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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.

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

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.

Leadership 2020 and Beyond

What else is left to say about this year, 2020? Regardless of who you talk to, everyone endured something during the past 10 months.

2020 was going to be such an interesting year. It was the start of a new decade and an easy catch phrase for business planners and institutional thinkers. I can recall dozens of programs starting more than 10 years ago that had a title something like “Vision 2020”, an obvious play on words.

Yet once the calendar page flipped, we all encountered weirdness like never before. I actually don’t want to list any examples. You each have your own list. We all do.

The Season

Yet I do feel compelled to do some sort of wrap-up article to begin the process to close out this craziness we called 2020. Because it is Christmas, I want to fold in my seasonal message too.

First, as I often have, let me say “Happy Holidays” to all my readers and followers who do not observe the Christmas event. I respect your beliefs and practices. Whatever I may say here is not intended to insult nor sway you from your faith, beliefs and values.

However, I do want to use the traditional meaning of the Christmas story to relay some thoughts about leadership going forward; advancing into a fresh, new year.

The story I am referring to is that one. Yes, the Babe in the manger. A young husband and his pregnant wife. They each had received special messages from heavenly couriers. They followed the law of the land at that time and the instruction from above which they didn’t understand but knew to be important.

If you follow the whole story, there are odd similarities to the challenges we face today. Governmental authorities were managing peoples’ lives, directing a census. Unrest between tribes of citizens roiled into occasional demonstrations in the streets. There was uncertainty all around.

At the center of the story is a message of hope. A promise. A gift.

hope
Hope for tomorrow

More conventional tradition over the decades has turned that giving spirit into a practice of giving physical gifts, wrapped in beautiful paper and bows. Much like the scene in the manger, those who expect to receive the gifts wait with great anticipation. They wait until the perfect time for the present, the gift to be revealed.

Now We Wait

We are waiting. Waiting for 2020 to be gone. Waiting for long-promised vaccines to ease our fears of the disease. Waiting for things to get back to normal, whatever that was.

man waiting and thinking
Waiting and thinking

We wait simply perhaps for things to be different. Here in the U.S., the recent election has shifted the tide and created a kind of change. A slight majority are happy. A big minority are not. All of us still wait.

Besides the need for cures, fixes and new direction, I believe we are waiting for hope. We are hungry for hope. We new something new to hope for.

However, hope doesn’t simply appear. Hope comes from having a vision. A vision gives direction. It crystallizes a story about the way forward.

Vision that provides hope to a group of people comes from LEADERSHIP.

While hope may be the thing we need, leadership is the action we need. My friends, the world is in dire need of solid, practical leadership. Not a leader with an agenda, propped up by some special interest, but a leader with the good of the people at heart.

We need leadership that does not buckle to political persuasion or popular ideologies. We need leaders who can get things done.

The need for Leadership is everywhere

The leadership gap I see is not just at the political level. It is in homes, in neighborhoods, in communities, churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. We need leadership in our schools and colleges. It’s also needed in businesses of all sizes.

Small team gathering

You might say, but I know people in those areas who are great leaders. Sure, but are there successors? Is there someone available to keep things going?

You must also be very careful about pointing to a person in a seat of authority and confusing that with leadership.

The power of the position does not define leadership.

Just because someone has been promoted into a position, it doesn’t make them a leader. Leadership comes from intentional effort to grow and learn the skills and principles of solid leadership.

Also, to the small business owners out there, you need to build your leadership tool kit if you want your companies to grow beyond where they are now. Your great idea is not enough to become a big success. You have to build teams and grow the business.

Back to Hope and Leadership

How do we get past 2020? At the center of this whole theme is the need for hope. Leaders need to cast new visions. Clearly we may never return to the old normal. There will be a new normal. Leaders have to create the vision for what those opportunities can be.

Where there is no vision, the people perish

Proverbs 29:18

It’s been written about for centuries. Without a vision, we lose our way. Organizations crumble. Communities suffer. Whole populations struggle.

Real leaders can fix that.

Just as I write this closing, a voice in my head from a mentor friend is saying “but leaders have to execute too.” Yes, they do. Once a vision is established, then the heavy lifting of making that hope become reality is the final test of good leadership.

To my original point…. we need that. We need hope for a brighter tomorrow. Just like the gift given to mankind in the manger over 2,000 years ago. We need true leaders who can help make it happen.

Will you consider being a leader, right where you are? Can you stand up and be counted for guiding and directing your home, your church, your community? Your business?

#HopeFest360

There is a big event happening January 1st. The team of authors at Bizcatalyst360 has joined forces with over 6 dozen voices from around the world to lift you up with their positive messages of hope and healing for the new year. This Epic (free) virtual Event will be broadcast from sunrise to sunset on New Year’s Day 2021. Here’s your opportunity to join our global community as together,  we imagine the possibilities. I am honored to have been invited to be one of the speakers.

Dennis J. Pitocco, BC360° Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, said, “The future holds the promise of a new beginning. Together as a force for good, we are here to make a positive impact as we begin to mold a new earth. We hold the magic — the magic-fairy sparkle-dust — that is so desperately needed right now to move out of transition into transformation. It is time for us all to shine so that others may draw hope, strength, and courage from our light, and learn to let their own light shine as a beacon of hope and healing”

About HOPEFEST 360°
Reserve your free ticket(s) now to join our ultimate wave across the universe as we broadcast on YouTube across all time zones from sunrise to sunset on New Years Day.

VISIT https://www.bizcatalyst360.com/hopefest-360/

For now, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

5 Ideas for One-Person Businesses

cheerful handsome waiter standing at food track counter

As the new year comes around, people may start thinking about opening their own business. But what if you don’t want to open a store or hire a bunch of people. Can you do something as a one-person business?

Many people dream of starting their own business. There’s something about being your own boss, setting your own hours, and doing something you’re passionate about that resonates with pretty much everyone.

That being said, there are a number of people that don’t know what type of business they’d like to start. With so many options these days it can be a little overwhelming.

So, we’ve put together a list of five businesses that you can start all on your own. Each of these ideas have proven to be profitable if executed correctly and should work for almost everyone.

Freelancer

A freelancer is a contractor that works for many different companies in order to provide them with specialized skills and expertise.

If you’ve spent a decent amount of time in the workforce then chances are you’ve picked up some valuable skills. Or maybe you’ve gone to school to become certified in a specific discipline. Becoming a freelancer will allow you to use those skills you’ve learned to start your own business.

One of the best parts about starting a freelance business is that you can do it part-time. According to a recent survey, 55% of freelancers still have a full-time job. This means you can build up your business while keeping your current job, which reduces a lot of your risk.

Some of the most in-demand freelance skills include:

  • Programming
  • Graphic design
  • Copywriting
  • Marketing
  • Translation

However, there are plenty of other areas you can specialize in.

When it comes to finding work, a great place to start is sites like Upwork and Fiverr. Here you’ll be able to advertise your services and apply for available job postings in your chosen field. 

Once you build a core group of clients that keep giving you work there’s no reason why you can’t turn this into a full-time business.

Coach

If you’re passionate about teaching and inspiring people, then coaching could be perfect for you. And best of all, advances in technology mean you can build this type of business completely online.

questions

First, you need to decide what type of coach you want to be. There are plenty of choices, including:

  • Life coach
  • Career coach
  • Business coach
  • Performance coach
  • Wellness coach

The path you choose will depend mostly on your experience, knowledge, and interests.

Next, you need to create some products. Consider starting with something small, like a PDF or video, that’s lower-priced or even free. This will let people try out your services without a lot of risk. 

If they find your information valuable then you can upsell them to a higher-priced item, like a course or consultation services.

Amazon Seller

This business model has been really gaining popularity in the last few years, largely because it’s highly profitable and open to anyone.

Amazon is the world’s largest retailer, and in order to expand their product catalog even further they allow individual sellers to offer items on their site as well. This is a great opportunity for you to start an eCommerce business on a massive marketplace that already has millions of customers.

In 2019, more than 140,000 third-party sellers surpassed $100,000 in annual sales, so there’s definitely the potential to grow a profitable business here.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how to sell items on Amazon. It turns out, the process is pretty simple.

  • Decide what you want to sell. There are a number of tools out there that will tell you what products are generating sales on Amazon.
  • Source your products from local retail stores, other eCommerce sites, wholesalers, or manufacturers.
  • Create your product listings.
  • Fulfill your orders. If you opt for the Fulfillment by Amazon program you can send all your inventory to them and they’ll pack and ship all your orders for you.

You can start with one product and then gradually add more to grow your business and bring in more revenue.

Tutor

Do you have a university degree and love to teach? Then perhaps you should think about starting a tutoring business.

business advisor

There are always lots of students out there who are looking for help with certain courses, which means there are plenty of opportunities for someone with the right knowledge.

Most people think about tutoring as a part-time gig, but many have made it their full-time career. In fact, you can make anywhere from $25,000 – $50,000 per year working just 20 hours per week.

You can become a tutor for virtually any course, but some of the topics with the highest demand include:

  • Calculus
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Statistics

So, if you have experience with these or other topics, tutoring might be your best path to starting your own business.

Social Media Marketing

When it comes to marketing social media is the way of the future. A recent report by Adobe states that 50% of Gen Z and 42% of Millennials consider social media the most relevant marketing channel.

If you have experience doing this kind of work for your employer, or you’re just passionate about social media, then you may be able to turn this into an income. Many older business owners still aren’t that knowledgeable when about this technology and are looking for experts to help them.

unrecognizable man working on computer at home
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

To start, you need to build your own social media following on multiple channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. People want to see that you’re able to grow your own profiles before they hire you to help with theirs.

Next, make sure you’re up-to-date on all the latest technology and best practices, as this industry is always evolving.

When you’re ready, start looking for work. Begin with smaller lower-paid jobs to build up your portfolio. Once you have some experience you can start going after larger contracts.

Conclusion

Starting your own business doesn’t need to be a dream. As you can see, there are plenty of ways you can make it a reality. If you’re interested in having your own business, come up with an idea and then start working on it in your free time. 

It won’t happen overnight, but if you work hard and stick with it then before long you should have a business you can call your own.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by the Amazon experts team from AMZScout a top 3 Amazon analytics tool worldwide with over 500,000 users, including companies like Red Bull, Disney, and Casio, which has been available for over four years. We do research and frequently find new and exciting trends connected to Amazon and other eCommerce businesses that we love to provide to readers.

Coaching and Mentoring – Diving Deeper

mentoring

It’s been said that leaders who radically impact their teams are themselves good coaches. Taking on the mentoring and coaching role often does not come naturally to someone in a leadership position.

One technique at the center of executive coaching is the art of asking good questions and/or reframing the response the coachee gives.

If you want to up your game coaching your team, here are three very important phrases to use.

professional business mentor looking at papers and working with young colleagues in office
professional business mentor looking at papers and working with young colleagues in office

3 Big Questions and Observations

They come by way of a referral found on LinkedIn. The source is John Bethel. Here are 3 of John’s coaching questions/phrases I have borrowed to regularly use while coaching leadership teams, friends, and family;

1. It occurs to me that…am I close?

When feeding back your perspective on the information they’ve shared with you. “It occurs to me that you see the value in following up with the prospective client but you are concerned that you’ll come across as too aggressive. Am I close?”

2. That’s one option…have you thought about others?

When the coachee has offered only one solution to a challenge they are facing, you can say, “Ok, that’s one option…” (then pause and wait). On the receiving end, this meant that I needed to think through other options before committing to only one.

3. Could this be a convenient story you are telling yourself?

This was often used by John to challenge me on why I was avoiding acting on something critical. “That may be true or that may be a convenient story you’re telling yourself. Think about this for a few minutes before responding. How does this story benefit you?”

The Power of Questions

By asking questions, you, as the coach/mentor demonstrate many things. First, if the question extends the discussion, you assist your mentee with exploring more. It promotes critical thinking in your mentee.

Supervisor mentoring a direct report

If you simply hear a situation and quickly give an answer, you are cutting off the mentee’s ability for self-discovery. Self-discovery is far more enduring than quick problem-solving.

I’ve often observed my leadership clients in action with their teams. As team members pose questions to the boss, I watch for my clients jumping straight into problem-solving mode rather than coaching mode.

My question to them at that moment is “Are you leading or problem-solving?” By leading the staff member through the thought process to find their own answer, the team leader/executive is helping to nurture growth in the subject.

On one hand, problem solving is usually what got someone promoted into a role. But if they truly want to build stronger teams, they must agree with taking on a more developmental role, coaching and mentoring their direct reports rather than continuing to merely solve problems.

Being Truly Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m writing from my home in Texas and yes Thanksgiving, at least the one I’m talking about is American.

In preparing this piece, I looked back at my annual Thanksgiving messages. I was struck by what I thought was simple prose at the time, but turned out to be more prophecy. (On my blog page, use the search box above and type Thanksgiving to see what I mean).

In the past I have written about social conditions, political conditions, the need for leadership, and of course family.

Somehow the events of 2020 make everything pale in comparison.

The Top 10 for 2020

If you will allow me, here is my Top 10 list of things to be thankful for in 2020.

10. We still live in a free country where opinions are able to be expressed despite growing tension about doing so. I fear we’re losing that ability to come together to discuss and honor opposing opinions. So I pray we change that soon.

9. We have a diverse economy that can sustain pandemics. It may take a hit, but we don’t sink the ship.

8. I have friends and colleagues to remind me to be humble.

7. I still have the ability to learn; learn to be a better coach, a better teacher, and a better person.

6. I have clients who seem to appreciate what we do together. I never take that for granted.

5. I have you to read and follow this blog and my podcasts. Your feedback keeps me on my edge and hungry to do more.

4. I have a valuable network of mentors who help me grow. You know who you are. You challenge me and keep me strong.

3. I have some very special friends who are loyal, supportive, caring, and honest. That’s the most important part, honesty.

2. I have a beautiful family; my wife Susan, my kids, and grands. You all keep me on my toes. I love you tremendously.

1. I thank my Lord and Savior for His unconditional love.

Some may take offense. I don’t intend to be offensive. I’m sharing my list. You can share yours in the comments below.

Giving thanks

The Leader’s Obligation

As I think about this list, the big question that emerges for me is this “How will I show up?” For all the things people do for me and with me, will it matter?

It better.

You see I believe I need to show up better each day. I need to do that for myself. But more importantly I need to do it for those who are counting on it.

If I roll out of bed and decide to ‘mail it in’ one day, who gets hurt? They do. The people who are counting on something from me.

That is what leadership is about. If you lead people, they are expecting something. You better show up and deliver.

If you’re not ready or willing to do that, you need to step away from your leadership role. If you’re just there for the payday, step away. If you only want the recognition, step away.

Step away and let someone who wants to serve others take the role. The people deserve that. We need those kinds of leaders, everywhere.

Will you show up? And be that kind of leader? I hope so. My pledge is to be there. Will you be alongside?

Leaders: Can You Get Too Focused?

The other day I was running errands and stopped at my bank. I went inside, did my business, and went back to my car. As I sat there checking emails, I was surprised by my passenger door opening with a young lady standing there.

She looked up at me, shrieked, and said “Oh my God!”

I looked at her then noticed that across the parking lot behind her was a vehicle exactly like mine with her husband sitting in it startled with a surprise too.

She apologized and gently closed my car door, exiting to her vehicle.

I shouted at her husband, asking him if he wanted to keep her. He said “Yes, I do.”

I said “Well, she’s all yours. Have a nice day!”

As we both drove away, I was thinking about FOCUS.

Clearly that young lady was very focused on something. So focused that she ignored the distance between her car and mine, simply letting the “impression” of a similar car influence her choice for opening the door.

I too was very focused on emails form my phone and ignored her approaching my car until it was too late and she had swung open the door.

It made for a good laugh, but could have been far worse.

Leader Focus

As leaders, we can get so laser-focused on an idea we lose sight of other opportunities or we ignore facts and circumstances that could impact our outcome.

When was the last time you got focused like that?

I have the odd opportunity to work with leaders on both ends of the business spectrum. I coach executives in some of the largest companies on the globe, like ExxonMobil and UPS. I also coach entrepreneurs and sole proprietors who are busy building new companies.

Yet the similarities I see are common to both. Running an organization requires thoughtful, dedicated leadership. Good management is not enough. You have to demonstrate real leadership. (I’ve written about the differences between management and leadership HERE).

Leaders can get blinded by ideas that create an intense focus on going one way or another. Once choices are made, nothing will persuade them to change direction. That can have a disasterous effect.

It’s one thing to be committed to a decision. Sure, the team wants you, their leader, to be certain on which way you want to go.

However, putting your head down once the decision is made can be problematic.

It’s a Tricky Balancing Act

I realize it can be tricky to be decisive yet open to other input. I do believe there are ways you can still make solid decisions and stay sensitive to things happening around you.

Here are some of the best ways I’ve seen work.

First, keep your team engaged. Just because you made the decision doesn’t mean your team should be shut off from reporting changes. For some reason I’m thinking about the submarine Captain and his crew. You’ve likely seen the war movies, you know what I mean. The Captain shouts an order but the crew is reporting back information they see on their monitors.

Next, have a reporting mechanism that works. In Six Sigma process improvement, there is a model known as DMAIC. It is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

DMAIC is the core of continuous imporvement of your process. By following these steps, you gain insights that you might not otherwise pay attentiion to.

Lastly, maintain communication with your team. Engage them for their valuable input. Even once the “ship” is underway, you have to allow course corrections to maintain a successful voyage. (Watch Greyhound with Tom Hanks to know what I mean here).

The Leader’s Challenge

The next time you make a big decision, don’t forget about keeping your eyes open for situation and circumstance around you changing. Don’t let your focus be so blinding that external factors get missed of overlooked.

The Naked Truth About LinkedIn Jail

Now I have a ‘record’. LinkedIn booked me in their user-jail for about two weeks. What it meant was, I could not send any connection requests to anyone unless I knew their personal email.

Now mind you I am not a spammer. I’ve been a faithful user on LinkedIn since 2005. Yes, I have over 17,000 connections, but that was built over 15 years of regular faithful and, I might add, compliant activity.

I’m careful with what I do there. I respect and honor the “code.” No junk posts, political or otherwise. All business. Yet for some reason, the algorithms kicked in and flagged my account. It took me three tries at appealing the decision. Here’s the storyline in summary.

I got flagged and shut down about 10 days ago. I was aware others have had this happen, so was alert to the steps needed to fix the problem. They say it is just temporary. LinkedIn will let you back in if you just fall on your sword.

First, I checked my pending invitations. The number was zero. I flush that queue every week, keeping nothing pending more than 7 days. Next, I stopped inviting anyone. Also, I turned off all my connected devices.

Mind you I am using the paid subscription to Sales Navigator, a platform that by definition is for sales prospecting. And it’s not cheap. You don’t prospect just those folks you know.

Finally I wrote my letter of contrition, begging forgiveness and reinstatement.

BANG! “No” they said. I was “an egregious violator and this sentence was for life.”

Wow, color me starting to get angry. How could they? After all I’ve done for them! Please allow me to elaborate.

The Back Story

In 2008, when I started Jobs Ministry Southwest, I was the first organization in the Greater Houston area to create a class for LinkedIn. I had met with the regional sales rep of LinkedIn. We collaborated and my effort was sanctioned.

I developed a presentation that when first launched had over 400 attendees at a 2 hour workshop. All of these folks were in career transition and needed help finding jobs. I was advocating they get busy on LinkedIn. My seminal effort was titled “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead Using LinkedIn”.

Later, it spawned a live, hands-on workshop series I led that was hosted by Belhaven University in their computer labs. Hundreds attended. The series caught the national attention of a tech writer at Fortune magazine. That was 2010.

I and my series appeared as part of a cover story on Fortune featuring the meteoric growth of LinkedIn. My organization made Linkedin a cornerstone teaching of ways to land a new job. Over a 5 year period, we coached over 4,500 professionals.

Today, I still evangelize the use of LinkedIn. I am an officer of Silver Fox Advisors, a regional association of business professionals whose main focus is helping small businesses grow. Working there, I coach the use of LinkedIn for my fellow members as well as many of the small business owners we serve.

I inlcuded all of this history in my third and final appeal to get released from jail.

Apparently, the gods found favor and sent me notice of the restriction being released. But there was a stern warning that any future violation would result in permanent restriction without the possibility of release or parole. God love Microsoft.

The Fix

If you want to stay on the straight and narrow path with LinkedIn, here are my tips (from an actual ‘Linkedin felon’ no less).

First, keep your invitation count low and reasonable. I’d say no more than 5-10 per day. NEVER reach out to a level 3 contact. Stay within your level 2 circle of connections so you can point to the actual name you have in common. Use that name as a reference. Thus you create a warm contact.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, LinkedIn still technically counts this a violation. If the person to whom you sent the invite hits the “do not know” button, you’re screwed. It takes a special, extra click of the mouse for someone to flag your invitation with “do not know” rather than merely rejecting it, but apparently, people are getting more hostile about doing just that.

Next, watch the build-up of stale unanswered invitation requests. You can delete old ones that have not been answered. Here’s how to fix that.

Per the letter I received from LinkedIn: Invite people from the “Add (member’s name) to your network” link OR click the “Connect” button on their profile. From there you can add a personal note to explain how you know them and why you’d like to connect. The personal note option isn’t available when you import your address book or add email addresses from the “Add Connections” feature.

Oh and be sure you are displaying a photo on your profile. People may not recognize your name, but they may remember a face. If you’ve uploaded your photo, be sure your settings allow it to display across all situations and platforms.

That’s it, plain and simple right? Don’t believe it. The mysterious algorithms have their ways. BWAH_HA_HA_HAAAAA Be watchful.

By the way, you can see my profile on LinkedIn here.

Cover illustration by Sally Thurer, NYTimes

The Small Business Owner’s Worst Nightmare

Starting and running a small business can be a blessing and a curse. The dream can become a nightmare. Yet there can be great rewards too.

There are so many things that can get in the way of running and owning a successful business. You hear people talk about “cash is king” or growing the sales pipeline, closing more deals, making payroll, and creating satisfied customers.

While these are all very significant issues for a business owner there is one thing that is even bigger than all of these put together. Do you have any idea what it may be?

Wait for it…..

Your ego. Yep. Good old fashioned pride.

Let me get straight to the point.

Small Business Owner’s Fear

small business owner

Letting your pride or ego get in the way can be the exit ramp to disaster. On one hand, entrepreneurs must be fearless. They have to start with a whole lot of courage. For that, I applaud you.

Think about it. You hear stories of people quitting their day job to start a business. That takes guts and sheer willpower.

However, that same dogged determination can become the owner’s death sentence too.

The Paradox of Success

Many years ago I wrote a piece I call the “Paradox of Success.” I got this idea after watching dozens of my banking clients go through similar situations. It goes like this.

For those of you who have actually ventured out to start your own company, you understand the intense effort and tremendous satisfaction you achieve by watching the company grow.

Those first few profit dollars start to roll in. Real profit, free and clear. No debt, no more obligations to pay off, pure, real profit. For all the planning, sweat equity, real equity investment, and down-right hard work, you eventually arrive at the threshold of the very thing you set out to accomplish…. SUCCESS!

Ah, but beware. The very thing you strive so hard to achieve, that is your company’s success, can start the downward spiral to eventual destruction. Perhaps even the infamous “implosion” of the company. That is the phenomenon called the Paradox of Success. In other words, success brings failure. How can that be? Let’s explore the full timeline.

First the Beginnings

As was described, the founder sets out to open his or her own business. Perhaps it is a sole proprietor, maybe “Mom and Pop”. It can even be a couple of good friends who decide to start something together. The actual legal structure does not particularly matter at this point.

The focus is on getting going and having that first order come through the door. Days and weeks go by. The founder(s) perform all the daily chores….everything! Sales, marketing, bookkeeping, systems, purchasing, supplies, advertising, contracts, payables, receivables, answering phones, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms…everything!

Next, business starts to grow. The word is out. Your business has something people want and need. Your service ideas are working very well. Customers like what you have. Word of mouth even starts to grow. You are getting business from sources you had not really thought about at the start.

Finally, the business becomes more than you and your partner can handle. You decide to hire your first employees. This becomes turning point number one. New employees do not bring the same levels of dedication, commitment, and energy you had when you started the business. Your ideas are not their ideas. You must start to train and coach to be sure the new guys on the bus are fully on board.

Moving Further Toward Success

The service levels you created and nurtured must be sustained. The principles on which you founded the business must be reinforced. There needs to be a feedback process and a monitoring mechanism to be sure your values and principles are being followed.

Almost daily you feel the tug of contention for your time. The time spent to make the direct business contacts you enjoyed making at the start must now be juggled with the effort to resolve internal issues. Perhaps you add a few more hours to the week. Certain tensions become more frequent.

With employees present, interpersonal matters start to creep in. Sally doesn’t like Susie. Bob and Ted argue over sports teams and their preference in cars they drive. None of this is contributing the business. The founders become referees. Hostilities can even boil over when customers are present. A lack of leadership or even a momentary lapse of leadership can become significant. Who can handle these things?

Phase Two Begins – Leadership

Then, mid-managers are hired or appointed. Surely the owners can rely upon other seasoned professionals to handle the staff issues and keep the ship sailing. Now a new layer is created.

For all the potential good that can be accomplished here, there comes a trade-off. Again, the founders’ values have to be enforced, promoted, espoused, heralded, and cheered about.

Can the mid-manages carry the same flag? All the while the growth in volume creates a strain on the original infrastructure. Are the same tools and equipment that were used to open the business still effective? Have systems started to suffer? This can include everything from the high end network servers to the staplers.

And more importantly, who is truly watching over these areas. Have the partners brought the right skills on their own to address all the issues? Accountability for all aspects of business growth becomes more meaningful. If cash and checks are being handled, controls must be implemented. Growth across state lines adds to the compliance and regulatory burden. Specialists have to be added to the mix like legal counsel, accountants, IT professionals, etc.

The False Security

The very essentials that can help grow and expand the business become challenges to the owners. Volumes and profits continue to rise. A false sense of security here can be deadly. A failure to admit the changes that are happening underneath and any inability to properly respond to those changes can, at any point hereafter, start the spin downward.

Really this stage represents the first major turning point for the founders. The biggest and most honest question that can be asked is “Am I capable of keeping this going or do I need senior management help?”

All too often ego may enter in and prevent the good hard look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. True Leaders with a solid track record behind them have been the first to ask this question and work with the right answer. And they do it with almost perfect timing.

Yet for the owner suffering a big ego, the right questions never get asked. The talk with the person in the mirror sounds more like this…

“Wow, things seem to be ramping up. You really did it.”

“Yes, I did.”

“It feels different now, but that’s nothing to worry about.”

“Just keep it going. We’ll be fine.”

Then one day the wheels fall off. The big accounts start to go elsewhere. Your pricing gets squeezed and you have no answer. The market shifts out from under you and you missed the warning signs.

Or worse yet, your team abandons you because they hate working with you. The few customers you have left eventually leave because the service is terrible.

It happens in all kinds of business. Every day. The tipping point is where the owner’s ego gets bigger than even the greatest of success.

A Cautionary Tale for Small Business?

Maybe so. But it doesn’t have to be. You can get help. You should get help. Is today the day? Business advisors or coaches can help you make sense of the new levels of growth and prosperity. They can help you see you way to even higher levels of success.

But you have to make the call. Don’t let ego stop you.

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