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Position Yourself as a Leader in 20 Minutes or Less

Positioning yourself as a leader will make your work more meaningful and advance your career. You can gain influence based on your title, or on knowledge and skills you already possess.

While it could take years to climb the ladder up into senior management, tapping into your personal strengths is something you can start doing right now. Learn how to use your current assets to build up your clout in the workplace.

Using Your Knowledge to Position Yourself as a Leader

Read daily. Pick up books about business advice or any topic that interests you. The more you read, the better prepared you’ll be to contribute to any discussion. You’ll sound like a leader whether you’re engaging in small talk or critiquing a new logo.

Keep up with trends in your industry or around you. This is especially important in small business. Don’t let yourself get so small you miss opportunities that might be right at your door.

Sign up for training. Take advantage of programs your employer offers. Brush up on your high school Spanish or become proficient with a new software package. Don’t be afraid of new technologies. If you don’t know or understand something, there are thousands of opportunities to make the knowlledge gap shrink.

LinkedIn has begun archiving amazing videos and presentations in the Learning Center. It would be worth a few minutes to scan their offerings. And don’t miss the TEDTalk series of videos all over YouTube.

Browse during breaks. Those brief intervals you spend on hold or pausing between meetings can be put to good use. Break out your phone and search for industry news. You’ll stand out if you’re the first one to notice a major lawsuit or merger.

Take a course. Many adults juggle full time jobs while going back to school. Schedule an appointment at your local university to see what you need to complete your degree.

Consult an expert. Contact others in your network who would be willing to share their wisdom. Interview a colleague who has published a new book and promote her work on your personal blog. You’ll both benefit from increased information and publicity.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone you admire if they would provide you with some mentoring. You’ll be amazed at how willing those wise old souls may be.

Shadow a star employee. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a high performer may be pleased to show you the ropes. Let them know that you admire their style. Offer to assist them with specific tasks so you can learn from their example.

Using Your Skills to Position Yourself as a Leader

Take responsibility. Prove that you can be trusted to live up to your obligations. Develop a reputation for completing assignments and meeting deadlines.

Document your accomplishments. Make it a habit to write down your ideas and achievements. Looking over your victories will boost your confidence. Even the missteps will suggest adjustments you can make to do better next time.

My personal favorite tool for tracking these accomplishments is the Big 5 Process. Read about it here.

Express enthusiasm. Attitude is an important part of leadership. Speak kindly to your coworkers and care about their welfare. Find gratification in your work and how it serves the community.

Take initiative. Be willing to go the extra mile. Volunteer for tasks that fall outside of your job description even if they’re less than glamorous. Pitch in when the sales team needs a hand entering quarterly data.

Share feedback. Thank people for commenting on your performance and recommending steps you can take to further your professional growth. Offer constructive and tactful criticism that enables others to do the same.

Give generously. Above all, let your colleagues know that they can count on you when they need your time and expertise. Strive to be a valuable team member. Keep an eye out for anyone who’s struggling so you can create mutually beneficial relationships.

You don’t have to be sitting in a manger’s role or hold some big title to be a leader.

Transform yourself into the kind of leader other employees will want to follow. Your knowledge and skills are valuable resources that can help you to develop your talents and inspire others.

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Real Leaders Don’t Lose the ‘Person’ in Personality

Whether you own a business or run one for a bigger company, your role as manager/leader is in the spotlight. When people start searching for leadership development tools or management training, you often run into a large segment of the market focused on Personality.

The logic says ‘if I understand my personality, and the personalities of those around me, I can be better leader. Why? Because I can learn to meet them where they are, etc.’

Logic like that is like a 3-year strategic plan. It looks great on paper, it’s a cool workshop to sit in, but what do you really do with the information? Too often it gets implemented poorly and soon forgotten. (I happen to hold a strong bias on the use of common personality tools. Email me and I’ll share that discussion.)

For now I want to challenge you to think about something else.

What’s at the Core

Throughout my coaching career I have often found executives and business owners who struggle with their personality defining the person they think they need to be. Or vice versa. The person they believe they are does not show up when the work gets going. Instead, some different personality appears.

My challenge to you is to consider separating your thinking about the person you want to be from the personality that actually shows up.

Getting a solid grip on the person you want to be has nothing to do with title, role, and financial status. But it has everything to do with the kind of friend, neighbor, and fellow human being you believe you are. It’s about core values, principles, and beliefs. Most leaders, when asked, have a good list defining those things in their personhood.

And, ok, I’m going to say it….

There are some solid jerks in the world (keeping it PG-13). For me, the good news is, I just don’t get many of those folks reading my articles or asking me for coaching. And I’ll never take one as a client.

Instead, I talk with people who are already successful at some level and they want to do more, be more.

The Derailers

First, let’s talk about some common contributors for why personality may interrupt personhood. In the Hogan world we call these ‘derailers.’

One issue that appears most often is the idea that a strength used in excess becomes a derailer. For example, if you are naturally empathetic, you might not drive your team hard enough. Your personality shows up ‘friendly’ and well-intended, but when the going gets tough, people want direction and drive from their boss.

Next, you might be covering something. I don’t mean in a criminal way, but rather in a defensive way. If you are uncertain about a subject, your personality may be too comical, trying to laugh off the tension in the moment. This usually shows up as the boss who cracks jokes at inappropriate times, taking serious discussions off track.

Also, people with highly focused technical ability may come across as too robotic, not enough ‘people’ skill when interacting. Their personality is plastic. Yet when you peel the onion, you find a wonderfully motivated mind wanting to do great things.

The Options

While doing a ‘post-game interview’ wondering what went wrong with a particular situation, you likely may be thinking “I know what I wanted to say or do, but somehow it never came out that way.”

If that is you, then you, my friend, may be suffering from the conflict between person and personality.

First, doing the post-mortem on a meeting or a one-on-one interview can help tremendously to isolate the areas where you are disconnecting person and personality. Do your own analysis.

If it is possible, ask for feedback. Ask for specifics like “When I said ‘X’, how did that strike you?” When you think your personality usurped your personhood, then you have an opportunity to fix it.

When feedback highlights specific gaps, check first to see if the gap is properly covered by those core beliefs and key principles you claim. Not the other way around. Then search for reasons your personality may have thrown up a different solution in the moment. Here are some of those situations.

  • You cracked a joke when you should be serious.
  • You got technical when empathy would have been better.
  • You quoted company policy when a warmer more collaborative idea could have been put to play.
  • You genuinely love your team, but you go to performance issues too often when talking to them.

Ask a mentor or a coach to help you make the distinction between the person you believe you are and the personality that often shows up instead.

Don’t lose the person in personality.

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Leave It Better Than You Found It

hiking and camping

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

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

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

tools in a box in a garage for repair work

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

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

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

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

The Leadership Influence

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

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

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

Ways to Leave It Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handing it down

The Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Mueller on Leadership

leadership banner

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

Change Agents

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Leadership Competentcy

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

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

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

Deciding on a Style

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

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

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

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

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

Being Adaptable

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

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

Is Your Family Business Too Much Family and Not Enough Business?

A large majority of small business is in fact family business. The classic “Mom & Pop” structure. Mom or Dad get an idea and start a business. As the need for extra help grows, the easy answer is to hire other family members to help you get it going.

Often the thinking behind this involves the sense that you know these people, you can trust them and can rely on their help. But too often that logic fails. Your brother-in-law or nephew might be great guys to go have a beer with, but having them on the payroll can be a disaster.

Pretty soon you are facing too much family and not enough business.

Various Scenarios

I am familiar with several typical situations that introduce family ties to business. Let’s talk about those first, then we can discuss ways to avoid the traps or fix the problems these situations create.

The Husband and Wife Duo

Husbands and wives working together can be tricky at best. With the national divorce statistics telling us 50% of marriages fail, it is not hard to see why at least 50% of businesses started by husbands and wives would fail too.

Even if you are blessed with a ‘good’ marriage, compounding your relationship with the burdens of running a business can be dangerous. If you must partner at work, you have to establish strong role definitions. One needs to defer to the other depending on the areas you’ve declared as responsibility.

My wife and I actually ran such a business at one stage of our career. We did have a great marriage going in. And even though that business is long gone, we still have a great marriage.

When we owned the company we had clearly defined roles. She willingly deferred all executive decisions to me. She on the other hand, ran employee relations, logistics, and basic support functions for the company. While we discussed choices we needed to make, each one knew which area belonged to the other and we never varied from that.

Sibling Rivalries

Too often the family connections are strained when siblings inherit something from Mom or Dad. Multi-generational businesses subject to estate splits can be trouble.

There are also the situations where Dad expects Junior to take over the business, but junior has other plans. If the junior agrees and starts trying to take over the business, Dad can get in the way.

Generational cascades of influence and ownership can muddy the waters.

The Real Rub

Ultimately, there are three key factors to consider when looking at running a business with the family involved. First, there is the business itself. Look at the size and scope of things. What is happening, what’s the purpose?

Then there is the family unit. Who is participating and at what level? Define it then set the boundaries.

Lastly, there is the question of ownership; who owns what? Do you have investors and other outside entities involved? Or are you allowing employees to buy in?

Here’s a diagram to explain.

Every overlapping section should be explored and evaluated. If some of the areas do not apply, ok. But whenever you see an overlap, you have potential for unique and special circumstances that require careful handling.

The Owner’s Mindset

Notable family businesses that have stood the test of time have one thing in common. There is an “Owner’s Mindset.” The ownership frame of reference takes precedence.

In his Harvard Business Review article “What Makes Family Business Last“, writer John A. Davis says “What distinguishes these long-term adapters is their strong Owner’s Mindset among the owners and in their top boards. An Owner’s Mindset recognizes the importance of operational excellence, but insists on being in activities that create value (financial, social, relational, and reputational) according to the key values of the owners.”

You can see how having this mindset above all other competing matters helps guide and direct the business to operate on its own, unencumbered by petty disputes among family members.

Business coach and long-time family business guru, Rich Hall writes this about the pitfalls:

Let’s be honest, many times, family members are hired because they need the job and may not be the most qualified. If it happens too much, the business becomes burdened to the point that it struggles to survive.

Even worse, family issues can and do spread into the daily operations.

  • A child wants to do things their way and the parent (owner) refuses. 
  • Preferential treatment is shown toward family members and their close allies.
  • Special “bonuses” or gifts are provided to family creating financial stress.
  • Cliques are formed.
  • Non-family members are afraid to speak up due to the “Sunday dinner effect”.

Eventually, something must be done.

The Fix

If you must hire family, here are some simple things to consider.

First, define clear job roles, duties and responsibilities. Set clear expectations. In the company I referenced above that my wife and I owned, I did hire my 18 year old son for a time. I told him at work, I was boss and he was an employee. No special treatment. Within a few weeks he showed up late.

I put him on notice. He did it again, I put him on probation. He had 30 days to get it exactly right or he was gone. We never talked about it at home.

He did what he needed to do. He got serious and learned the business. Today, he is an AVP at a Dallas area bank, doing the core things we taught him at our company 13 years ago.

Next, don’t be afraid to let them go. I realize this is a tough one. But if a family member cannot carry their weight, it’s not fair to others who are not related. Some of the most serious employee relation matters you can ever face have to do with nepotism. Don’t lose a great employee because you are tolerating a mediocre family member’s performance.

Then, stay impartial. Make it known there are no favorites at work. If a family member lets other employees think they are getting special treatment, nip that in the bud.

Lastly, think long and hard before hiring a family member in the first place. Let work be work and home be home. Why would you want to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with your worst employee?

If you’ve already dug yourself a big hole here, an outside agent might be the solution. Hiring and interim COO or CEO can help resolve the difficult discussions you might need to have happen. Or hire an advisor to sit on an advisory board to consult on the whole picture. Let them be the reason you want to make some changes.

When Things Stop Working

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

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

Then BAM!

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

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

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

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

Serious Analysis to Fix Serious Problems

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

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

What should you do?

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

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

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

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

The Thoughtful Response

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

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

balancing the scales

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

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

Take Ownership

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

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

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

Carefully Choose the Communication Vehicle

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

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

A good leader wants to influence thinking not demand outcomes.

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

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

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

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

The Leadership Journey

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

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

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The Problem Is Not the Problem, Part 2

Doug Thorpe blog post header

Many moons ago I wrote about a borrowed thought from another coaching friend. It was his quote:

The problem is not the problem.

Last week we had the ice storm from Hell; yes hell did freeze over here in Texas. For several days, vast areas were without power and water. Communities suffered from bone-chilling temperatures with little to no opportunity to thaw.

Temperatures dipped into single digits in many zip codes.

I realize some of you who read this will laugh. You routinely experience cold weather, ice, and snow every year. You have 4 distinct seasons where you live. But you have to understand, we here in Texas usually have just two seasons – mild and HOT.

Where I live, we lock down when the needle drops below 40 degrees. At 30, we board up the windows. At 20 we begin calling the priests for last rights. Ok just kidding, but it gets serious real fast the further the temperatures drop. Suffice it to say, we don’t know exactly what to do.

The News

The mainstream media is having a field day. One side is blasting the other for everything from bad designs and plans to poor leadership. In rebuttal, people are blaming the infrastructure for the fails.

Regardless it’s a big problem. But just what problem is it? That’s my point.

Right now, we don’t know nor will we know exactly what the problem is. On the surface, people lost power and water. THAT’S a problem, sure.

But is that really THE problem? I don’t think so. It’s just the manifestation of something else that happened. Yes, when a family loses power and water in their house for more than 50 hours, they have a problem. I’m not minimizing that.

As the after-action reporting and various investigations unfold, no doubt we will hear about this state agency or that one doing this and that wrong. People will get their names thrown around with severe connotations. As an old friend once said, “sternly worded memos will follow.”

But will we discover the real core of the problem? I hope so. But honestly, I doubt we will.

The Extreme Case

My story so far is an extreme case. But in business, problems arise every day. Things don’t go as planned. We try to dig into causes to determine why the problem is there, but often we miss the mark.

If we get too consumed on the solution, we might miss the root cause.

Once we err on finding the real problem, we are likely to repeat the situation.

The same can be said of the very thing that your business may be about. When you started your business, you had a vision. There was some product or service you wanted to deliver. Likely you firmly believed your ‘thing’ was going to solve everyone’s problems. Right?

As your business grew, did you focus more on your solution rather than the problem you were trying to fix?

If you lose sight of the original problem, you have a bigger problem. Your company may be headed for becoming irrelevant. If the market doesn’t have your kind of problem to fix, then your solution is meaningless.

You cannot survive by being the solution looking for a problem. You have to be solidly aligned with the problem you think you can fix. And the real problem must be very real.

The whole dot com bust was about solutions people created for problems that didn’t exist. I once saw an episode of Shark Tank where a young entrepreneur had created a phone app that showed you where things were in airport food courts.

If you’ve been to a food court lately at your local airport, things are pretty much right there. Having an extra app to map the booths and kiosks wouldn’t add much to the expereince.

This young man was crushed to find none of the sharks were interested. In fact, they got a little rude as he stressed the value (in his mind) of this app.

His app was a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

If your business is not producing the results you thought it should, maybe you are solving the wrong problems. Your creation may be wonderful, but if it doesn’t deliver the right value to solving a real problem, you are just fluff.

Fluff only sells for bedding and jackets, which we could have used more of here in Texas last week.

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To Be a Great Leader, You Must Inspect What You Expect

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

What does it mean, exactly? And what does it have to do with leadership?

Well…

Have you been guilty of spouting a directive then letting it die a natural death? We’ve all done it at one point or another—whether accidentally or intentionally, we’re all guilty.

When a leader sets out a goal or directive, that goal can only be achieved with good monitoring, or, inspection.

Whether you run a big business, a team, or are working on a small project, in order to achieve any sort of success, you have to be mindful of these simple words: inspect what you expect.

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

Great leadership principles you need to know. Leadership powered by common sense

The “inspect what you expect” principle takes many forms.

During my days as a second lieutenant, we conducted regular health and welfare inspections.

While the military inspects a lot of things, this was unique. Those of you who have served in the military know why.

Those of you who don’t: buckle your seatbelts.

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

One early morning at 3:30 a.m., the entire cadre (all of the managers and supervisors) of our training unit surrounded a barracks where a portion of our troops lived.

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

This “health and welfare inspection” was actually a search and seizure mission.

We burst into the barracks and surprised all of the soldiers sleeping there. They were ousted from their bunks and told to stand at attention beside their footlockers while we searched the premises.

Sure enough, we found a stash of drugs and some paraphernalia tucked inside one of the footlockers.

Our target was achieved.

We could have preached and threatened the law about drugs, but we had to inspect what we expected.

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

Because even the best strategic planning simply won’t matter without proper execution.

A great leader must push forward to make things happen. They cannot stand still; they must be in constant motion, pushing towards a goal to reach success.

They must be focused.

Every plan and strategy associated with a goal must always be monitored and inspected to ensure proper execution and achievement.

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

Six Sigma is a specific set of tools and techniques used to to help businesses improve their processes.

Inspecting what you expect is an integral part of Six Sigma. It is also an integral part of overall good project management.

For process improvement, a concept known as DMAIC is applied.

DMAIC

DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

With DMAIC, you analyze results as they occur, checking them against expected outcomes.

If you find yourself off the mark, adjust and do it all over again. In other words, you are staying alert—at all times—to the things happening around you that affect your process and your progress.

The devil is in the details.

There is so much more to being a great leader than stating your plans and giving directives.

Great leaders walk the floor.

If you’re not walking the floor, you’re not being a good leader. You’re doing it wrong.

Leaders who don’t walk the floor find that things are not happening as they expect. Always remember: the devil is in the details.

You have to constantly be checking in, seeing what’s going on—walking the floor. You have to constantly ensure the appropriate measures are being put in place to achieve the right outcome.

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

For example: if your business enforces things like safety or regulatory compliance, your role as a leader is to inspect and review events and circumstances. You have to check work every single day to ensure proper compliance.

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

When issuing a directive, always be clear about your expectations. Be as specific as possible.

Volumes, dollars, incidence rates, hours, cost saves, the list goes on. The expectation you give will determine the outcome.

2. Be Consistent

Constantly inspect, and keep your inspections consistent. Keep communication open and be consistent in everything you do. Be open and don’t beat around the bush. Share your results.

3. Stay Visible

People need to know you are engaged and involved in the review process. Don’t get stuck behind your office door. Show your team you are active in the process. Be around them. Answer their questions. Motivate them.

Remember: you are the leader guiding the vision to the final outcome. Be available to talk it through with those who have questions. Walk the floor.

If your team is spread out geographically, remain visible with the right frequency of check-in calls and team meetings.

Let your team know that part of executing the mission is routine reviews.

So…do you inspect what you expect?

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Have You Turned Away from Networking Groups?

networking

We are T-minus 2 weeks into 2021. Are you having fun yet? Have the New Year’s resolutions taken root or been abandoned?

People are still trying to make sense of the new normal we call COVID. I’m no different.

But today I want to drill down on a topic that has been recurring more and more often in my circle of business owners and corporate execs I talk to. That topic is business ‘networking’.

What Is Networking?

There are a lot of different meanings when you say networking. Most often in the business sense, it has to do with sales and lead generation; go to some event, meet people, and get new prospecting contacts.

However, the one I want to talk about is the mastermind, the roundtable, or peer-to-peer advisory type. Call it what you will. It’s the situation where a few people sharing the same general profile gather. There is a common thread reaching across the group. The meeting is usually facilitated by someone. The events can be paid for or free.

On one hand, the concept here is a good one. “Iron sharpens iron” is a Biblical principle taught for 2000 years. Napolean Hill in “Think and Grow Rich” preaches the idea of the power in a Mastermind Group. That was 1920. It’s been around ever since.

So gathering with peers to share experiences and offer solutions makes sense, right?

Over my career I’ve participated in dozens of these group formats, logging hundreds of hours of participation. And yes, I’ve gotten great value. Hopefully, I’ve shared some value too.

Even today, I belong to or facilitate several.

The Rub

The concern I’m hearing from clients and prospects though is that in today’s business VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), the measurable value in these meetings is in doubt.

mastermind

I can honestly say, I have more clients exiting their groups than I do joining groups. Why is that?

Here are five BIG reasons I see today.

First, with the pivot to everything being virtual, you get a mixed reaction. While you’re saving time commuting to the breakfast, lunch or dinner meeting, you’re just tired of Zoom/Teams calls.

Having one more virtual gathering is painful. Plus the connection with the group may suffer by doing it virtually. Yes, we’re all getting better at communicating this way, but the deeper, more meaningful connection (like these should be) gets compromised.

Next, the group dynamic may be skewed. In almost every group, there will be one or two ‘know-it-alls’; people who have something to say about everything. You know in your gut they don’t really know it all, but these geniuses will convince you it’s true.

Having to spend a portion of your time with the group either debating or ignoring the know-it-all personality is unproductive.

Thirdly, the focus is unclear. If the organizer/facilitator is not skilled at bringing value to the group, then there may not be any sense of purpose. Who needs to spend an hour or more each month without focus? It just becomes a social event.

Likely you have other circles of friends and colleagues you’d rather spend your social time with, not a peer business group. And certainly not one you may be paying to attend.

Next, a sense of trust is missing. In any small group, especially one committed to sharing thoughts and ideas, there has to be a ‘cone of silence’ or TRUST. The group needs to be expressly committed to protecting trust with each other.

If you do not feel the trust in the group, the depth of the issues you open up will suffer. You’ll be more likely to skim along, never reaching deep into concerns and questions.

Lastly, do you struggle to fit in? Not all groups are created equally. Depending on the sponsor organization building the groups there may be little to no filter on the way groups are set. You can waste several months exploring the fit, only to find it’s not going to be good.

Issues like conflicts of interest, competing business markets, and company size can be alignment factors that impact the effectiveness of the mastermind.

These five reasons are the main objections I hear now. I am sure there are others.

But id this to say STOP all your group attendance? No, of course not. If you are finding value, then by all means stay with it. Just be certain you are receiving a meaningful return on invested time or money.

The Alternative

If you are still hungry for advice and counsel, what can you do?

The other choice apart from those networking groups is to engage a single advisor. This is someone who can be your personal, trusted guide. Just like a personal trainer at the gym or a yoga or golf instructor, having a business advisor makes sense.

With a single advisor or a small group of advisors, you get the exact attention your business needs. There are no distractions from others creeping in and consuming the time. It is YOUR time.

Selection of your advisor takes a little work though.

The market has been flooded with new, young professionals offering to be business coaches and consultants. Beware. The canned programs that many of these agents subscribe to are ‘business in a box’ solutions. One size does NOT fit all.

You need someone who has been there before, accomplished the greater things you want to achieve, and someone who knows the realities of running bigger businesses.

call a coach

Why not align with someone who has proven success at the higher level you want to go to? What could anyone possibly tell you about growing from $1,000,000 annual revenue to $5,000,000 or from $10MM to $25MM, if they haven’t already done it themselves?

If these thoughts resonate with you, perhaps we should talk. Click the button below to arrange a call. I look forward to hearing from you.

Solving Productivity Challenges in Small Teams

servant leader

You’re a small team, and you often feel like you need to do a lot with a little. But, despite the fact that you don’t have endless resources and limitless hands to share the load, you want to help your team figure out how to be productive.

Even when you have everybody fired up and ready to crank through their tasks, you still get stuck. Deadlines are missed, team members are burnt out, and you end each day with a to-list that’s barely been touched.

What gives? Productivity challenges are common on teams of all sizes, and even more so now that a good chunk of your team is figuring out how to be productive at home. 

Let’s dig into the details of why achieving peak output can be such a struggle, as well as how you can help your small but mighty team get over those hurdles. 

Why is productivity so tough? 

If operating at maximum productivity was easy, a lot more teams would be doing it. But, let’s face it: getting a lot done is hard. 

In their quest for to-do list domination, your team is dealing with some (or even all) of the following barriers: 

  • Lack of clarity and communication: Communication is always challenging, and that’s especially true when your team is working remotely. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that collaboration and communication are the biggest struggles when working remotely. When wires get crossed, team members don’t know what to do next — and that makes it tough for them to keep the wheels in motion.
  • Overwhelm and burnout: Perhaps your team isn’t making progress because they have too much to do. When they’re stuck on a hamster wheel of endless tasks, they can burn out entirely. A Gallup survey concluded that 23% of workers say they feel burned out more often than not, while 44% reported feeling burnt out sometimes. 
  • Tool fatigue: A separate survey found that 43% of workers believe they need to switch between too many apps to get their basic work done. Not only does that waste time, but it also contributes to confusion. When they’re working between too many platforms, team members might miss important updates and notifications. 

7 strategies to boost productivity on your team

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

Yikes. There’s no shortage of issues that can throw your team’s productivity off track. But here’s the good news: You can do something about them. We’re breaking down seven strategies to help your team figure out how to be productive during quarantine — and well beyond. 

1. Streamline your intake process

Does this sound familiar? Work lands on your team’s plate, and then you need to spend hours (or even days) tracking down all of the information you need to get started.

That’s not only a hassle, but it also slows you down. Standardize and streamline your intake process with Wrike’s request forms. They require that project requesters submit all of the information your team needs, and then automatically trigger a project or task in Wrike from that predesigned blueprint. No more hunting for those must-have project details.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 2

2. Integrate and automate what you can

Only 39% of the workday is spent on actual work. Where does the rest go? Emails, unproductive meetings, and administrative tasks are some of the biggest culprits monopolizing your team’s time.

Give them some of their hours and energy back by integrating and automating work. Wrike integrates with a ton of the platforms you’re already using, so that you can automatically create tasks from emails or Slack messages, seamlessly share image files across platforms, and collaborate in real-time. You can also automate entire workflows and take some manual effort off of your team’s shoulders. 

3. Use dashboards for increased clarity

Half of employees don’t understand what’s expected of them at work. When your team members don’t understand what to start on next, it’s impossible for them to be as efficient and effective as possible.

Wrike can help boost clarity and empower your team to get more done. Wrike’s Dashboards enable team leads to get a bird’s eye view of team performance, spot any risks or bottlenecks, and nudge overdue tasks along. Team members can drill down to personal or project-based dashboards, so that they always understand what to do and when. 

4. Understand task dependencies

Nothing will stall your team’s productivity levels like a bottleneck. They can’t make any progress when they’re waiting on approval from a client or a resource from another team.

That’s why it’s important that you account for task dependencies, and Wrike’s Gantt Chart can help you do just that. You’ll be able to visualize how different items are connected, plan for dependencies, and keep projects moving forward.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 3

5. Track your team’s time

If you want your team to be more effective with their time, you need to understand where it’s going. That’s where time tracking comes in. It not only helps make things like billing more straightforward, but it also enables your team to get a grasp on where they’re investing your hours — so you can work toward better effort allocation. 

Wrike’s Time Tracking feature allows your team to log their hours with the click of the button. Worried that your team members don’t want to be watched that closely? Don’t panic. 79% of respondents in one survey said they’re fine with their employers monitoring their workplace-related activities. 

6. Reevaluate your processes

The working world has changed a lot in recent months, and now your team is trying to navigate how to be productive working from home. 

This means some of your old processes might no longer be helpful. Fortunately, your procedures and workflows aren’t set in stone. Reevaluate them regularly to determine whether they need to be revamped, reconsidered, or even removed entirely. 

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

7. Be realistic about workloads

38% of employees feel overwhelmed by how much they have to get done at work. One of the best things you can do to support your team in increasing their productivity is to ensure you’re being realistic about their workloads.

Wrike’s Workload charts help you visualize your entire team’s workload and bandwidth. You can easily allocate tasks and ensure you aren’t spreading any one team member too thin. 

Wondering how to be productive? This is your guide

Productivity isn’t a piece of cake, especially on small teams. Your team is responsible for a lot, and sometimes it feels like you’re all struggling to keep your heads above water.

You can support your team in getting even more accomplished, without needing to deal with extra stress and elbow grease. Use the strategies we’ve outlined here, and your team will work smarter — not harder. 

Learn how to boost your team’s productivity (and how Wrike features can help) by watching this webinar and signing up for a free two-week trial.

Editor’s Note – This article was written by Kat Boogaard at Wrike. It first appeared on September 23, 2020.