Want Real Change? Don’t Take the Scenic Route

avoid the scenic route

If you are thinking about making a change at work, at home or for yourself, don’t take the scenic route.

We’ve all done it. You went on a trip. Somewhere along the way you see signs for the scenic route. So you take a detour.

You begin traveling down smaller, winding roads. You see fewer cars, trucks and congestion. While the views are truly magnificent, you run into road blocks.

Maybe the blockage is road repair where the lane is closed and you have to wait for oncoming traffic to drive by while you wait your turn to go.

flagman ahead, road sign

Or where I live, in Texas, side roads will always have slow moving farm equipment; tractors or trailers hauling something. They move at 20 miles an hour if I’m lucky.

What could have been a beautiful drive in the country turns into frustration and delay.

Looking for a Change

I met a new coaching prospect this past week. She owned a nice sized business that had been operating 12 years. She was well past the start-up phase.

What she told me about was her frustration with the way her people operated. She felt she couldn’t rely on anything without close supervision. She wanted a change without firing everyone and starting over.

After learning a good deal about her situation, I explained my team coaching model to her. That is what she had called for in the first place.

woman leader at peace

When she finally asked how long would this take, I shared the time frame; six months. It would be a direct and intentional process of implementing new standards, methods, accountability, and measurements.

Six months may seem long, but for her it would be the super-highway version of the change she’d need to turn her business around. After all, it would have required engaging all of her employees, changing their behaviors and expectations.

Compared to the 12 years she had been building the simmering mess she had, my recommendation was super-sonic.

Despite my best effort to explain how this process can help and has helped many other small businesses like hers, she decided she needed something else. She could not name what that was, but, in her mind, my approach would not fit.

She sent herself on the scenic route.

Common Mistake

Change of any kind can be hard. We hear that. We believe that. And it is if you take the scenic road.

Identifying the change that should be made can be easy. “I need to lose 20 pounds.”

But making it happen takes all kinds of detours, redirects, pauses, stops and starts. It is the scenic route.

Taking the scenic route creates distractions. Some may be welcomed distractions to take our mind off of how hard the change seems to be.

But if you keep allowing the detours, pauses and distractions, you arrive at some point down the road with no change at all.

Getting It Done

I’ve had the privilege to work with larger, more global companies where implementing change can be very hard. “It’s hard to turn a battleship” they say.

Yet for leaders who get laser focused on the change they want and the ‘case for change’, they make every subsequent move very intentionally.

Here is a list of the practices great leaders follow to avoid the scenic routes and get things done.

First, create a crystal clear vision of what is to come. Be able to explain the “future state” in clear detail.

Next, rally the team. Your team may have been operating well with former standards and processes, but change may require them to step out of that comfort. As their leader, you must reinforce the case for change and help them rise to the change.

Then, monitor your progress, keeping in mind all change has an “S” curve element to it. The S curve of change describes leaving the status quo, dipping into a bit of chaos, then slowly rising above and beyond to former state to achieve new things.

S-curve

Parts of your staff may be falling behind further than others as the “S” unfolds. Keep an eye on that. Coach and mentor individuals to help them make the change.

Also, you will need to make adjustments. In the team change model “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing”, the ‘norming’ part is about settling into the change. But it takes adjustment to be sure the right pieces are fitting into place.

Lastly, and this is one far too many managers forget, celebrate the WIN. When the change is up and running, have a victory dance. Celebrate with the team. Acknowledge the contributions.

Use these steps wisely to effect change when you need it. You’ll be glad you stayed off the scenic route.

PS – I love taking the scenic routes when I have absolutely nowhere to be and plenty of time to get there. I’ve seen some amazing sights.

executive coaching by Doug Thorpe

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.

The Power of Positivity: 5 Way to Get More in Your Life

There is a general consensus among clients I serve that says “the pace of business is greater than it’s ever been.” Fast pace usually includes a focus on performance; do more, be more.

I’m a big fan of improving performance at all levels both personal and professional. At work, team performance is a big deal too. If you lead a work team, you likely suffer your own pressure for higher and better performance. Yet in the face of all the push to perform, what has gotten left out?

The word is POSITIVITY

For many of us, being positive does not always come naturally. We get busy and we get centered on the task at hand. We leave the good-natured, positive outlook behind. A friend or spouse may ask “what’s going on?” Our response is usually just “I’m busy.” Then bust becomes a habit and positivity is forgotten.

You can be focused on performance and still build a climate of positive energy in what you and your team may be doing. If you struggle with finding your own positivity, here are five habits that I’ve used that will attract more positivity into your life.

5 Ways to Get More Positive

Make a daily gratitude list

Each day, either in the morning or before you go to sleep, write down at least one thing that you’re thankful for in your life. When you do this on a consistent basis, you naturally begin to focus on the positive and see more of the good things that are happening around you instead of the bad.

Perform acts of kindness

Doing something nice for someone, even the smallest of unexpected gestures, not only makes others happy, it adds positivity to your life as well. Make acts of kindness a frequent habit. You could pay the tab for the person behind you at Starbucks. Bring coffee for the security guard at your office. Pay the toll for the car behind you. Write a thank you note to someone who helped you. Not sure what to do, check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation for more ideas.

Be fully present

We are constantly distracted, always looking at our phones and thinking about everything we have to do, or should be doing. While we’re engrossed in our Facebook timelines and playing games, we’re missing all of the positive things that are going on around us, and in some cases sitting directly across from us. Being fully present takes practice, but it pays huge dividends. Ten minutes of meditation each day can increase your awareness and focus on being present.

Reduce negative influences

The things we surround ourselves with and listen to have a big impact on our mindset, both negative and positive. Think about what you’re watching, reading and listening to throughout the day. When you fill your mind with negativity, it becomes easier to dwell on the negativity in your life. Be careful of who you spend your time, too. Do your best to stay away from other negative people. You become like the people you spend the most time with.

Spend time at the start of each day to improve YOU.

With all the demands on our time, there’s always other priorities and people vying for our attention. That’s why so many of us don’t make time to work on ourselves. It’s easy to use the “but I’m too busy” or “I’m too tired” excuse, especially if you don’t put yourself first at the start of the day. Stop snoozing your alarm and get up 30 – 60 minutes earlier and create a morning routine that consists of mindfulness, visualization, reading, exercise, and journaling. Speaking from my experience, you will be amazed at the impact this has on your life.

Note: some excerpts provided by Tyler C. Beaty

Do Your Problems Seem Bigger Than Actual Size?

Big Problems

Do you sometimes make things bigger than they really are? When you face a challenge, can you see it in proper perspective? Or do you have a tendency to make things bigger than they really are?

The great social activist Chicken Little was quoted as saying “The sky is falling” when he had merely been struck in the head by a falling acorn.

Big Problems

Blowing things out of proportion can be a problem if you are the one in charge. Yes, that would be a challenge if you do it on a regular basis. Leaders must keep things in proper perspective.

One of my clients introduced me to a new term “catastrophizing”. This means making a situation far greater than it really is. The way we entered this discussion was talking about limiting thoughts. I had asked the client to give me some examples of limiting thoughts they suffer. While a few of the answers were the usual, this one surprised me.

Catastrophizing

As an executive, you are confronted with problems almost daily. Things happen; often not as planned. You have to field questions, hear the news, and make decisions.

What if everything you were given was turned into something far more tragic? What if something someone on your team failed to do was declared a disaster when it is really just a setback or a simple honest mistake?

Think about the energy both emotional and physical you would spend dealing with such catastrophes.

Through my client’s own vulnerability, I was able to add a great word to my coaching. If you act like Chicken Little you will get yourself worked into a panic. You will be running around in a frenzy, stirring up others to join your panic party. Doing this is catastrophizing. Even if you leave others out of it, your own waste of energy and emotional effort can cause conflict and confuse the situation.

[shareable cite=”Mark Twain”]There has been much tragedy in my life; at least half of it actually happened.[/shareable]

Why do people do this?

I don’t practice psychology, so I cannot even venture a technical argument as to why some are prone to act this way. However, I can share an observation from years of leadership experience on the job.

People who catastrophize often do so for several reasons.

  1. A Sense of Dread –  They are convinced life has been mean to them. The proverbial cup is half empty all the time. Therefore, any new event that arises must be bad. They are blinded to any possibility of a favorable outcome.

  2. Lack of Trust –  People who lose trust in mankind look at problems as people problems, all the time. Their way of thinking says the other person is the reason these things are bad.

  3. No Hope –  Theirs is a world of doom and gloom. They are convinced things are hopeless. In their minds, blue skies are really just a funny shade of gray.

Sadly, I have run into these kinds of co-workers and professionals most of my career. Thank goodness they are not everywhere, nor are they in leadership very often. But when they are, look out.

The biggest problem I see with catastrophizing is the waste of energy and resources. Whether the energy is emotional or physical, the expenditure of energy trying to avoid the catastrophe is great.

The Solution

One of the wisest words I ever heard was the phrase “The problem is not the problem.” Think about that. Whenever you are confronted with what seems like a problem, check first see if what you are being told is a problem is really the problem. Here’s an example.

Missed deadlines are usually a problem anywhere. Unless that deadline is a life or death situation, most missed deadlines are bad, but not the end of the world. Having a missed deadline, though it seems big and real, may not be the problem at all. Rather, the real problem may be with the process, procedure, or people. Are the deadlines even reasonable considering the mix of the above elements? Or has someone failed at their task?

Being able to properly discern the root cause of an issue is preferable to simply catastrophizing and running around like Chicken Little.

The sky is not falling. It’s just an acorn.

[reminder]How do you prevent yourself from catastrophizing your circumstance?[/reminder]

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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5 Meditation Tips For Beginners

Have you considered meditation, but thought it was either too hard or too “out there”? Not so fast.

Here is an article submitted by one of my contributing writers.

Meditation is renowned for its benefits and there are all sorts of reasons now is the right time to start.

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Those looking to begin would do well reading the information below. It can be a big help and really get you off on the right foot.

Scan Your Body

Our minds are always being distracted by all kinds of messages and thinking.  Therefore, it can be very challenging to relax and clear our minds.  There is one trick for getting rid of the mental side-talk is scanning your body so that it is in unison with your breath.

Begin with focusing on your toes and tell them silently to relax.  Next, repeat the process until you’ve scanned all parts of your body including your head, heart, arms, fingers, abdomen and legs.  By the time you have paid attention to your whole body, you might be surprised at how relaxed it makes you feel.

Mantras

The word “mantra” is derived from two Sankrit root words. “Man” means “mind,” while “tra” means “instrument.”  Therefore, a mantra is when somebody makes some kind of repetitive vibration or sound, using either an instrument or their own voice to calm and soothe their mind.

A majority of individuals are aware of the word “om,” which is frequently used as a mantra.  However, there are a number of others as well.  The key is repeating the word or sound over and over so that you feels its sound and vibration course throughout your entire body.

Peaceful Music and Sounds

The sound and vibration of peaceful music helps you relaxes your mind, which makes it easier to reach a meditative state.  The key here is choosing music that is dreamy and soothing and ideally something that doesn’t have words.  However, if you would prefer to have words as part of your peaceful music, then it is recommended that the words have soothing and soft tones.

The volume should also be low enough so it provides more of a backdrop for things instead of being all-consuming.  In addition, be sure that your music doesn’t change significantly or end abruptly as you are meditating.

There are also a number of peaceful sounds that can help with meditation. Indoor Fountain Pros suggest an indoor fountain system. The trickle can really be a notable benefit for concentration and many find it very relaxing. Alternatively, chimes and other natural noises are also known to help.

Imagery

Whenever you think of or see an alarming image, it results in your body being flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone, and it becomes on edge and alert.  The other side of that phenomenon is that through focusing on peaceful and calming images, it allows your body to have the ability to tap into your stillness within, which sets you up for meditation and relaxation. Those kinds of images are quite powerful for harmonizing the body and mind’s energy.

38758661 - deep forest waterfall

In terms of meditation, practice makes perfect.  Therefore the more you practice it, the more it becomes easier to move into a meditative and aware state.  In addition, try mediating regularly so that body becomes accustomed to it.  There is one thing you should do prior to meditating, which is to ensure that you are comfortable at all times.  If you aren’t comfortable, it makes it more difficult to achieve a state of inner peace and make it more difficult to relax.

Focus your awareness on your heart and brain

When a majority of people meditate, they have a tendency to just focus their awareness on their brains.  Whenever people do that, it means they are missing a critical element of the overall meditation process.  In addition to your brain, the other thing that is very important is your heart which can help you achieve that desired state of inner peace.

44957814 - concept of human intelligence with human brain on blue background

Focusing on your brain at first is among the most effective methods to help you achieve the desired state of mindfulness.  Following that, slow down the activities from your brain through relaxing and clearing your mind of distracting thoughts.  After you have achieved this, the next thing you want to do is bring your awareness to your heart and then relax your heart to allow your hear and brain to work in unison.

Focus your awareness onto a specific body part for a couple of minutes or even longer may be difficult at times. If you discover that you are having a difficult time with focusing your awareness, these 5 techniques can be used for helping to make your spiritual awareness stronger.

All uncaptioned images courtesy of 123rf.com

Making the Big Leap from Manager to Leader

For some time now I have been presenting various messages to help new, first time managers make a successful move into the role of management.

Now it is time to begin the transition from management to leadership.

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First, let me recap a few key principles. One of the best explanations of the difference between management and leadership is this:

[shareable cite=”Doug Thorpe”]Management is about process. Leadership is about people.[/shareable]

You see, management can take a team of workers and accomplish a series of business goals. For sure, you can apply pure management skills to map out project plans, set goals, set quotas, establish metrics, build hierarchies, write reports, determine measurable results, so on and so on.

The best business schools all teach the core fundamentals about planning, budgeting, analysis, execution, and delivery. Perhaps they even added LEAN, Six Sigma (Motorola), TQM (Deming), and other notable management theory practices.

On the other hand, leadership inspires people. Leadership is the stuff that spawns remarkable stories about how people overcome great odds to achieve even greater things. With leadership, we get historic events like:

  • “Remember the Alamo”
  • D-Day
  • Martin Luther King –  “I Have a Dream”
  • Jack Welch –  G.E.
  • Steve Jobs –  Apple

True, effective leadership in the workplace, allows small, maybe nondescript teams to build amazing systems and create destiny; think the U.S. space program, the first wireless telephone, and all of the technology we enjoy today.

Leadership creates a vision to be pursued. It motivates people to go beyond themselves. It creates collaboration and a desire to be a part of a greater good. However, leadership is more than a fiery halftime speech or a series of catchy quotes and metaphors. It has substance. It can be palpable when present. It can be demoralizing when absent. Leadership makes a big difference, all the time.

We can find evidence of great leadership at all levels in our society. You do not have to become one of the history makers I mentioned to be called a leader. You won’t even have to be written about in the Wall Street Journal (maybe that’s a good thing). You can be an amazing leader right where you are, right in the job you have today.

I have been blessed to have worked with some wonderful, strong business leaders; not just leaders at work, but as people. People who made a difference in the communities where they lived and the houses of worship where they served with others.

Yes, absolutely, I believe there is a big difference between management and leadership. Over the next several posts I will be diving deeper into the ways leaders can be developed and nurtured.

You too can become more than just the manager of your department. You can become an influencer of the people around you, inspiring and motivating more positive results. You can be a LEADER!