The Small Business Owner’s Worst Nightmare

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

small business owner

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.

call a coach

A Little Change Makes a Big Difference

one small change

Hi, my name is Doug. I am hopelessly addicted to taking a little white ball, hitting it with a stick, and trying to get it into a small hole 475 yards away from where I am standing. Hi Doug!

Yes, I am talking about playing golf. One day, a friend and I were out to play a round. We were having a great day of fellowship and friendship, but the golf game was not going well. Scores were higher than the Texas heat.

This round of golf was shaping up to be just like my last 3 months. For some reason, my game had dropped to an all-time low, or high when you focus on the scoring. I was playing really bad golf. The computers at NASA could not keep up with my score.

After 16 tough holes on the course (they were tough because of the way I was playing), I realized I had run out of the fancy and somewhat expensive golf balls my son had encouraged me to play. Digging around in my golf bag, I found a sleeve of some other brand of golf ball. I had liked playing the game with this particular brand but had agreed to try the other ones my son recommended.

Seeing a Change

I teed up the new ball and Whack! My shot was a straight, beautiful arc headed right at the flag on a long par 3 hole. The ball landed firm, bounced a few feet, rolled, and came to rest solidly secured on the green. Now my excitement here may seem a bit overzealous, but given the day I had been having, this shot was perhaps the most gorgeous thing I had done all day. As I strolled up, I realized I had quite a long putt. But hey, I was putting. I putted twice to score a PAR! Wow, PAR!

The next and last hole is a long par 5. It is a relatively straight hole but has water right in front of the green. I set up my tee shot, took my swing, and saw the ball launch into the blue azure of the Texas sky, tracking straight down the fairway. Hmmm, could this be a trend?

As my friend and I motored down the course, I was feeling renewed and redeemed. The second shot was still a long way away, so I strategically decided to “lay-up”. This means I was not going to play Tin Cup and shoot for the green, with all that water in front. I took out a hybrid club and lined up. Swing! Wow, here we go again.

Making Change Happen

No, not into trouble, but straight at the target area I had chosen. This magical ball spun and flew right where I wanted it to go. So now for the approach to the green. I take my trusty 8 iron and practice a few swings. Now I am ready to launch my assault.

Just then a huge wind blew into my face. Oh no; water, wind, and still some distance to overcome. I am undaunted. I have the miracle ball.

Swing! The ball rises straight up into the air, chasing forward. The wind catches and starts to push a bit left. Could it be? YES! It lands on the green.

Ok, I’ll be honest, it’s a monster putt from where this thing lands, but I am on the green of a par 5 in three shots. By the way, my friend was having his own out-of-body experience doing pretty much the same. He too was sitting right up on the green. We strode onto the putting surface like gladiators. We had our trusty putting sabers in our hands. We were going to finish this beast once and for all.

As I got closer I realized this putt was going to be my longest of the day. I paced it off at 55 feet. My friend was almost the same distance for his putt, likely 50 feet. I stood over my shot, gathered my focus, and pulled back the mighty putting saber. Swoosh! The ball jumped off the club head and started its journey over hill and dale to make its way to the hole. Then it happened. Clunk!

Right in the dead center of the hole. I had scored a birdie! One UNDER par. What a way to finish! My friend was happy for me. Then he tried his shot. And amazingly he too heard that same glorious CLUNK! Another birdie! It was a great way to finish the day.

So why do I share all of this? I am not gloating about my golf game. Believe me, gloat is the last thing someone with my score should be doing.

A change made the difference.

I switched the brand of the ball I was hitting.

All manufacturers of golf balls strive to create a look and feel that influences the play of the game. Some golf balls are softer than others. Some spin faster due to the design of the little dimples on the cover. Some don’t spin much at all. The list of attributes goes on and on.

Then I realized my game had started going bad when I started using the higher-priced balls. By returning to a brand of golf ball that had been good for me made my last two holes play entirely different.

The AH-HA Moment

Change comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes when we least expect it and then later becomes the “AH HA” moment.

I did not consciously change the golf ball I was using until I ran out of the former brand. A moment of necessity forced a change for me. But once I made the change, the outcome was far more rewarding.

Yes, I know, the likelihood of long term success is yet to be seen. However, given all the other inputs yesterday, the only variable that changed was my golf ball. So I am glad the change happened.

Whether you own your own company or run a large business unit for someone, you can make small changes that can yield big results. If you’d like, we can arrange a short exploratory call to talk about ways you too can realize big change with small adjustments.

Join the discussion. Leave a comment or share it with a friend.

How Does Personality Impact Your Leadership?

PERSONALITY & LEADERSHIP

People talk about charismatic leaders having “big” personalities. Powerful leaders are often known as “Type A” personalities. We know about introverts and extroverts.

But how does personality really impact your effectiveness as a manager or owner of a business?

If we take away celebrity status from high paid CEOs and public figures, what else does personality have to do with how you run a business?

For starters, I will argue LOTS!

Anyone choosing to start a business or get promoted into management must face the challenge of influencing the people around them. Before you open your mouth the first time, your personality projects who and what you are.

Shy or timid personalities come into the room meek and mild. More bold personalities make an entrance. Either can be effective, depending on the circumstance.

I’ve worked with engineers who are famous for, let’s say, ‘not great personalities’. Yet very seniors leaders in the organization can be incredibly personable and engaging.

Then I’ve also known ‘creative’ types, arts and theater, who can be witty, bright and engaging, but very weak leaders.

In my humble opinion, your personality is simply one more tool in your leadership toolbox that can be used wisely or create disastrous results.

Here’s one way to think about it.

Your personality is a work in progress. Formed at an early age (some even believe you are born with it), your personality begins to define your look at the world.

While it is absolutely true that the way you engage with others is driven by your personality, the bigger question is perception.

How is your personality perceived by others?

Wide range of Personalities out there

This is the reason I love using the Hogan Assessment tools to help the leaders I coach. In Bob Hogan’s work, he discovered early on (like 1974) that understanding personality can be informative to one’s own leadership development.

But understanding the perception of your personality by others is an even greater force for shaping the change you may want as a leader.

Here’s the difference. If I test and study my own personality, I can learn that I demonstrate certain traits. Scales like Myers-Briggs MBTI, Berkman, or Karl Jung tag me for certain key elements in the makeup of my personality. They become broad generalizations that help explain why I look at and feel different ways about different situations.

Hogan takes it a step further. His assessment tools do the stratification of certain personality makeup, but he attaches the perception piece to it. In Hogan, you get a read-out of how others will perceive/react to your specific personality markers.

As a leader, learning about this aspect of personality can be very valuable. If you have engaged a coach to get you to a new level of effectiveness, learning about these perceptors will get you much further along in your development.

I won’t go into all the details of the mechanics of Hogan’s methodology (it is well documented) but the basis is centered on decades of actual testing, screening and analysis to correlate the personality markers with perception values; what others perceive.

In other words, your inward values will drive outward perceptions. To become a more effective leader, you must understand not just what makes up your personality, but how that makeup impacts those around you.

Derailers

Hogan adds one more detail to a study. Based on your personality, you can also learn about potential “derailers” that might exist. In some cases these are things like ‘a strength used in excess can become a weakness.

Knowing and studying the derailers can help you become a far better leader at work, at home, and in the community. Once equipped with this knowledge, you can self-adjust more easily to the situations arising.

BONUS

If you’re looking for a fun and FREE personality test, jump over to my friends at 16Personalities.com Their results will amaze you!

Start Your Own Blog Today

business man using internet on smart phone and laptop

Recently I’ve had clients mention that they may want to start blogging. I wrote this article several years ago and have shared it twice before. But for those just now thinking about blogging, but I am updating it and sharing it again.

There are plenty of reasons seasoned professionals should write their own blogs. I’ve been blogging since 2009 when I founded Jobs Ministry Southwest. Back then, it was a great way to share information with the people using our career transition services.

That modest effort got me excited about the power of blogging. From its humble start, my blog has grown into the site you see now with over 200,000 followers and growing.

Blog Writing

Now, as my coaching and consulting businesses have grown, I use the blog to share articles on key topics for managers and business leaders, sharing thoughts about leadership and entrepreneurship (my two favorite topics). Blogging helps cast a wider net, spreading your message across the globe.

I am going to share some of the quick and easy steps I use to build the blog.

Domain names – Get yourself a custom domain name. Most registrations may cost you $12 a year (or close to that). Reasonably cheap for the significance of pointing to a brand name you build.

SiteGround Hosting services – Unless you have a brother-in-law with insane computer networking skills, subscribe to a hosting service. I’ve tried several, but have landed on SiteGround. I love their responsiveness (the site loads quickly despite a lot of overhead/functionality going on). I’ve also found their support to be world-class good. To check them out click this link.
Web Hosting

WordPress – I’ve become a huge fan of the WordPress framework. The themes and templates give you so many options. Some custom themes you buy, but many are free. The free ones can give you a great looking site to get you started. WordPress was created for blogging and has grown into a whole discipline of its own.

Plugins – These are add-on tools you can add to your WordPress framework. With plugins, you can add awesome features like social media sharing, guest list management, shopping carts, etc. There are three critical plugins I have chosen to use.

  • Jetpack – a collection of tools that maximize the operation of WordPress, keep statistics, and provide hacker protection
  • Yoast SEO – helps optimize the valuable search engine optimization aspects of your site and all its content
  • Vaultpress – file backup; you never want to lose your blog

RSS Feeds – Build an RSS feed to allow your content to get distributed to other social media channels automatically as each post gets released. I use Google’s Feedburner.com tools for this task. Opening an account is free. You can customize the tool to grab your posts and push them to channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram all automatically and spontaneously with each post.

LeadPages.net – I use LeadPages to help me promote and manage product offerings, events, seminars, webinars, and my other client attraction efforts. Build your own landing pages with LeadPages. As an example, my promo for Big 5 Performance Management is done with LeadPages.

MailChimp – Email management tools. Using an effective email management service is vital. I’ve tried several and have landed on MailChimp. I like the ease of use and the straightforward tools they offer. I know there are other services that are equally effective, but after several disappointments (and higher costs) I landed with MailChimp.

Update – As with all technology, there are leapfrog effects. One solution comes out with cool features that seem superior, then pretty soon, the competition jumps over them with better features. Aweber is doing that right now IMHO.  MailChimp is still unbeatable for its free version, but as soon as your list gets bigger, you may need to switch.

Fiverr – Occasionally you need some freelance skill sets to augment what you are doing. Fiverr.com is tremendous for this. Fiverr is a collection of freelancers from all around the world. They call their projects “gigs”. As the name might imply, you can get help for as little as $5 per “gig”. I’ve used Fiverr resources for things like graphic design (videos, book covers, and logos) or getting a press release written. I’ve also used them for social media promotions to reach a broader audience for book releases or other promotions I am doing. Yes, occasionally I get a less than acceptable outcome, but I only invested a few dollars versus hundreds through other sources or contractors. It’s a winner for simple outsourcing.

MeetEdgar – This is a new addition to my list of great tools. MeetEdgar.com provides social media scheduling tools. You can set it and forget it. A coaching colleague introduced me to these guys and I was hooked at hello.

About Content

There are numerous opinions about content creation; write it yourself, borrow others, merely re-post, etc. I’ve taken the basic approach that is at the core of blogging, “my message, my voice”. Yes, I study many different sources and try to compile credible resources to cobble my articles together. Anything I use gets proper attribution for its source.

The content I write is intended solely for your use. If I can’t help you, a busy professional, do more right where you are, then I’ve missed the mark. If you decide to start a blog, you need to decide what your purpose and message will be about.

There are also great debates about when to publish and how often. The golden rule I learned early on is simply “be consistent”.

To that end, I choose to write at least 1x per week. By using the great scheduling features of WordPress I can accumulate a volume of articles and stage them for automatic release on whatever schedule I choose. By using this queueing method, I never have to worry about publication deadlines and getting writer’s block over the deadline pressure. Typically, I have content scheduled at least three weeks ahead, sometimes more.

I’ve juggled the release days of the week, experimenting with response rates and open rates. There are other blog writers I know who limit publication to once a week. If it works, great! Just be consistent. Allow your following to become reliant on your consistency.

One Last Thought About Scaling

If you have grand ideas for scaling your online business, there are tools to think about. Software like Infusionsoft (now called “Keap” because the market nicknamed them ‘confusion soft’), ConvertKit, Kajabi, and SamCart is great. However, be advised… these require a whole extra layer of sophistication in your effort to grow a business. There is a learning curve. The tools are great (I’m using some of them), but that is another level you can wait to explore once you have real customers coming in.

Disclosure: By clicking some of the links above, I may receive a small affiliate commission from the service provider. Rest assured I would not promote anything I don’t use myself. But even if I didn’t get any commissions, I really like these tools, and I think you will too.

If you want to let me help you with organizing your online presence, send an email to my assistant Karla 

 

coaching with dooug thorpe

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

The 5 C’s of a Trusted Leader

Trusted leader image

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.”

Commitment, connection, compassion, consistency, and competency

Commitment

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.

Connection

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.

Compassion

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

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.

Competency

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.

TEAM TRUST

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.

Team Trust
Team Trust

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.

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 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?

Come Home Before Dark

welcome sign

Lately, I’ve been reminded of a saying I once used to guide my kids. The phrase was ‘come home before dark’.

When I was younger, we’d play outside seemingly forever. When we asked to go outside, our parents always said: “Come home before dark.”

That was a literal meaning. Once it was dark, if we weren’t home we were in big trouble.

As I grew into adulthood and began having children of my own, an old preacher taught me something new about this phrase.

The words home and dark have a deeper meaning to explore.

Come Home

Coming home is about returning to safety. It’s a center of being. As a kid, it was the place I lived. There was love and warmth at home.

I could reconnect with who I was at home. The world around me could be throwing flaming arrows, but the home was a fortress.

Home was where values were formed. At home we could have honest, loving talks about the things that I worried about.

Dark

When something gets dark, there is trouble brewing. Bad things happen in the darkness.

Dark journey

You hear people talk about others and say ‘they just went dark.” Lights out, no response.

The Instruction

I wanted my kids to know that they could always come home before dark. My wife and I would be waiting to take them in, give them security, and talk through whatever we needed to talk about.

One night our doorbell rang about 2:00 a.m. We stumbled out of bed to find our middle son (family of 5 kids). He was in his early 20’s, already graduated and living in town with a roommate.

We could tell he had been drinking, but his first words were “You said come home before dark.”

We said “Sure, glad you did. What’s going on?”

He proceeded to tell us about a party that was going on in his apartment. Suffice it to say it had gotten out of control. The roommate was a college friend. They had invited other college buddies to join.

Plenty of drinking followed. Behaviors got wilder and wilder.

My son said he had tried to calm things down. He had left his fraternity lifestyle behind the day he walked across stage to get his diploma. Clearly, these others had not.

He sensed the night was not going to end well. Even with his own influence of alcohol, he remembered the words ‘come home before dark.’ And that he did.

As it turned out, later that night, neighbors in the apartments called police. Some arrests were made, but my son was home safe, out of the darkness.

So What

Why do I share this story with you in a blog about leadership? It’s because I believe leaders guide people home before dark.

A leader establishes a home base; somewhere people want to be. Yes, they may venture out on their own to explore new opportunities, new tasks, new direction. But when they sense the darkness, home is where they should turn.

Is your team environment a safe home to shield your employees from their darkness?

Have you communicated to them your desire that they consider your place a home?

I realize some will read this and say “You have no idea what my home life was like. It was darkness all its own.” To those I say, I am sorry to hear that. Why don’t you create a new home? Surely you will have people around you who need that safety and shelter.

I’m not going to lie when I say this article was prompted by the world we’re in right now, the corona virus scare. It is scary.

We need leaders who will stand firm in their conviction for choosing the next right step toward creating calm, creating safety, and helping others through the storm.

Will you be that leader, right where you are?

Help others come home before dark.


For anyone who feels in darkness over a job loss, I’ve just released my book on job search called “STRIVE“. It’s a practical guide to effective job search, even in tough times. This program was born in the crash of 2008 when we had double-digit unemployment. STRIVE helped thousands, yes, thousands of job seekers reconnect with their sense of personal purpose so they could find the right job. Share this info with your friends.

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