fbpx

Dream Small

gratitude smile

The world around us tells us to Dream Big! Go for it! Reach for the stars! Be fast! Be bold, be brave. “Go big or go home!”

If you ever hear someone say “dream small” that sounds terrible, right? Totally counter-cultural.

The first time I heard it, I certainly thought so. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I thought.

At first, the idea of dreaming small made no sense. For sure, it ran totally against all my coaching fibers.

Then it happened. The friend who was sharing this spent 45 minutes helping me understand the concept. Along the way I found myself aligning numerous principles I’ve always believed, yet never considered them as “dreaming small.”

Big Business Mindset

Even though I often work with entrepreneurs and smaller companies hoping to go big, my roots are in large global enterprises. Starting with the U.S. Army and moving into banking at JP Morgan Chase, I’ve spent many years walking the halls of some pretty big corporate giants.

Clients today include some of the largest global brands you can imagine.

Ironically, as I coach key executives and top-of-house leaders within these giants, I routinely get the individuals to focus on the smaller moments in their day.

Despite budgets that start in “Bs” (as in $ billions), we spend most of our time talking about the finer points of influencing teams, motivating individuals, and leading culture changes; dreaming small.

The opportunities for the biggest impact come down to small moments. You could argue it truly is dreaming small.

As my friend put it in perspective, I was reminded of many ways that leaders can and should dream small rather than focus on the big picture so much.

Remember the Bible story of David and Goliath. It was a small smooth stone that knocked out Goliath. David could have asked for a big sword. Instead he focused on finding the small stone. He dreamed small to accomplish great things.

Leaders Start Here

Dreaming small is really about taking advantage of key moments; not long term master plans, but simple moments. The moments you spend with your staff, your peers, and the key people elsewhere in your life.

You may have three minutes before a meeting, standing in the hallway as others gather. If an employee or peer is present, use the moment to connect. Whether officially or personally, you can make great strides in building trusted relationships by leveraging the short moments that are all around, every day.

In sports, we see this all the time. Baseball is particularly keen on key moments. Each time a batter stands up to bat, the whole game is simplified down to the duel between the pitcher and the batter. It even comes down to one pitch.

The right pitch, perfectly thrown can confuse and bewilder a batter. Yet a batter with focus and determination, plus a little discipline in the moment can avoid being fooled by a pitch. Instead, when the right pitch comes, he can clobber the ball out of the park.

These are small moment things that turn into big results. Dream small my friends.

Leader’s ABCs

business team meeting

What is your most valuable leadership skill? Is your team achieving all you wish they would?

Love him or hate him, Alec Baldwin made the ABC catchphrase famous. “ABC, always be closing.” Later it was parodied on SNL with a bunch of Christmas elves who were scolded by Baldwin to “Always be Cobbling”.

With highly effective leadership another ABC applies; Always Be Coaching.

A leader’s influence on the people they serve is best demonstrated with perpetual coaching and mentoring. Above all, sharing insights and giving your team honest feedback helps build a legacy of powerful leadership.

In this crazy busy world in which we live, it’s easy for a manager to feel the need to just get by; get your own things done and call it quits at a reasonable hour each day.

Yet when you spend the time to coach your team, one by one, you get amazing dividends. In other words, rewards that are returned to you in higher performance, greater trust, and even better efficiency.

What is Coaching

Coaching is a different approach to developing employees’ potential. With coaching, you provide your staff with the opportunity to grow and achieve optimal performance through consistent feedback, counseling and mentoring.

Rather than relying solely on a review schedule, you can support employees along the path to meeting their goals. Done in the right way, coaching is perceived as a roadmap for success and a benefit. Done incorrectly and employees may feel berated, unappreciated, even punished.

This requires the skill of reacting and expanding. You should acknowledge the employee’s suggestion, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the suggestion, ask for and offer additional suggestions, and ask the employee to explain how to resolve the issue under discussion.

These seven steps, when followed, can help create a positive environment for providing feedback.

Step 1: Build a Relationship of Trust

The foundation of any coaching relationship is rooted in the manager’s day-to-day relationship with the employee. Without some degree of trust, conducting an effective coaching meeting is impossible.

Step 2: Get Agreement

Probably the most critical step in any coaching process is getting the employee to agree verbally that they are open to your coaching.

Step 3: Communicating Clearly During the Open

If you choose to schedule a coaching session, in opening the meeting, it’s important for the leader to clarify, in a nonaccusatory way, the specific reason the meeting was arranged.

The key to this step is to restate — in a friendly, nonjudgmental manner — the meeting purpose that was first set when the appointment was scheduled.

Step 4: If Performance is Really at Risk

Overlooking or avoiding the performance issue because you assume the employee understands its significance is a typical mistake of managers.

To persuade an employee a performance issue exists, a manager must be able to define the nature of the issue and get the employee to recognize the consequences of not changing his or her behavior. To do this, you must specify the behavior and clarify the consequences.

Step 4: Explore Alternatives

The best coaching happens in the moment. For example, if you are walking the floor and hear or see behavior from an employee that needs adjusting, don’t be afraid to get the employee’s attention.

Remind them of the vision and values your unit operates under. Show them the connection between their action and that vision.

Be specific in the coaching moment.

In doing this you must be certain to have your discussion in a manner that does not demean or degrade the employee, but rather helps to build them up, showing the better way.

Next, explore ways the issue can be improved or corrected by encouraging the employee to identify alternative solutions.

Step 5: Get a Commitment to Act

The next step is to help the employee choose an alternative. Don’t make the choice for the employee.

To accomplish this step, the manager must be sure to get a verbal commitment from the employee regarding what action will be taken and when it will be taken. Be sure to support the employee’s choice and offer praise.

Step 6: Handle Excuses

Employee excuses may occur at any point during the coaching process. To handle excuses, rephrase the point by taking a comment or statement that was perceived by the employee to be blaming or accusatory and recast it as an encouragement for the employee to examine his or her behavior.

Respond empathetically to show support for the employee’s situation and communicate an understanding of both the content and feeling of the employee’s comment.

Step 7: Provide Feedback

Effective coaches understand the value and importance of giving continual feedback to their people, both positive and corrective.

There are a few critical things to remember when giving feedback to others. Feedback should:

  • Be timely. It should occur as soon as practical after the interaction, completion of the deliverable, or observation is made.
  • Be specific. Statements like “You did a great job” or “You didn’t take care of the clients’ concerns very well” are too vague and don’t give enough insight into the behavior you would like to see repeated or changed.
  • Focus on the “what,” not the “why.” Avoid making the feedback seem as if it is a judgment. Begin with “I have observed…” or “I have seen…” and then refer to the behavior. Focus on behavior and not the person. Describe what you heard and saw and how those behaviors impact the team, client, etc.
  • Use a sincere tone of voice. Avoid a tone that exhibits anger, frustration, disappointment or sarcasm.

Positive feedback strengthens performance. People will naturally go the extra mile when they feel recognized and appreciated.

Remember Your ABCs

Always Be Coaching. These are the ABCs of real, effective leadership.

Lastly, if you’re still not sure what coaching can do for your team, ask a coach. Engage someone who coaches for a living to share the methods and principles they use for effective coaching.

Can You Accept Perfect Imperfection?

Nobody is perfect, right? At least that is what you often hear.

Yet Madison Avenue and Hollywood would have us think otherwise. Perfect style, perfect skin, perfect smile, perfect hair. The list is endless.

Psychologists can make a career out of helping people who feel inadequate under such conditions and falsehoods. The truth is we all suffer some imperfection.

Standards at Work

Do you work in an environment where perfection is the measure of your performance? Maybe a score of 100% is the goal but seldom do any of us reach such perfection.

As a leader, how do you really view those around you; the people who work for and with you?

Enter Psychological Safety

The good folks at Google underwent a two-year study known as Project Oxygen to explore what made up high performing teams. The number 1 finding was something they called psychological security.

empathy at work

We’ve all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. I get it. It’s unnerving to feel like you’re in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope.

But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. That’s psychological safety.

Google found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who were more successful.

The Leader’s Role

First, lofty goals and great expectations aside, I see leaders dealing with grace when employees come up short.

Trust among employees begins when the Leader makes the effort to “have their back”. The way you do this may vary depending upon the environment you manage.

Here are five other ways to consider.

Demonstrate engagement by being present at meetings and during one-on-one sessions. (Hint: close the laptop)

Show understanding by recapping what you’ve heard. This accrues to becoming an empathetic listener.

Be inclusive in an interpersonal setting by sharing or revealing your own thoughts and values. Step up when one team member turns negative on another team member.

Expand your decision making by including your team. Invite the input, exchange the input and acknowledge the input.

Lastly, you can show confidence and conviction in decisions without becoming arrogant. Speak in your team’s ‘one voice’. Show the team that their contributions matter once the decision has been made. Explain the differences, but encourage the further effort to keep building team consensus.

Perfect Imperfection again

All of these thoughts bring us back to the idea of dealing with perfect imperfection at work, at home or with others around us. Becoming a leader who recognizes the need for dealing with this common situation will set you apart from others.

Question: What do you do to embrace perfect imperfection?

Finding Focus Creates Clarity

focus image of camera lens

Discovering your Core Focus is an essential element of creating your company Vision. In my last article about becoming a FAST leader, the first part of the FAST acronym is FOCUS.

Core Focus has been called many things in the history of business strategy. Many people call it a Vision Statement. Stephen Covey calls it VoiceJim Collins calls it Hedgehog concept

My least favorite is the Mission Statement. These are usually eighteen sentence paragraphs that proclaim to the world all the things you think your customers want you to be – “We’re the best company with the best people and the best products and the best service and the best value and the best quality and the best delivery and the best . . . “ 

Usually, it is 90% aspirational and does nothing to define what the company stands for. Customers gloss past it, and employees shake their heads when they read it. Patrick Lencioni calls this “Blather” and said this about Mission Statements in his book, The Advantage

“Though I can’t be sure, I suspect that at some point about thirty years ago a cleverly sadistic and antibusiness consultant decided that the best way to really screw up companies was to convince them that what they needed was a convoluted, jargony, and all-encompassing declaration of intent. The more times those declarations used phrases like ‘world class,’ ‘shareholder value,’ and ‘adding value,’ the better. And if companies would actually print those declarations and hang them in their lobbies and break rooms for public viewing, well, that would be a real coup.”

Finding Purpose

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Lencioni on his take on Mission Statement. However, it is essential for a company to discover the reason they exist. Their purpose, cause or passion. The sweet spot for the organization. 

There is a reason every business owner took that leap of faith and accepted the risk to start their company. The reason they put in those 12-hour days and will do anything to make their company successful.   Moreover, it is rarely, if ever only about money.  Most Core Focus falls into one of four areas:

·       Solving problems

·       Helping others

·       Building a great company

·       Competition and winning

Shining Example – Simple

Starbucks states their purpose and vision in one simple sentence:

Every day, we go to work hoping to do two things: share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better. 

The purpose and passion are clear, simple, and direct. No one should be confused about what Starbucks stands for. Customers, employees, shareholders, and everyone else can read this and “get it.”

Once you clearly define this core focus, it becomes a compass, a guiding principle that you can use for all your strategic decisions. If your next choice does not support or enhance such a focus, you should seriously question the direction it may take you.

Note: Portions of this article were contributed by Jeff Bain of TeamTraction LLC, an EOS Implementer

We’ve All Been Ambushed at Work

bad email news picture

Let’s face it, it’s no fun when you get ambushed at work. Being trapped by surprise can come in several forms. A co-worker can steal the credit for something you did. Or a peer can undermine something you’ve been slaving away to make perfect.

The one I hate the most is when the boss does it. You know what I mean. You’re working along thinking things are going well. Maybe the boss even said something publicly about how happy they were with your effort.

Then BAM! You get pounced on. When you least expect it, you get an email saying you screwed something up or missed some deadline; basically failing on expectations.

Even more problematic is getting that email while you’re away on a planned (and approved) vacation. The email hints your absence is part of the problem. GEEZ people !!!!!

The employee is not the problem

Dealing with your co-workers is tough enough, but when the boss ambushes you, what are you supposed to do?

I’m convinced most employees start out with the intent to do a good job. Sure there are a few bad eggs who slip around, job hopping, doing very little, but thankfully they are in the minority.

Most workers try to do the right thing. So a boss who feels the need to ambush must be the one who is in the wrong. Generally, the employee is not a problem.

I read an article Gary Vaynerchuk posted saying poor performance is all on the manager. I like that idea. Here’s exactly what he said:

“Here are three steps to managing underperforming employees: 1. Take the blame yourself. 2. Start to communicate better. 3. Tell them they’re not executing at the level you’re hoping for. Then ask, “what can I do to help?” Then actually start helping.”

Bosses who are frustrated with perceived performance problems and feel the need to barf on someone’s parade, especially at weird times, must be harboring some ill feelings.

Great leaders provide adequate AND timely feedback to their team. Feedback should never be a toxic dose of bad news.

If things need the leader’s corrective action, he/she should give proper feedback and restate expectations. Yet hiding behind an email to deliver the message is a weak way to do so.

Woman getting bad email from her boss

What to do

If you are the leaders here are a few thoughts and recommendations to avoid ambushing your people.

First, find ways to share feedback in the right way. Give the employee the respect to tell them “bad news” face-to-face. I know with larger, perhaps global teams, the personal face time is hard. However, in those situations, video capabilities can afford each party the next best thing to face-to-face. Oh and never use email unless it is a last resort.

Think about the timing. I know you have a burning desire to fix things, but decide whether the fix is critical at just that moment. I like three questions I’ve coached for a long time:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

Be objective about whatever the issue may be. Stephen R. Covey called it “seek first to understand.” Don’t pose the issue as a condemnation of behavior or results. Perhaps your source of information has slanted the matter. Present the details as observations, not final facts. (Hint: You will get embarrassed.)

Lastly, be graceful in your approach. Again, I believe most employees are there to do the right thing. Unless that employee is a proven screw-up, don’t assume the worst. Believe the best and work through the issues gracefully.

Using these steps you can avoid the hated ambush of your people at work.

Leaders: Is Your Myopia Your Utopia?

Single vision

When it comes to leadership and management, nearsightedness or myopia is a common occurrence. What does that mean? Is Your Myopia Your Utopia?

Single vision
Single vision

Since effective leadership is part art as much as part science, I see too many managers taking a nearsighted look at their role and responsibility. Nearsightedness is called myopia. By this I mean we place more emphasis on the duties and responsibilities (the science) where policies and procedures govern and control the thinking. This happens while the more subtle aspects of leadership (the art) like communication and delegation suffer.

The Track Record

In your early years of management duties, you had a specific team with clearly defined duties to push widgets or turn cranks. Much of what gets done there is process or project oriented. Process is derived from principles and procedures. Get the process right over and over again, BAM! you’re a good manager. OK hooray for you.

That kind of success starts to sink in and you get swallowed up in a false sense of accomplishment. You figure if you keep doing that, you will keep getting bonuses and promotions. The nearsighted myopia creeps in.

You get so enthralled by the surety of your achievements as a manger, you never explore the more subtle art of becoming a leader. The success seems like Utopia. Why should you ever change?

Growth as a Leader

Leaders, or people wanting to be leaders, must embrace a mindset for growth. Whatever your natural capacity is to lead (and we all have some capacity), you can grow beyond that level.

As John Maxwell cites, there is a Law of the Lid (from the book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership“). Some call it the Peter Principle. We all have maximum capacity beyond which we struggle. The fortunate truth is we also can grow beyond that capacity.

However, the first step in growth is knowing there is something more. Myopic vision will never allow that. If you stay fixated in a comfort zone, you cannot grow.

The Key Question

The primary question to ask yourself if you profess to want to be a leader is, who am I going to be? What will you be to those around you; the 360 sphere? How will you handle your team? How will you represent yourself to your boss?

When you begin to build a vision for the leader you want to be, you can set your growth targets on the attributes where you are the weakest. The traditional ways to begin growing are these:

  • Find a coach or mentor –  someone who has been there before and who can come alongside to guide you through the growth process
  • Build accountability – Create your own personal board of directors with whom you seek counsel, bounce ideas, and get feedback.
  • Read –  Reading cannot be encouraged enough. With so many great authors and thought leaders sharing ideas and insights, you simply must indulge.
  • Practice –  Great leadership must be exercised. Practice every day. State your vision and demonstrate your intention to go that way.

Committing to grow as a leader requires intentional action. Dreams only go so far.

A vision without traction is just hallucination.


Gino Wickman, Creator of “EOS”

You must put things in motion. There is a certain irony here. Think about it, if you want to be a leader, but never execute any action, what kind of leader are you?

Above all, stay away from letting a myopic vision of prior success stop you from growing into a leader.