things. If you lead a team, you have resources. You can salvage your time in favor of letting others do these particular tasks.

If you are in the middle of working on a big rock (Box #1) and the phone rings. You don’t have to answer it. If you see who called, ask a team member to return the call and find out what is happening.

Box 4: Delete It

You want to avoid much of Box 4 items. Examples are playing video games, watching old TV shows. Any mndless web browsing may be a Box 4 item.

You need time to invest in working boxes 1 and 2. The more time you free up by simply deleting things, the more productive you will become.

OK, yes, we need “downtime” to unwind and relax. Take that time. But watch yourself for wasted time doing very unnecessary things. That junk email doesn’t even need to be opened. Just delete it.

Procrastination and the Eisenhower Grid

As I mentioned earlier, procrastination can get you confused about this grid. Sometimes it’s easy to make distinctions between your tasks, other times not so much.

Everything you have in front of you does not fit in one of the boxes. The reality is that all things do fit somewhere, just not in the same box.

Picking up that gallon of milk has to wait while you find your car keys. There is a logical order to things.

For procrastinators, while you wrestle with box 1 and 2 things, you fill your day acting on things in boxes 3 and 4. Ultimately, you feel a sense of missed opportunity.

Here’s How to Use the Grid to See If YOU are Procrastinating

To see if you are spending the bulk of your time in the first two quadrants, do a one-week assessment. To do this, make six copies of a blank grid, and use one grid per day, listing the tasks you accomplished or the activities you did, and the time spent on each thing.

When all of the grids are full, combine the Monday-Friday data onto your sixth summary grid and calculate how much time you spent in each grid, then break those numbers down into percentages.

Evaluate how effectively you spent your time and whether your process needs to be reorganized.

6 Great Questions to Lead Your Team

Being a leader requires the ability to build rapport with your team. Those following you must have good reason to do so.

Every time you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, you have a big opportunity to add to and build that individual rapport.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, too many teams are separated, working remotely, and having trouble connecting. Or do they?

The very best leaders I know have been using the following six questions (and then some) to stay connected, stay in communication, and thrive during this period.

Use this in some form or another every time you get that golden opportunity to talk to each individual on your team.

The 6 questions are:

Where are WE going?

Ask this intentionally so that the employee or follower is able to express in their own words their understanding of the current state. Let them tell you what they understand to be the mission and direction.

If the answer catches you off guard, then maybe you have a big disconnect that needs to be handled immediately.

The “we” here is about the team. Be sure to gauge whether the individual’s understanding is in step with the team direction you hope for.

Where are YOU going?

This is a logical follow-up to #1. If the person expresses a correct team direction but shares a personal variance in what they think is happening, then you have another opportunity to connect and correct.

The where are you going question also measures engagement. When an individual has begun to disengage with the team, they must be offered the opportunity to reconnect.

What do you think you are doing well?

This is a great opportunity to let the individual team member express their pride for what might be working for them. Let them share their focus.

Again though, if there is a bit of misalignment, this is the perfect opportunity to realign, recalibrate the role and the duties to set the path for better performance.

By allowing the person to share, you open the communication letting them state in their own words the accomplishments they view as significant.

What are some suggestions for improvement?

Open the door for individual dialogue about ways to improve things. The people who are on the frontlines see things differently than you. Be open to listening to these observations. You just might get the next great idea.

How can I help?

This may be the most powerful of all questions a manager/leader can ask a follower. Letting them know you are there to help is the biggest proof of your commitment to seeing them succeed.

This is an especially important question during remote working conditions. 

Don’t ask it if you don’t mean it, but use it sincerely and you will see team commitment rise significantly.

If something is suggested, you must follow through to get it resolved or delivered. Don’t let this golden opportunity fall flat on its face from your inability to deliver.

If the ask is too big, then say so. Explain what the limitations are, but be real. Let the person know they were heard and that you understand.

What suggestions do you have for me to be a better manager?

This is last but by no means the least of these 6 questions. Again, your hope should be to receive sincere feedback. Your response should be an open acceptance of what you get told.

If all you do is ask the question but recoil, then you’ve missed the opportunity.

However, if you take the suggestion and do something with the feedback, you build great rapport and trust.

Speaking of Trust

Trust is at the root of the best performing teams. Building an atmosphere of high trust keeps the whole team engaged with you as the boss. Having the rapport through regular, recurring one-on-ones with your team, using these six questions, will keep the trust growing.

In a recent study conducted at Google, they spent two years researching what made some of their teams perform better than others.

The overwhelming answer was “psychological safety” or TRUST. When teams created a safety net of trust, team members performed at much higher levels.

I’ve developed the following model to help explain the six elements for building and maintaining trust within your team. This model has been used by industry giants in several different settings. 

Team Trust

When trust is present, people can accept bad news. They won’t necessarily like it but they can better accept it when they know you have their backs. They get to that end by seeing you make the effort to build the rapport at each chance you get. As rapport improves, so will the trust they have.

Call to Action

If you are a manager or executive who needs a little help with any of these ideas, perhaps a coach can help. To learn more about the coaching I do, schedule a call to speak with someone about the programs and ways we can help.

Are You Ready to Take a Chance?

As businesses across the globe begin to ponder their choices for reopening in a post-COVID-19 world, people will be faced with choices. While governmental restrictions dictate some of those choices, it appears all other choices will be left up to the owner/manager. Are you ready to take a chance?

The choices will involve taking chances. How are you set for taking a chance? Here are just a few of the situations I am seeing among the businesses I serve.

Leader making choices

Social distancing is still going to be a ‘rule of the road’. Large companies with grand office footprints are talking about limiting on-site presence, at least for the near future. Ideas like allowing only those employees with enclosed offices to return to work first. Cubicle workers will stay home a bit longer.

Restaurants are looking at separating tables by six feet, reducing seating areas. Stores may keep the Plexiglas panels they have installed at checkout stands.

As an executive, leader or manager making these choices, you create a risk for taking the chance to do something one way or the other. How will you handle that?

The Basis for Decision

Responding to the post-crisis world will be testing your leadership resolve. Do you have the ‘metal’ to stand firm in your convictions about the right thing to do? Clearly acting too soon to deploy large numbers of employees, patrons, or traffic in your facility may tag you an outlier. Are you ready to accept that risk?

The process to make these choices will demonstrate what you have been made of all along. As John Maxwell says:

“Experiences make us, but crisis reveals us.”

How will you be revealed in the face of the crisis around you? As the world finds its new normal, will your leadership character be strong or weak?

Core and Edge Thinking

There is a good explanation for dealing with taking chances as a leader. It has to do with the agility you have in moving from your core out to the edge. Let me explain.

Your Core is the center of your leadership framework. It is made up of all your beliefs, values, and relational experiences. The core includes your technical training and experience too. Likely you have worked hard to develop your leadership core. Just like working on your body’s core at the gym, having a strong leadership core makes you a better leader.

Diagram of core-edge-agility

Your core provides the foundation of who and what you may be as a leader. It inspires your own sense of right and wrong, weak and strong.

However, your core can become your comfort zone too. You might be one who finds safety in staying very close to the core. This can be the downside of relying too much on core strengths.

Then There’s the Edge

For every one of us, there is an edge out there. The edge is the horizon of opportunity and challenge. The edge is where new growth happens. It is often an unknown situation or circumstance.

This is why taking a chance is a good example of being on the edge. The risk that is associated with going out to the edge is what makes leadership challenges so significant.

Explorers love the edge challenge. Finding new horizons.

That is why your willingness to go out to the edge is as much an indicator of your leadership prowess as is your core strength.

Agility

The third dimension of this model is called agility. Agility is a leader’s ability to move smoothly from core thinking to the edge and back again.

On one hand, being willing to freely go out to the edge is good, but if you get stuck there, you’re in trouble. You have to be able to get back to your center, your foundation. Think about Apollo 13.

taking a chance with core, edge and agility

Agility is the beauty of good leadership. Keeping your values high yet exploring new opportunities to grow and prosper your team, your work, and your business. By gracefully going to the edge while maintaining clear visibility of core strengths, you become a trusted leader.

Back to the New Chances

The new normal we are looking to establish represents the edge for all of us. The way we define the edge may be different, but it is an edge nonetheless. If your core cries out for certain values and expectations, but the edge is not clear, you are dealing with taking a big chance.

Your agility will be the factor that determines your success. Ask yourself what it will take to move forward.

Will an old habit of decision making fail you in this new crisis? Will you be afraid to take chances?

Or can you effectively, maybe even boldly, make the right decision to choose next steps for your business? By exercising your agility you can go out to the new edges, do what you have to do, then know you can always return to your core for strength.

Note: Core, Edge, and Agility concepts courtesy of Lee Hecht Harrison

Certain graphics courtesy of 123rf.com and unsplash.com

Are You Focused Deep or Wide?

If you start talking about leadership, you may get several different reactions; everything from eye-roll to serious looks. Regardless of the guru you follow or the school where you took leadership training, there is one key question that remains.

Will your leadership ability be deep or wide?

If you’re thinking about big organizations with high headcount and multiple lines of business, you are thinking about wide leadership influence. This includes large communities or tribes where your influence can be experienced.

However, if you think in terms of the immediate circle of your peers and direct reports, then you are thinking deep leadership.

There is not really a right or wrong to either of these two schools of thought.

Wide Leadership Thinking

As the name implies, wide leadership reaches far. The edges are way out there. You might be hoping to influence or impact a large population, whether that’s within your company or inside an industry.

Your idea of a vision has a really big scale to it. You are wanting to leave behind or accomplish making a big difference.

Ironically, a great leader with a wide vision isn’t necessarily thinking about numbers of followers. Instead, they focus on the need. Their heart centers on service.

The best picture is that of the pebble cast on a calm pool of water. The place where the stone hits the water causes ripple effects that have energy enough to reach the far edges of the pond or lake. If the pool was perfectly still, a single stone will create ripples that are seen the whole distance beyond the center of that circle.

Great leadership creates ripples of influence and impact in the hearts and minds of the ones who stand in the outer bands of the circle surrounding the leader.

The Deep End

Deep leadership is limited in numbers. It is a more personalized experience, dealing with a few.

In business, we think of it as our “direct reports”, those who are assigned directly to us with whom we have a day to day contact.

Mentoring someone is a deep leadership happening. The leader will be pouring wisdom, encouragement, and experience into the individual, one on one.

Deep leadership impact will be life changing for the recipient. Perhaps the influence will be limited to just a few nuggets of truth or learning, but the substance will be powerful. The person receiving the lesson will be forever changed.

The Best Do Both

The best leaders I have ever known or studied do both. I’ve tried being that kind of leader in what I do. I’ve tried teaching it to others.

When you take on a position of responsibility, you have to make the team work first. Your influence should be the deep kind. You must feed and nurture those assigned to you or hired by you. It is up to you to explain the vision and purpose.

You’ll be doing individual development of those around you.

As the team becomes productive, you can shift your focus to the wider perspective.

Your business may have many layers and your team is just a part of the bigger picture. Your influence as a leader can be felt by others outside your team. You do this by supporting other units or departments.

If you own your own business, you have to get it up and running smoothly (deep leadership) before you reach too far outside into the community to make yourself known (wide leadership).

A Pivot

I could go on about this and maybe will in another installment later. But I need to interject something.

I had this article in my writing queue for some time. My calendar was clicking by and my process to go to press was running normally. Then it was time to polish this one off and prep it for release on Sunday, April 12.

It hit me.

That Date is Easter.

Then it hit me again. What better an example of deep and wide influence than the story we know about Jesus’s life.

I intentionally do not force my faith and beliefs on you my reader. Nor will I start now. But please allow me a moment to reflect on this, a very significant holy date for many.

The story of Jesus began with him assembling a small group, twelve to be exact. His intent was to go deep with teaching, mentoring and messaging. He attempted to dispel many teachings of the day and bring better clarity on the subject of God and Heaven.

The disciples as this group later would be called, didn’t always get it at first. It took many tries to explain and demonstrate the principles to them. They eventually did get it.

Then focus turned to a wider audience. A gathering in a town square, a following on a hillside. The pebble was thrown into the lake and ripple it did.

The twelve are gone. Yet, the legacy created 2000 years ago remains.

I don’t judge your beliefs. None of this is an attempt to sway you otherwise. Yet for those who do believe this story and these teachings, the model is perfect.

Leadership delivered deeply to a few had impact far and wide on many. Today, we as leaders can do much the same.

OK most of you will not start a movement or create a global cause. But you can be the leader your team and your community need right now.

I encourage you to reflect in this Easter season.

Where does your leadership stand right now? Deep, wide or both?

Are You Managing Your World or Is Your World Managing You?

managing world

With so many of us confined to limited movement during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been touching base (OK touching is a bad word) with colleagues, clients and close friends. The gist of the discussions have to do with “what do we do now?”

An old title from my archives came to mind. I thought I’d dust it off and share. I hope this thought will be helpful to you as you figure out your “new normal.”

Here it is from  the vault.


We all suffer the daily grind. Some days are better than others. For anyone in management or leadership, you need to take a pause to make some critical assessments. I like to call it recalibration. This is a key leadership quality.

Let’s face it, the demands on your time and your life can get overwhelming. In today’s tumultuous market, we really never know from day to day what next may come.

A Story

In my consulting days, I was project manager of a very large engagement with over 600 consultants working for me. It was a coast to coast assignment with teams scattered across 7 job sites. I had nine different work streams running concurrently, with cross-over dependencies between teams.

The hours were long and the travel compounded the pressure. The client was a large national banking institution and the mission was to help the bank respond to a critical regulatory mandate. To say the least, the stakes were great. It could have been easy to get overwhelmed with the scope of the situation. I confess, at times I did feel consumed.

Fortunately, my many years of prior training, both military and civilian, had prepared me for just such a mission. I was a long time practitioner of the principle I am about to share

If you let these pressures mount without routinely asking yourselves some essential questions, you run the risk of spinning off into some other orbit that you never intended.

I suggest that one of the most essential questions to ask yourself is :

Are you managing your world or is your world managing you?

The Frog

There is an old story of the frog in the pot. The story says that if you drop a frog in boiling water he immediately jumps out. But if you set him in cool water and slowly add the heat, he’ll boil to death. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be like the frog.

boiling-frog

You have to gauge the temperature on a regular basis. Are you getting comfortable with the heat rising?

You have to pay attention to the circumstances around you. There needs to be the routine recalibration of your own role in the middle of the work demands going on around you.

React or Respond?

Here’s another point. If a doctor prescribes medication and I have a reaction to it, that is NOT GOOD. Yet if I respond to it, I am going to get over the condition. Just like with the medicine, being reactive to the things in our world really will not help the situation. Of course there are things that may happen that are totally unexpected. We have to deal with that.

At the core of this idea is the challenge between being proactive or reactive. The point here is that we should not let everything that happens become a topic of reaction. Truly we should be able to do some things to be proactive with what may come. Proactive people are better positioned to respond to the situation and manage their world. However, being reactive allows the events of the day to manage YOU.

So where do you stand? Are you more inclined to be in control of the things happening around you or have you started just reacting?

People Can Mess Things Up

people mess things up

You may think you have developed the best plan in the world to attack the next chapter of your life (ok, maybe just the next few hours). Then, what do you know, the very first person who walks into the office seems to blow the whole plan out of the water. What do you do?

Don’t react! Force yourself to pause and process the matter according to your plan. This is how you manage things rather than let things manage you.

Is it easy? Of course not! That’s why we so often feel overwhelmed at the end of the day.

Even if you are successful at maintaining the focus on your plan, it likely will take lots of energy and effort. But people who have been able to adopt a discipline for doing this find it becomes easier to do. If your outward aura is true to this inner control, the people around you will start to get the picture. Their demands will become less intrusive, plus they will learn they cannot get “the reaction” out you they used to be able to do.

LIFE IS A SELF-HELP JOURNEY

Managers getting it right

Maybe self-help books are not as popular as they once were. The truth is, this journey we call life is full of self-help moments. Rather than waiting on others to pitch in or hoping that circumstances may change, you need to take control of your own destiny.

Personal and professional growth only happens when you choose to make it happen.

At each and every step of the way, keep asking yourself if you are managing your world or does your world manage you? Take the time to recalibrate. Get back on plan.

Question: When was the last time you were able to stand back and realize your world was managing you? How did you regain control?

Leadership in Times of Crisis – Finding the CALM

calm lake, leadership

It would be surprising if anyone on the planet with access to any form of communication (old or new) didn’t know about the coronavirus. We have news of it popping up every few seconds as messages unfold about closures, cancellations, and other alerts regarding the spread.

I respect the need to be cautious, proactive and vigilant. Many of the gatherings and events I was scheduled to attend have been suspended, postponed or canceled outright. There have even been moments where I was part of the decision to cancel something. I get it.

However, I am not convinced I’ve seen perfect examples of leadership demonstrated in every announcement or bulletin. I’ve seen supposed leaders take a podium and simply spread fear and concern.

In the face of a global pandemic, as it is now called, leaders in both public and private sectors need to stay calm. Calm is a tricky proposition for a leader.

On one hand, you should have your own personal concerns about what is going on. If you are high enough in an organization, you might be leading a major project team. Having a totally external force like COVID-19 interrupt your plans is frustrating at best. Again, I don’t want to sound irresponsible or insensitive but hang with me a bit.

When a leader begins to gain momentum, the last thing you want to have happen is for something to break the cycle. Especially something that comes from outside your organization.

calm business man

We Need Calm

Calm needs to be the focus. Here are four key principles to think about during a crisis.

C is for Clarity. Simplify your messages. Speak clearly and intentionally, thoughtfully. Immediately respond to those who seem unclear after you communicated.

People will need clear communication about your new expectations under new and perhaps stressful situations.

A is for Action. You still need to act. If your decision has not been formed, say so. But don’t wait too long. This virus situation is a fast-moving event. Be ready to respond as information changes.

L is for Leadership. Perhaps it should be obvious, but some may get busy and not be intentional about their leadership wheelhouse.

Dig deep in your leadership tool kit to make ready the best tools you have to guide, direct, inspire, and influence during troubling times. People need us now.

M is for mean it. Be sincere. Don’t rely on cliche and platitude. Stay connected with your people. I mean emotionally connected. Up-level your empathetic listening. Hear people out.

Be relevant and relatable so that people maintain (or increase) their trust in your leadership.

Forget About It

We also need to forget some things. A client from long ago posted these wonderful reminders. He’s a very accomplished CEO and leader in the mortgage finance industry. His name is Bill Dallas. Here are his thoughts.

1. Forget About Yourself; Focus on Others. You will become a source of confidence (and calm) for everyone else.

2. Forget About Your Commodity; Focus on Your Relationships. Every time you strengthen a relationship, the viability of you are selling will increase.

3. Forget About the Sale; Focus on Creating Value. Most people don’t like being sold at the best of times.

4. Forget About Your Losses; Focus on Your Opportunities.

5. Forget About Your Difficulties; Focus on Your Progress.

6. Forget About the “Future”; Focus on Today.

7. Forget About Who You Were; Focus on Who You Can Be.

8. Forget About Events; Focus on Your Responses.

9. Forget About What’s Missing; Focus on What’s Available.

10. Forget About Your Complaints; Focus on Your Gratitude.

The Leadership Premium

In times of crisis and concern, leadership value rises to a premium. You, as a leader, must be the one to help others survive. Encourage those around you.

staying calm in times of stress

Stay calm.

No need to argue the merits of a decision someone else has made. Yet if your people are beginning to act in extremes, encourage them to reconsider. Lead toward calm.

Is Your Project a Self-Eating Watermelon?

self-eaten watermelon

What is a self-eating watermelon? Definition : A project that contains enough seeds of success right within its own boundaries.

How many of you work for or in a self-eating watermelon project or organization?

self-eaten watermelon

I doubt many would say yes. You see I hear a lot of excuses why a project fails.

Outside influences get a big part of the blame. Low budgets, poor facilities, bad technology, broken tools, weak ideas… the list goes on and on.

What about bad leadership, or no leadership? Any organization that suffers a leadership gap is destined to miss the self-eating watermelon kind of success.

Great leaders can overcome basic obstacles. OK the tools may be dull, the budget may have gotten cut back, the building is second rate. Many great world changing events have happened with far less in terms of physical resources to do the work.

An Old Story

Leadership made the difference. I’m old enough to have been a student of the great war, WWII. Leaders like Dwight Eisenhower or Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill looked at the mess the world was in and saw a vision. They dug deep into core principles both human and domestic to design the way out.

Leaders like these inspired thousands to stand up and fight. Troops fought with second rate gear sometimes. Warm clothes and rations were scarce. Yet the forces that were mustered heard the call and forged ahead, securing victory for a free world.

If you get a chance, go tour Churchill’s bunker underneath the streets of London. By today’s standards, you just cannot imagine suffering years of isolation running the war effort from there. But his team and the plans they made were a true self-eating watermelon project. The seeds of success were grown right there.

Those who helped the effort saw a clear picture of the need. Churchill had his detractors. He was a classic modern day politician with a large percentage of the country not voting for him, yet his leadership shined brightest when the country needed it the most.

He rallied the support when it was needed. His influence on the situation was undeniable.

The Newer Story

A seldom told tale comes from banking. In the 1980’s, the automated teller machine was blazing its trail into our lives. The hardware was operating before the software. While each bank could purchase their own machines for use by their customers, there was no access sharing between banks.

I worked for a large regional bank called Texas Commerce. We had 71 locations spread across Texas. We were one of the three largest banks of our kind at the time. You have to realize we did not yet have interstate banking laws, so each state had its own banks; leave the state without cash, and you might be stuck for a while.

I was sitting at the table when our Chairman, a banking legend named Ben Love, was presented a plan to operate these ATM machines. Again, understand this was the very early days of the idea. Ben heard all of the pros and cons, saw the numbers, but decided to pass on the opportunity. In his mind, there were far too many variables, yet unknown.

In the case of the self-eating watermelon, no one knew what the seeds of success needed to include. Ben took a pass, but specifically told the team to stay vigilant, watch the other guys try, then, when the time was right, we’d jump in.

It was almost two years later that we took our dive. And dive we did. Not only did we enter the market, but we crushed it, becoming the founding members of the PULSE Switch. You see the network required to connect all of these machines needed to be built. We needed a technological super highway to carry the transaction data from one machine to the next, regardless of which bank sponsored the machine. PULSE solved that.

As a founding member of PULSE, we also captured a large share of the transaction fees that went with each swipe of a card. It was a huge play for the bank and banking in general. Yes, I know ATM’s are a given these days. No one thinks about this card or that, which network it runs on, or who gets what, when. The old model blazed the trail to create a new normal.

Ben Love had other historical accolades too. He championed branch banking and interstate banking, exerting a strong influence in the Texas legislature to pass the laws needed to open the borders for eventual e-commerce. His ties to New York banking led to the eventual merger of our bank with what is now JP Morgan Chase.

Ben Love

The seeds of this monumental success were sown into the very fabric of who and what we were as a bank. That, my friends, is leadership. Now, let it be said, Ben Love had his detractors too, just like Churchill. Not everyone who ever worked for Ben left with a positive appreciation for Ben’s ways. But you cannot deny the influence he had at so many levels.

Leadership Is the Key

In summary, there are no self-eating watermelon projects or organizations that exists without strong, capable leadership. It is the presence of leadership that steers the course, musters the resources, and wins the day.

You can be a manager, flipping switches, making a few things happen. But leadership takes the venture much further than mere management can.

If your project needs a few self-eating seeds implanted, call me for some ideas on ways to grow your team into this self-actualizing champion of your industry. You can grow your leadership ability, let me show you how.

Footnote: I was introduced to the “self-eating watermelon” terminology by Kent Cummins of Magic Hotline. Kent is a renown speaker and author.

Leading Change: An Old Model Reveals New Ideas

Overcoming change

Business leaders know the challenge it can be to lead change. When there is a new announcement about something changing, you can often hear the groans that arise.

Overcoming change

Work teams of all kinds resist change. Understanding ways to overcome the resistance can be a leader’ s best answer in times of change.

As I’ve mentioned before, managing change can be very darn difficult. Within the body of change management that is so readily available, much has been written about overcoming resistance to change. I have found one particular explanation for ways to overcome the resistance, that makes things crystal clear.

In the 1960’s David Gleicher put forth a comprehensive explanation of the theory of change. Others after him altered his work slightly but gave credit to him as the creator of this view. Here’s what Gleicher said.

Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. A formula for overcoming resistance to change looks like this:

D x V x F > R

These factors are:

D= Dissatisfaction with how things are now;

V= Vision of what is possible

F= The First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;

By multiplying these three factors, if the product is greater than Resistance, then change is possible.

Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if any one of the factors is absent (zero) or low, then the product will be zero or low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.

To ensure a successful change it is necessary to use influence and strategic thinking in order to create a vision and identify those crucial, early steps towards it. In addition, the organization must recognize and accept the dissatisfaction that exists by listening to the employee voice while sharing industry trends, leadership best practices and competitor analysis to identify the necessity for change.

Let’s Unpack the Factors

Dissatisfaction –  When dissatisfaction with the current state is present, change can be easier. We deal with these kinds of change every day. If the temperature is too cold, we turn on the heat. If it’s too hot, we turn on a fan or an air conditioner to cool us. In these simple examples, resistance to change is practically zero because the dissatisfaction is so high.

In a job setting the dissatisfaction is harder to identify and measure. If your team’s computers are getting old and outdated, they perform poorly. Sometimes they freeze. The need for change can be obvious. So you offer a chance to upgrade technology. Resistance might be low.

However, when you change a computer system seeking some other goal, the work team may resist that change. When the perception is things are working well, a change can see a greater resistance because dissatisfaction is low.

Vision –  The leader’s ability to paint the best vision picture can be one of the greatest strengths. People can and do rally around a good vision for the future; a look at what could be. You can be operating with very little dissatisfaction, but have a vision for something greater and still overcome resistance to the change.

Mergers and reorganizations come to mind. The leadership sees an opportunity for something much greater so an announcement is made about reorganizing or merging entities. The natural response from the staff is resistance. Yet when the vision is presented well, with great conviction and quantifiable gains for everyone, the resistance can be overcome.

Forgetting to add the proper vision when driving change can create the zero value in this DVF>R equation, thus making resistance too great to overcome.

First Steps – Being able to reduce resistance can actually be easier than we think. Taking solid, specific first steps toward the change can create the momentum you need to break through the resistance and effect change.

The first steps are often forgotten as critical to successful change. The big transformation project gets mapped out, but the first steps are merely buried in the details with little if any focus and intention.

Successfully managing change requires focused effort to get the first steps right. Again, having zero impact with first steps could negate the whole equation, keeping resistance high, keeping change from happening.

Conclusion

When you are faced with a leadership challenge for change, think about this simple formula. Review the three elements present in your own situation. Do what you can to enhance and control the factors so that your ability to eliminate resistance is effective.

Once the resistance goes way or at least gets minimized, you have a much greater chance of making change happen.

Think about your own experience managing change. Test this theory and review where the gaps occurred. I think you will find the model holds true. Focus on the three components described here and you will greatly increase your own effectiveness leading change.

What do you do to overcome any resistance to change? Share, leave a comment.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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