If you took a team of smart, capable people out to the wilderness and showed them an ox, could they accurately estimate the weight of that ox?
Working by themselves, ask each person to write down the weight they believe the ox to be, then seal it in an envelope. Collect the envelopes. As you start opening the envelopes, you’d find the guesses would be all over the place. Some too low, some too high.
But if you ask the same group to work as a team, they could share experiences and learning to come to a much better answer for the weight of the ox.
The same principle holds true with solving big problems at work. Any member of your team working alone can come to an answer. But is that answer the best it could be?
The Back Story for Business
I was told this story the first time by an investment advisor. He shared that his colleagues routinely gathered to analyze and explore optimum solutions for asset management of key accounts they held.
It was reassuring to know that the collective wisdom of his team was being used to make better choices and create the best possible advice for stakeholders.
Leaders need to open themselves up for similar group activities. While you might be the owner or CEO of your respective company, you can still leverage the wisdom of others to help you make better, more informed decisions.
Ways to Help You Make Better Decisions
Here are some simple ways to get it done.
First, if you are truly alone at the top, you need an outside resource to help. A trusted advisor whether personal or professional can be that ear to hear what you are thinking. You can use them as a sounding board.
A trusted advisor can be there for you to explore options, vet decisions, and suggest other things to consider before making a final decision.
Or you might pursue a peer advisory group. In “Think and Grow Rich”, Napolean Hill introduced the idea of Mastermind Groups. This is a gathering of like-minded individuals to come together and share experiences, ideas, and wisdom so as to help others grow.
Another idea is to turn things over to your own leadership team. Depending on the size of your organization, you may have access to a team of direct reports who could be that group to review the details and evaluate ideas.
A Caution on ‘Group Think’
Allowing a group to do anything can have its risks. But with proper guidance and collaboration, leveraging the combined expertise of a workgroup can pay dividends.
When teams have not been built around solid core principles for trust and collaboration, then ‘group think’ can go wrong. If team members are uncertain of their standing in the group or people feel alienated, then they might ‘go along’ with the dominant voice at the table rather than speak their mind.
If that happens, you as a leader have a much bigger problem. It is for this reason I have been using the Team Trust Model.
The Team Trust Model explains six key steps for every team to use to build TRUST. Teams who operate with high levels of trust can achieve much greater results than those operating without trust. More on that here.
If you’ve never considered having an outside advisor to help you through your decision-making process, now may be the time to ask.
You and I share many different things. As leaders, we share common needs, goals, and attributes. Depending on who you talk to, you and I score at different levels depending on the topic we choose to ask about. However, there is one key area frequently cited as a critical factor in determining whether a leader is effective or not. That factor is TRUST.
Business leaders don’t consciously go about their day specifically trying to build trust. This would be like having ‘building trust’ on your to-do list. Let’s see, go to the bank, check; wash the car, check; build trust, wait, what? No, that’s silly.
They will let their decisions and their actions impact the level of trust bestowed on them by others. Age-old wisdom says trust is earned. Children are taught at an early age. Leaders know it too.
A Manager’s Challenge
Anyone who has ever assumed management duties understands how critical trust can be in persuading a team to perform. The collective efforts of the team can be hurt if individuals on that team have doubts about the boss.
There is usually some kind of default mindset at work between employees and the employer. Workers often start out not trusting the boss. Sadly, too many bosses start out not trusting their teams either. It truly is a two-way street.
Experts found that trust, social connectivity, and a general sense of well-being are all intertwined. There are scientific studies revealing that two sections of the brain involved in sensing trust.
Based on perceptions of trust, the participants (in the study) reported positive interactions with the “close friend” to be more rewarding than interactions with a stranger—and were more likely to interact with this player. This illustrates our innate human desire to connect with others and create close-knit bonds even if these ties are based on blind trust or lead to [other bad outcomes].
Brain imaging of the participants showed that two specific brain regions were actively engaged when someone thought they were trusting a close friend. Increased activity of the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex were correlated with positive social value signals when participants made decisions based on a belief they were playing with a good friend.
But science aside, what makes trust so hard to build? Think about all of your own experiences with friends, co-workers, bosses, and leaders. You likely watched three levels of interaction that factored into how deeply you felt you could trust the other person.
In a work setting, the team leader must demonstrate a certain level of technical ability to begin earning trust from the team. New, first-time managers struggle with this because they might have been promoted in recognition of their skills in one area, but they lack comprehensive knowledge of the whole team’s scope of responsibility.
Lacking that technical knowledge, they are deemed incapable of performing as team lead, so trust is denied.
New bosses moved in from outside the department suffer this same kind of gap. Until they can prove they know their stuff, the team will be reluctant to give the trust that might be needed for respecting the ‘new guy’.
I once was a department head of a large administrative group supporting a $5 billion asset portfolio at a large regional bank. I had several teams reporting to me, responsible for 5 different lines of business. One day, while walking through the department, one of the administrators stopped me and asked a fairly technical question. I paused and began coaching him on the topic, explaining the process and the calculations he needed for the problem he presented. He seemed shocked. I asked why? He said, “I didn’t think the Big Dog would know this stuff.” To which I grinned and replied, “How’d you think I got to be the Big Dog?”
The next level is what I will call cultural trust. After technical trust is established there is still a void at the cultural or corporate level. The key question here is whether you demonstrate consistent, reliable actions and behaviors.
No one can trust someone or something that acts inconsistently. Roger Ferguson, founder of ISI HR Consulting and creator of “Big Five Performance” talks about this corporate trust as whether a leader is known to be trustworthy, delivers as promised, and is generally known to be a person of character.
Being consistent in the way you act and interact creates a level of trust that grows with each passing day. As soon as you make a serious deviation from the pattern you start, trust takes a step backward. This is why it is so critical for leaders to be mindful of the direction they want to go, centered on core principles, and committed to consistent behavior as a leader.
This is the mostintimate of trust levels. This is the deep, one-on-one trust. This kind of trust with individual employees has people thinking “I don’t care what others say, I know what I believe about this boss, and I am very good with it.” Further “I will follow them wherever they want me to go.”
Why would someone be willing to say that? Because the other two levels have been satisfied and now opportunities to deal personally with the person have proven to be reliable and solid. The pattern is there, the details are there, and, even more importantly, the experience is there.
This is why trust cannot be won overnight. It has to be earned. All three levels have to be engaged. You cannot make it to the gold ribbon level of personal trust without first achieving the other two levels.
Think about personal relationships. These same three levels are at work. Anyone who starts dating someone runs the same sequence of steps trying to test for trust. When you are the person wanting to earn someone’s trust, you have to be faithful to build these stages, carefully and thoughtfully.
More relationships crater over breakdowns in trust at one of these three levels. Repeated disappointment is the reason for the eventual failure of any relationship.
We just don’t want to be around people we cannot trust. Certainly not for any meaningful reason.
For team leaders and executives at all levels, I teach a program called Team Trust. In it, we explore ways that teams and their leaders can use a proven, reliable, and repeatable process to build trust, eliminate unneeded distractions, and improve performance.
There are core disciplines that can be deployed to improve team performance by building trust at all levels of the organization.
Starting and running a small business can be a blessing and a curse. The dream can become a nightmare. Yet there can be great rewards too.
There are so many things that can get in the way of running and owning a successful business. You hear people talk about “cash is king” or growing the sales pipeline, closing more deals, making payroll, and creating satisfied customers.
While these are all very significant issues for a business owner there is one thing that is even bigger than all of these put together. Do you have any idea what it may be?
Wait for it…..
Your ego. Yep. Good old fashioned pride.
Let me get straight to the point.
Small Business Owner’s Fear
Letting your pride or ego get in the way can be the exit ramp to disaster. On one hand, entrepreneurs must be fearless. They have to start with a whole lot of courage. For that, I applaud you.
Think about it. You hear stories of people quitting their day job to start a business. That takes guts and sheer willpower.
However, that same dogged determination can become the owner’s death sentence too.
The Paradox of Success
Many years ago I wrote a piece I call the “Paradox of Success.” I got this idea after watching dozens of my banking clients go through similar situations. It goes like this.
For those of you who have actually ventured out to start your own company, you understand the intense effort and tremendous satisfaction you achieve by watching the company grow.
Those first few profit dollars start to roll in. Real profit, free and clear. No debt, no more obligations to pay off, pure, real profit. For all the planning, sweat equity, real equity investment, and down-right hard work, you eventually arrive at the threshold of the very thing you set out to accomplish…. SUCCESS!
Ah, but beware. The very thing you strive so hard to achieve, that is your company’s success, can start the downward spiral to eventual destruction. Perhaps even the infamous “implosion” of the company. That is the phenomenon called the Paradox of Success. In other words, success brings failure. How can that be? Let’s explore the full timeline.
First the Beginnings
As was described, the founder sets out to open his or her own business. Perhaps it is a sole proprietor, maybe “Mom and Pop”. It can even be a couple of good friends who decide to start something together. The actual legal structure does not particularly matter at this point.
The focus is on getting going and having that first order come through the door. Days and weeks go by. The founder(s) perform all the daily chores….everything! Sales, marketing, bookkeeping, systems, purchasing, supplies, advertising, contracts, payables, receivables, answering phones, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms…everything!
Next, business starts to grow. The word is out. Your business has something people want and need. Your service ideas are working very well. Customers like what you have. Word of mouth even starts to grow. You are getting business from sources you had not really thought about at the start.
Finally, the business becomes more than you and your partner can handle. You decide to hire your first employees. This becomes turning point number one. New employees do not bring the same levels of dedication, commitment, and energy you had when you started the business. Your ideas are not their ideas. You must start to train and coach to be sure the new guys on the bus are fully on board.
Moving Further Toward Success
The service levels you created and nurtured must be sustained. The principles on which you founded the business must be reinforced. There needs to be a feedback process and a monitoring mechanism to be sure your values and principles are being followed.
Almost daily you feel the tug of contention for your time. The time spent to make the direct business contacts you enjoyed making at the start must now be juggled with the effort to resolve internal issues. Perhaps you add a few more hours to the week. Certain tensions become more frequent.
With employees present, interpersonal matters start to creep in. Sally doesn’t like Susie. Bob and Ted argue over sports teams and their preference in cars they drive. None of this is contributing the business. The founders become referees. Hostilities can even boil over when customers are present. A lack of leadership or even a momentary lapse of leadership can become significant. Who can handle these things?
Phase Two Begins – Leadership
Then, mid-managers are hired or appointed. Surely the owners can rely upon other seasoned professionals to handle the staff issues and keep the ship sailing. Now a new layer is created.
For all the potential good that can be accomplished here, there comes a trade-off. Again, the founders’ values have to be enforced, promoted, espoused, heralded, and cheered about.
Can the mid-manages carry the same flag? All the while the growth in volume creates a strain on the original infrastructure. Are the same tools and equipment that were used to open the business still effective? Have systems started to suffer? This can include everything from the high end network servers to the staplers.
And more importantly, who is truly watching over these areas. Have the partners brought the right skills on their own to address all the issues? Accountability for all aspects of business growth becomes more meaningful. If cash and checks are being handled, controls must be implemented. Growth across state lines adds to the compliance and regulatory burden. Specialists have to be added to the mix like legal counsel, accountants, IT professionals, etc.
The False Security
The very essentials that can help grow and expand the business become challenges to the owners. Volumes and profits continue to rise. A false sense of security here can be deadly. A failure to admit the changes that are happening underneath and any inability to properly respond to those changes can, at any point hereafter, start the spin downward.
Really this stage represents the first major turning point for the founders. The biggest and most honest question that can be asked is “Am I capable of keeping this going or do I need senior management help?”
All too often ego may enter in and prevent the good hard look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. True Leaders with a solid track record behind them have been the first to ask this question and work with the right answer. And they do it with almost perfect timing.
Yet for the owner suffering a big ego, the right questions never get asked. The talk with the person in the mirror sounds more like this…
“Wow, things seem to be ramping up. You really did it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“It feels different now, but that’s nothing to worry about.”
“Just keep it going. We’ll be fine.”
Then one day the wheels fall off. The big accounts start to go elsewhere. Your pricing gets squeezed and you have no answer. The market shifts out from under you and you missed the warning signs.
Or worse yet, your team abandons you because they hate working with you. The few customers you have left eventually leave because the service is terrible.
It happens in all kinds of business. Every day. The tipping point is where the owner’s ego gets bigger than even the greatest of success.
A Cautionary Tale for Small Business?
Maybe so. But it doesn’t have to be. You can get help. You should get help. Is today the day? Business advisors or coaches can help you make sense of the new levels of growth and prosperity. They can help you see you way to even higher levels of success.
But you have to make the call. Don’t let ego stop you.
You might be offended by that question. Yet if you think about it, so many of us are living just that way.
What do I mean? I mean going through your life and career without a purpose. You might be riding the wave of circumstances. Some things were great experiences, others not so much.
You might have built a successful career, but are you feeling fulfilled? Will your legacy matter to anyone?
I meet a lot of professionals who went the route of working for big corporate giants. They made it through 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years then something happens. A merger or a market crash causes the company to downsize. They land on the shortlist of people heading out the door.
As they face the uncertainty of job hunting, they are bewildered, even empty. They don’t know what they want to do.
But how did you let that happen? More importantly, how can you change it now or avoid it entirely?
That Sense of Purpose
It all starts with finding a sense of purpose. As Mark Twain so eloquently wrote:
If you have never figured out the why question, then you have some work to do. The best advice I could ever give you is to figure out your why.
The PPP guides you on a journey exploring key areas in your life. It challenges you to evaluate what is important and what is not. More importantly it makes you decide on outcomes you want to create in each of the important areas.
Having this sense of purpose will shape and mold the choices you make. Instead of living the usual life of wage, page, and sage, you could live a more rewarding and purposeful life.
Wage, Page, Sage Stages of Life
The wage, page, and sage version of life goes something like this. Your early years are all about the wage. What can I get paid? Yes, you might be choosing a specialty, but you still focus on getting the best pay for the work you do.
Then you start turning pages. Getting married, having kids, buying a house, etc. You’re flipping the pages of life.
Finally, you reach the sage role. Your years of experience naturally set you up for people to look to you because of your seniority. You can either share it freely or be bitter about life not turning the way you hoped (whatever that was).
Either way, the messages you share will influence those around you; bringing them closer because of your wisdom, or pushing them away because you’ve turned into a curmudgeon.
However, living ‘on purpose’ creates a certain intentionality in the things you do, the choices you make, and the people you hang out with.
Once you decide on a purpose, you won’t settle for less. You won’t take a job just to get a paycheck. Oh sure there may be desperate times due to outside forces, but in the long run, you will stay on course.
You will look for the right fit in a job and the right direction to move you on the journey to fulfill your purpose.
The people you choose to associate with will also change depending on the focus you create. I’m not saying all relationships are bad, but many are less than helpful for keeping you on track. It is easy to get distracted by friendships that don’t encourage you and keep you centered on your chosen path.
Finding your personal purpose is not as hard as some people make it out to be. There are simple yet profound ways you can discover exactly what your were meant to be doing.
If you need help uncovering and discovering your purpose, call a coach. Call me. Stop living your happy accident. Get intentional. Live ‘on purpose.’
My wife said she wanted a new kitchen pantry for her birthday. I like doing what my wife asks. Fortunately for me, ripping out the old pantry and building a new one was something I enjoy doing.
When I was growing up, a neighbor friend was a master craftsman. He had an amazing woodshop that made me get so excited everytime he opened the doors. George was his name.
George took me under his wing and let me apprentice for him for several years. His specialty was building gorgeous custom cabinets that suited just about anything the buyer wanted to do.
Back then, music systems came in huge component pieces. Turntables, tape decks, amplifiers and tuners all needed a cabinet to fit into. Great speakers came in big boxes. George made amazing cabinets out of mahogany, maple and other exotic woods. The custom cabinets George built were features in various celebrity homes in the area; golfers, singers and other entertainers.
It was so much fun to go with George on a delivery. I never knew who I might meet.
He taught me how to work with all of the tools and build solid, dependable joints for cabinets. I learned his ways of measuring and designing very nice cabinets.
All of my adult life I’ve treasured the special tools I have found. I love having a project to do. It serves as my outlet for decompressing and restoring my spirit.
Every time I start a project and as I am working through it, I think of ‘George-isms’. While his teachings were specific to woodworking, they also represented great learning for leaders.
Under George’s tutoring he taught many many concepts. As I’ve gotten older and wiser (I hope), it strikes me that these sayings have a broader fit for life lessons and leadership theory too.
Here are some of the ones I like best.
Use the right tool for the right job. Per George, if you don’t you will either hurt the tool, hurt the material, or hurt yourself.
If you’ve ever tried home fix-it projects, it’s tempting to grab the screwdriver to pry something apart. Screwdrivers aren’t made to be pry bars. Usually, they bend first.
The pressure of the prying can warp the shaft of the screwdriver, making your next attempt to actually drive a screw next to impossible.
Leaders make mistakes by assigning tasks to the wrong people. Use the wrong person for a job and you will either hurt the project or hurt the person, maybe both.
You can set people up to fail. A leader needs to watch for moments when an unintentional decision can lead to unexpected damage.
Measure twice, cut once. This may be the most famous of all carpentry sayings. It was not a George original, but nonetheless one very important lesson. If the two measurements aren’t the same, you need a third one to verify.
In the woodshop, materials can be expensive. One wrong cut and you’ve ruined a piece of wood. There is no making a piece longer once it gets cut. On the other hand, cutting too long creates a waste of time.
Delivery of finished projects always had time constraints. Wasting time on extra cuts burned the schedule.
As a leader, you need to check your facts before making a decision. Get extra data just like the second or third measurement.
Save time in the long run by being more accurate with your information. Don’t waste people’s time and resources re-doing a process.
Don’t work tired. George had a day job. So his cabinetry happened during off-hours, nights, and weekends. On occasion, he would go into the shop to unwind. But if he was too tired or mentally fatigued from his day, it was not a good idea.
The inability to focus and pay good attention could cause problems like messing up materials or hurting yourself. Not to be too morose, but George was missing the last digit on one pinky finger. Years prior he admitted losing focus and allowing his hand to get too close to a saw blade.
He claimed to be thankful it wasn’t a more severe injury. But he used it to remind me of potential dangers if you don’t respect the work area.
Leaders getting too tired can lose focus also. Take care of yourself. Find rest. Stay healthy. You can hurt someone or hurt yourself.
Lastly, mind your temper. I saw George ‘lose it’ a few times. As much as I loved the man, he had his occasional moments of throwing his temper. Never at me mind you, but if something didn’t go right, he could have a fit.
A wood shop with a larger array of power-tools is not a good place to have a temper. (Not that anyplace is good to have a temper). Things have sharp edges and heavy weights. Slamming, throwing, or flinging things is just not cool.
George was remorseful at my witnessing such outbursts. And we would talk about the circumstances.
Leaders and business owners need to mind their temper at all times. Nothing is more demoralizing to a staff than seeing the boss lose it. In most business settings I’ve ever known, there is no clawing it back once it is unleashed.
Think about these 4 basic ideas. See how they fit into your leadership framework. If you’ve never considered one of them, try it out.
Oh, and here’s a bonus message I learned later. Not a George-ism but could be.
Successful leaders build trust. Building trust is something you must do. Trust underpins every relationship in the workplace – between boss and employee, between colleagues, and between businesses.
Trust isn’t something that is inherent; it must be forged through consistent action. While there are many ways to become a trusted leader, here are some recurring themes. I’ll call them the “Five Cs.”
A committed leader is someone who is loyal to the cause, the vision, and the team. They persevere despite setbacks.
When a leader is committed, they build the trust of those around them by staying present, engaged, and positive. Commitment is the number one thing a leader can demonstrate to build trust.
A trustworthy leader is connected to those who look up to him. They resist the temptation to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind. Nor will they become neglectful of those who depend upon him.
They never come off as distant or detached in their leadership role. There is a willingness to take some time away from their daily commitments to get to know their team members in a meaningful way.
Therefore, this helps the team see the Leader as a trusted person who cares about them and values their involvement.
A great leader gets to know their employees, listens to their concerns, and responds in a meaningful way – each and every time.
This doesn’t mean coddling them. A trustworthy leader expects their team members to perform their jobs professionally. But a trusted leader knows that no one is perfect. People make mistakes, suffer hardships, and sometimes just need to know that someone cares.
A great leader “has the back” of each member of her team.
Consistency for a leader is key. A trusted leader maintains a calm and collected demeanor, even under fire. Their staff are therefore more likely to approach the Leader with their great ideas, as well as with their legitimate concerns.
By maintaining consistent expectations, and reacting in a consistent manner, he/she builds trust with his team.
An impactful leader invests time in getting to know the issues, expands skills, and participates in continuous learning. He/she doesn’t pretend to be an expert in all things.
They surround themselves with skilled, knowledgeable people and relies on their expertise. Employees trust the leader for being straightforward and honest.
The Sixth “C”
There is actually one more “C”. That is communication. A great leader communicates clearly, concisely, and coherently.
If you want to know even more about diving into the Black Box of building trust within your team, I have a dedicated model that explains a proven process. This model has been used by Fortune 100 companies as well as small businesses of many types. To learn more, visit the story of Building High Trust HERE.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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?