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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.

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.

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

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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.

How Do You Do What You Do?

Gaining Experience

From time to time, I have a mentee say “I am interested in doing what you do. Please tell me how to do that.”

Often I struggle with that ask, because if I was honest, I’d say “You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know what I’ve been through to get here?”

John Maxwell said it much more eloquently. He said “OK. Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to do what I did to get to do the things I do?”

Do the Things I Did

Doing things in the past created the experience required to do today, what I do. Without living through the leadership crucibles I’ve lived, I’d not have any of the material I share with clients today. Starting as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I took on management roles.

Later, joining a regional bank, I was recruited there because senior leaders inside the bank were former military officers and knew the kind of experiences I had. They could relate to the experiences and had automatic confidence in knowing I could assume a management role there too.

After 20 years in banking with successive growth roles along the way, I took an early retirement from banking and started several businesses. I knew I loved entrepreneurship, so I took the knowledge I gained at the bank (watching and working with many many client companies) and applied it in those start-ups.

It was at times a painful learning experience. Until you lay awake at night sweating the ability to make your next payroll, you have no idea what it takes to run a business on your own.

Experience earned the hard way. Plain and simple.

The same is true in many other professions. Plumbers and electricians have job grades starting with apprentice roles. You watch the masters, observe what they do, learn about the finer points. Then, with time, you test for and achieve the higher grade status in the profession.

Doctors spend years of schooling and rotations to learn about practicing medicine. You wouldn’t want a first year MD doing your heart or brain surgery. Most people I know, when the need arises for surgery, they ask the doc how many of these have you done?

Experience is a Cruel Beast

Gaining experience is the big hurdle for young people entering the job market. There aren’t that many positions available to start at the ground floor and work your way up. Yes, larger companies create starter jobs and recruit the top of the class graduates to fill those roles. They might even have training programs to grow and nurture the less experienced to fill future job needs inside the company.

However, for many, finding those experience learning opportunities is tough. Couple that with a new found impatience about career advancement and you have a frustrating situation.

Yet, there is no denying the need for experience to do the right thing in later roles. ‘Do the things I did to get to do the things I do.’ I love that.

Tips to Achieve the Success You Want

So for those who are in the early years of your careers, here are some thoughts to follow.

Understand Your Purpose

First, work on the need to understand your purpose. You were put on the earth for a reason. It was not some happy accident. You are created, wired, and pre-disposed for a purpose. Identify what that might be, then create a roadmap for fulfilling that purpose.

It won’t happen overnight or in the next 24 months. It’s a life journey. You can learn more about writing your own personal purpose statement here.

Play the Long Game

Next, learn how to play the long game. Stop worrying about tomorrow and the next immediate thing. Try to envision the picture of your future state lloooooonnnngggggg down the road. Not just tonight or tomorrow. Search for opportunities that serve that plan.

As an example, if you really want to be a consultant, get some analysts jobs first. Learn how to run studies and surveys. Compile big reports and findings for customers. Do the heavy lifting on those kinds of jobs so that you build experience in the tools of the trade.

If you think you want to be a coach, get some ‘people’ jobs first. Work your way up to become a shift supervisor at a Burger King. Learn how to deal with all kinds of people, not just your circle of friends from school.

Find Mentors

Then find some mentors. Let them help you along the way. Don’t just ask for a 30-minute session then be done. You’re not done. You have lots to learn. Mentoring is a process that evolves over time.

You’ll notice I said mentors (plural). Find people who will help you in all areas of life, not just work things. If you’re starting out in married life, get a mentor. Need spiritual help? Find a mentor. If you have a hobby you’d like to improve on, get a mentor.

It’s not that hard to find mentors either. All of my friends are willingly helping people in all walks of life. They just need to be asked.

Perpetual Learning

All of the best coaches and leaders I know are perpetual learners. They read, study, and research to keep their edge sharp. In addition, they attend workshops and participate in mastermind groups. They rely upon peer-to-peer advisory work. Lastly, they hire coaches. Similar to top tier professional athletes, great thinkers and leaders turn to coaches to help up their game.

It’s a layered effect. You achieve one level, then start working on the next level. That is true in experiential growth as well as job promotion.

Wrapping it Up

When you ask an older, more experienced person how to do what they do, you have to recognize they did what they did before, so they now can do what they do. You can’t skip the steps in between.

They wouldn’t be who they are, doing what they do today without having done what they did to get here.

I know those are tongue twisters, but you get meaning. Do the work, find the experience, then you can do the big thing you want to do, your life’s purpose.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment. Click a share.

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.

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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Handling the Smartest Guy in the Room

smartest guy in the room

We’ve all been there before. You’ve either worked with or for THAT person; “The smartest guy in the room.”

They can make you feel small, disregarded, uncomfortable. They have ways of expressing their thoughts to make your ideas seem so wrong.

I once knew an executive who was always the smartest guy in the room. His IQ was off the charts. He could dissect any argument, slicing and dicing his way to outcomes that were usually his.

The story is told of this man one day actually being stumped by a new topic that had been brought up by a junior member of his team. He seemed stunned but undaunted.

The next day a follow-up meeting was held. This gent had gone home, opened his vast libraries and began studying the topic. His academic prowess proved once again superior.

As the new meeting began he was now and would evermore be the smartest guy on the subject. And he was.

Being the smartest person in the room is not just about academic skills alone. It can come from vast experience through years of exposure to all aspects of a business or industry. The knowledge that gets captures is retained.

Typically executives who are tagged the smartest guy have very little interpersonal skill. They plow through the day problem solving and sharing their superior knowledge, leaving hard working souls in their wake.

Working with these people is very hard to do. When they are stakeholders on a project, they can become the derailer.

What can you do?

Finding ways to work with or through these special people can be very frustrating. If you’re not intimidated by their knowledge, you might be put off by their behaviors. They often make terrible bosses.

So what can you do?

Over the years, I’ve had several clients who reported being frustrated by TSGITR (the smartest guy in the room). Whenever I hear this, I recommend one solution.

Arrange a one-on-one. Present to TSGITR the following comments or whatever version of this works for you.

“Look, whenever we meet to talk about ____________________I want to acknowledge you are the smartest guy in the room. You are an important stakeholder in the project. Whenever I try to explain the alternative ways we are working on this problem, I’d appreciate your help resolving it, not just dismissing ideas that don’t stand up to your standard.”

“I am sure no one is trying to challenge your wisdom on these subjects. I’d like to find a better way for you and me to work together. Is that ok?”

Whenever a client has used this approach, they tell me it worked well. The senior person stopped and admitted they had no idea their communication was impacting people that way. I’ve even heard of situations where TSGITR asked for help being called out when they start down that domineering path.

Managing Up the Organization

I don’t believe in the concept of managing up the organization. See my mention of that here.

However, those who are true leaders, regardless of your level in the organization, can garner respect and thereby influence those above you.

To have that kind of respect, you have to bolster your confidence, speak boldly but gracefully. Don’t find fights to fight. But likewise, don’t shrink away from objections and stronger personalities. Create your boundaries. Fight for what you know needs to get done.

If you discover that important information is missing, you can change your position. But don’t do it because of intimidation and boldness from TSGITR.

Try this out next time. Let me know how it went. Then if you’d like to discuss it further, feel free to schedule a call or leave a comment.

Also, I am offering coaching on demand through my sister site at FLASHCOACH.ME

Coaching on demand is the ability to arrange professional coaching support without a long term, ongoing contract. You can buy blocks of hours on specific topics you believe a coach could help you with. Try it out!

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.

5 Ways Managers Can Get More from Their Teams

You and I both control one big thing in our daily lives. That ‘thing’ is the effort we choose to spend. As managers and leaders, we want to get more effort from our team.

We all choose what level of effort is used, whether it is effort at work, at home, in the gym, on the golf course, fishing, playing sports, or building relationships,

The various levels of effort we spend depend usually on what we think is required. How many of us get behind the wheel of our cars and miraculously arrive at our destinations with little if any thought or conscious effort to do so? As scary as that thought may be, it is true.

There are certain things we do every day that receive the minimum effort required. Other things we feel more effort is needed so we ‘work a little harder.’

The same is true with everything we do at work. Whatever the job requires, you make intentional or unintentional choices about applying the best level of effort.

Learning about Discretionary Effort

Going the extra mile is called discretionary effort. You voluntarily choose how much extra you give.

For those of you who are gym rats, you know about discretionary effort. As an example, it’s the extra rep at the end of a long set. It’s the extra plate on the weight stack. You choose to try more, applying all your remaining strength to get it achieved.

fitness and effort

The Leaders and Managers Opportunity

As managers and leaders of business, how can you inspire your people to give that little bit extra? Just like a good sports coach gets a little more out of his athletes, you too can become the coach your people need so they are willing to give that discretionary effort too.

Here are five ways you can up your game as a leader.

First, answer their questions. Every employee arrives at work with basic questions. They need these questions resolved in order to fully apply themselves to the work. Giving the ‘extra’ effort requires all the questions are answered completely.

I’m not talking about obvious questions, but sometimes intangible ones. For instance, here’s the list of core questions employees ask:

  • Do I even want to be here? The people question.
  • Do I believe in the purpose for this team? The why question.
  • Do I believe in the plan we have to execute our roles?
  • What is the practice or process? Do the tools, systems, and procedures work?
  • Will my performance be recognized?
  • What is the payoff? Not just monetary, but the sense of accomplishment.

If you can work with your team to have critical questions like these answered affirmatively, then you will see the increase in discretionary effort employees use.

manager answering questions

Next, you need to be trustworthy. Leaders must work to create an environment of trust. It starts at the manager’s desk. You cannot dictate nor demand trust from your team if you are not trustworthy yourself.

The way you build trust for yourself involves these key things:

  • Be real, don’t fake it
  • Stand by your word
  • Be relatable, work to connect with your team, not as friends, but as co-workers

More Ways to Get More for Managers and Leaders

The next opportunity involves creating a vision. Because your people wonder about the purpose of the team (see above), you have to be the one creating the vision. Too many managers rely on the bigger picture statement from above about purpose and vision.

NO! If you got put in a manager’s seat, YOU need to create your own vision for what the team can and should be doing. YOU need to define what it means to win. It is YOUR job to paint that picture for your team.

After you can share the proper vision for your team, your employees will find ways to help make it happen. Everyone wants a purpose. Great Leaders inspire that.

Next, provide an accountability framework. As small children, we all want to know where the boundaries are. An absence of boundaries actually creates insecurity.

It happens at work too. That is to say, if your hiring process is reasonably effective (not perfect but good enough), the people you hired will want to do the right thing. However, if you fail to show them that, they get unsettled, confused. Just like small children they may act out. If you have that happening, it’s your fault.

Build the right structure for monitoring, evaluating, recognizing good performance, and helping those who are falling behind.

Inspect what you expect.

Anonymous

I use and teach a process known as the Big 5. It’s a beautifully simple way to have employees get on the same page. It provides you with coaching moments to help guide your people. For more on the Big 5 method click here.

Lastly, have some fun. Yes, that may sound weird. But people respond better if the effort they choose to spend gets recognized. There is no better way to recognize good performance than celebrating your wins.

Above all, use the milestones in a project to have small celebrations of victory for achieving that. In addition, if you pulled a series of all-nighters getting a project out the door, celebrate!

Don’t lose an opportunity to have fun with the good work people are delivering.

There you have it

Five ways to inspire your team to choose to spend discretionary effort at work. By following these ideas, you too can get more from your team while improving team trust and developing an environment of rewarding experience for your people.

How great would it be to have employees that honestly say “I love working here?” This is how you can do it.

If you’re still not clear on exactly how you too can get more from your team, give me a call. We’ll explore your exact situation in more detail.

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

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