fbpx

Owners and Leaders: Why Live a Groundhog’s Day?

groundhog day

In his classic dramedy “Groundhog’s Day”, actor and funnyman Bill Murray plays a hapless TV anchor/weatherman named Phil Connors who gets stuck covering the annual appearance of Punxsutawney Phil, the legendary weather predicting groundhog.

If you aren’t familiar with the legend of the groundhog day tradition, the critter predicts whether there will more Winter or a warming Spring.

groundhog dayAs the story unfolds, we discover it is Murray’s character who must relive each and every day. He starts out being a very self-absorbed, full of himself person.

As the one 24 hour period starts replaying event by event, he begins to see the possibilities of becoming a better person. The inspiration is the “girl” played by Andie MacDowell aka “Rita”.

Phil realizes he must be a much better person in order to win Rita’s affection.

It’s a great story, worthy of adding to your leadership toolkit. Here’s why.

You Too Can Be Stuck

Face it, we all find ourselves occasionally reliving events and circumstances from our work and home lives. The same negative events repeat themselves without positive change.

Our occasional efforts to attempt change work sometimes, but not all the time. That is if your heart is not in the intentional change.

Yet when you commit to making permanent changes, you start making progress toward a better outcome. You might have to let cycles repeat a few more times, but the intentional change can take hold and turn things around.

Experience Drives Future Behavior

It is human nature to let prior experience become a heavy influence on future behavior. This is why behavior-based interviewing is so effective.

When I’m interviewing someone for a new job, I ask them to “tell me about a time when ‘blank’” and then I fill in the blank with an experience that is a key factor in my team’s success.

Examples might be:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to meet a large deadline.
  • Tell me about a time when your payroll system crashed 24 hours before your payroll.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to recover from a data breach.

Prior behavior is a big indicator of future performance. It is not the only indicator but can be a reliable one. For managers and leaders, your own record of achievement can work for you but can work against you too.

However, old solutions might not be suitable for new problems. If you approach things with a groundhog mentality, you might be surprised at how far off you can be.

That is, using the same old approach for a new problem may never make a difference.

Bad Habits Become Big Hurdles

In the case of Bill Murray’s character, his poor interpersonal skills became huge obstacles for winning Rita. She watched him belittle people and is very put off by his horrible demeanor.

It took several repetitions of the same circumstances for Phil (the character) to get it right.

As leaders, your own habits may be big obstacles too. Remember, people don’t really care what you say.

They focus on what you do. Take time to reconsider your approach. If the same old situations keep popping up, maybe it is your approach hindering the change.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Living in a comfort zone, whether good or bad, makes for boring results. Repeating the same routine day after day, week after week, and year after year will seldom realize any growth or change.

Making progress toward new goals often involves some element of risk. A little risk might help move the needle.

Plus, we naturally hate change. So keep that in mind. As the leader, you are the catalyst for change. Being an ‘executive’ anything means you execute on the work. Making things happen is change, so learn to embrace it.

The Big ‘So What’

We’ve explored reasons we get stuck on groundhog’s day. What may be your next move?

Do you even know you’re there, stuck in some spin cycle? Why not make an intentional change for new outcomes?

You can make a difference right where you are. The difference can help you, your team, and your home or community. Let Punxsutawney Phil and Phil Connors have their Groundhog Day.

Stop living yours! 


Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

If you enjoyed reading this article, please recommend and share it to help others find it!

Call To Action

If you want to increase your influence as a manager, business owner, or community leader and learn some valuable life hacks, then subscribe to my private mailing list.

Click here to subscribe right now!

Great Leaders Don’t Set Out to Be a Leader

Seldom does an individual sense the call of leadership at an early age; as in “I’m going to be a fireman” or “I’m going to be an astronaut”.

“I’m going to be a leader” is not usually the designated path. People with innate skills and passions to make good leaders start out with a desire to make a difference. As the graphic says, “it’s not about the role, but always about the goal.”

Leader-role

I spent my early years pursuing a military career. It wasn’t because I liked war; quite the contrary. I wanted to make a difference by serving my country.

Without exception, the other military personnel I met and worked with had the same sense of purpose. They never wanted to GO to war, but they not afraid of the potential outcome should a war develop.

The Servant Leader

Since its inception, the servant leadership movement has been growing. Being a Servant Leader flips the script on traditional organization theory.

Instead of being a CEO at the top of the company pyramid with all the implications of power and authority, the true Servant Leader chooses to sit in that spot, but approach the job with a whole different mindset.

“The servant-leader is a servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

Servant leaders worry about the growth of the people who report to them. They expect growth of the enterprise through the well-being of the people on the team.

This is radically different from autocratic and benevolent dictator led organizations.

Servant leaders manage by asking questions like:

  • How are you doing (and mean it)?
  • What are the hurdles in your way?
  • What can I do to help?

Opportunity

Great leaders emerge from the dedicated effort to make a difference. As they go about their work, the sense of commitment, direction, and drive are recognized by those around them.

Opportunities open up. Others begin to say “I want that person on my team”.

Why do you think it is that CEO’s with good records move across whole industries to take on new challenges? The proven skills that come from the commitment to make the difference become hot commodities.

New Managers

As a young, first-time manager, your primary focus should be to define the difference you can make. You may have been selected to be a unit manager without ever first wanting the job.

New leader

Now that the role is yours, stop thinking about how to be a better manager and start thinking about the difference you can make for your team.

Leadership will emerge.

As you set about making the decisions needed to make the difference, your natural leadership tendencies will begin to take shape. Day by day, your leadership skills will evolve. Experience will become your best teacher.

When challenges arise (and they will), you can seek advice from those more senior, get a mentor or coach, and grow into the role.

Stay centered on the purpose for your role; the difference you can make.

For more ideas on ways to become a better manager, check out my new book “The Uncommon Commodity

I’ll show simple, common sense ways to build your management and leadership skill sets and grow your ability to make a difference.

Find a Coach or Mentor

For every new level in your career progression, you will need to grow into the role.  I firmly believe rising executives have  abit of fear in knowing they need something more to fit a new role they’ve been given.

mentoring

Few are the leaders who find an easy fit in a new role.

If you are wondering how best to achieve the growth you need, consider enlisting a mentor or engaging with a leadership coach.

Find someone who has been there before. Consult with them to plot your personal growth into the next role.

As you find leadership responsibilities being heeped upon you, take pride in being given that opportunity.

Likely you said you wanted to make a difference. Now the chance is yours.

SWOT Yourself

There’s a popular business analysis tool known as S.W.O.T. It provides a method for looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

SWOT reviews are done for business issues of all kinds like competition, market position, product design, sales, and technology. As applied to a business, you can see the merit of doing this review periodically.

SWOT

However, it can be useful on a personal level as well. Managers and leaders should take time during annual reviews and goal setting to add this powerful view as well. Here’s how it can work.

Personal Review Using SWOT

A plan of action using a Personal SWOT Analysis can be developed for every aspect of development and execution because there are always three critical components in every chosen role:

Identity, Purpose, and Intention.

These three components form a process of right action. Without understanding who you are or what your business or organizational core competence is and what is the purpose you intend, you are always going to be guessing more than you have to.

In the following analysis, you are taken step by step through a proven process of creating clarity of right action.

However, to do so we have to begin with a simple way of fleshing out the context within which you intend to work. It doesn’t matter what context or role you choose, each of them requires you to be clear.

In order to reach clarity we take some simple, yet critically important steps. The first steps begin with a SWOT Analysis.

You will focus on the following overriding questions:

  • What are your goals or objectives?
  • What are your values?
  • HOW Can YOU match your STRENGTHS to OPPORTUNITIES/Openings?
  • How can you reduce the impact of your WEAKNESSES and THREATS?
  • How do you differentiate yourself from your competition?

Strengths

Trying to analyze one’s own strengths can be tricky. Throughout all of my coaching, I seldom see anyone who gets this exactly right the first time. Some might be modest and undervalue great strength in areas like collaboration, employee empowerment, decision making or planning.

Others can be more boastful, seeming to know without a doubt they are great leaders who people should feel honored to serve; “my way or the highway” approach to leadership.

Entrepreneurs can be especially blinded by the emotional connection to their idea. While the great new product or service has great potential, the business will fail because the founder doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know.

Before isolating your own estimation of your strengths, seek some 360 feedback. Get input from others you value as trusted advisors. Do an informal ask session.

Then compile a list of the strengths that you can use to accomplish your goals and objectives.

Weaknesses

Just like your strengths, identifying “weaknesses” in your personal domain can be hard. Objectivity can be lacking. You may even be suffering blindspots where your weaknesses reside. Using 360 reviews and stakeholder feedback can help inform you of areas where there is an opportunity for improvement.

However, you may know exactly what areas or what issues give you the most trouble. Stating what these may be will help round out the SWOT analysis.

Opportunities

These are the things you can see as a new direction; changes that allow you to reach new goals. Taking a good look at the road in front of you can reveal opportunities for growth and change.

Listing them while doing this personal inventory helps bring motivation and inspiration to the plan.

Threats

Making a good assessment of personal threats is also tricky. I recommend starting with your mindset.

Do you hold any limiting thoughts about who you are and what you can do?

If you ever wondered about a limiting thought, they sound like this:

  • I’m too small
  • I’m too slow
  • I’m too ugly
  • I don’t have the right degree.
  • You failed at this the last time.

Any statement rumbling in your head that starts with or sounds like these need to be eliminated first. Then you can deal with identifying true threats to your persoanl goals.

Performing a Periodic Personal Review

Just as every successful business invests time to perform SWOT analysis from time to time, you too should perform this review with your work life, home life and career balance.

See what the data may tell you about the direction you are heading. Use the informed analysis to redirect your path.

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

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

This article was originally published on April 2, 2018 and has been updated.

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

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

Well…

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

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

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

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

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

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

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

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

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

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

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

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

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

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

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

Our target was achieved.

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

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

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

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

They must be focused.

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

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

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

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

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

DMAIC

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

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

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

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

The devil is in the details.

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

Great leaders walk the floor.

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

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

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

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

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

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

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

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

2. Be Consistent

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

3. Stay Visible

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

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

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

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

So…do you inspect what you expect?

If you enjoyed reading this article, please recommend and share it to help others find it!

If you want to increase your influence as a manager, business owner, or community leader, and learn some valuable life hacks, then subscribe to my private mailing list.

Click here to subscribe right now!

And if you want to learn more about how to be a great leader, read these popular blog posts!

Are You a FAST Leader?

The 5 C’s of a Trusted Leader

Leadership Effectiveness Can Work with Simple Triggers

Don’t Widen the Plate

Here’s a life lesson that needs no embellishment….

In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh man, worth every penny of my airfare.”

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.

Scolinos,-John-portrait640

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.

Then, finally …

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility.

“No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches,” more question than answer.

“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth league? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”

Another long pause.

“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is the home plate in high school baseball?”
“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?
“Seventeen inches!”

“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”

Seventeen inches!

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause.

“They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.  “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it.

If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”

Pause.

“Coaches …”

Pause.

” … what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something.

When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”

Pause.

Then, to the point at the top of the house, he added a small American flag.
“This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”

Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross.  “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate!”

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable.

From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

Conclusion

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside.  “… dark days ahead.”

Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including me.

Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.

His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players — no matter how good they are — your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.

…Anonymous

Fake News in the Blogsphere???

andyessir

Say it isnt so.

Today is April 1 or April Fool’s Day.

Yes, I’ve seen my share of clever prank notes and ruses to get me going today.

HOWEVER…. One stands heads and shoulders above them all.

Marketing guru Ryan Deiss, of Austin, Texas, wins the world championship in my book. I’ve known Ryan for several years. As I began building my blog, I joined his Digital Market programs and found tons of valuable material.

Color me curious when bright and early this a.m. I get an email announcing “RYAN DEISS IS FAKE!”

The Video Proof

It goes on to share a video blog about researchers uncovering secret truths about his existence. Some even point out false credentials from the University of Texas “calling the registrar and finding no such name on record.”

I knew it was April Fools Day, but I admit this one had me going, given the professional look and feel. And the extent of the effort. Well, sure enough, it was a prank. But what a great idea.

I haven’t seen his web hit rates today, but I’m guessing even his numbers are off the chart. Just brilliant.

Now, here’s my question to you. How do you feel about such a tactic? Pro or schmo? Leave a comment.

Here’s his LINK

#andyessir #business #leadership #blog #ceos #success #leadershipdevelopment

Some People Are Just Haters

Angry person blowing steam

The life of a manager/business leader certainly has its benefits, but there are downsides to being a leader too. Not long ago, I received an email from someone who had served on a large project with me. Their recall of my leadership role was, let’s say, “less than flattering.”

The project in question was a large one. We started with a team of 457 professionals and grew it to over 700 before the project ended. I was the lead executive running the show.

The effort called for organizing 9 different work teams, handling 9 distinctly different focus topics and work plans. In the middle of it was a just-in-time software development project. That alone would have been a big enough challenge all by itself.

The work was spread coast to coast in 4 large work centers. To say we had occasional personnel problems would be an understatement.

My duty to lead and manage this group was a really big challenge. Thankfully, I had a close, but effective support staff with me. My deputy, second in command, became my traveling problem solver.

Back to the Email Message

This blog is about leadership. I share experience and learning from 30+ years in the trenches, on the front lines. So, yes, I try to be some type of sherpa.

The person who wrote me the email actually said I was a hypocrite for writing about management and leadership becasue he had a very clear recall of my role there.

He went on to call me one of those “stiffs” who sat in the glass offices and didn’t come out much. While some may say I fell short in a few areas during that project, getting out and around to the work teams was not one of the failings. In fact, my support crew saw me early in the morning then seldom saw me until late in the day.

Keeping on the Move

Why? Because I was moving from team to team, meeting to meeting, or training to training, dealing directly with the teams and their unit managers. I was as much cheerleader for the vision of the project as I was operator and executive.

Teamwork graphic

Frankly, I am proud of the project and the team we recruited. I met some amazing professionals who worked tirelessly to accomplish our goals, all under a tight time clock of deadlines and deliverables. The fact that some who were present either didn’t see it this way or have their own different opinions are just reality.

I am a Realist

If I’ve learned much of anything in my years as an executive, I’ve learned you have to be real about people’s expectations. You will never win them all. I am convinced that if you recruit three people to be on the same team, you will find one negative Ned or Nelly. Heck, this can even happen just hiring two people.

The Challenge as a Leader is Threefold

First, you must do the best you can at recruiting and selecting people for your team. For a small business, this can be the most difficult challenge an owner undertakes. It is certainly true in big business too. You will not win them all here either, but you can do things to make better selections through detailed screening, background checks, and by giving practical tests to applicants.

If you have specific skills you need to be performed, you have to test for those skills. The “soft stuff” like customer service can be a bigger challenge. After all, people have learned how to ace interviews and smile pretty. Yet, once they land, you can only wait to see whether they fit correctly into your roles and execute on the duties?

Equip to Win

Next, you must equip them to win. As a leader, you must impart the best information you can provide to help them understand the job, the requirements, and winning factors that work for the specific need you have them fill. That is on you as the leader to provide this understanding.

As soon as an employee demonstrates an unwillingness to embrace the framework and perform against the standards, you need to begin remediation actions. Whether that is retraining, reassignment, relocation, or removal, the manager must move swiftly to eliminate the lingering impact of an underachiever.

Lastly, there will still be those who hate your leadership. Regardless how much you work to win the hearts and minds of your team, you will have some who don’t get it. No leader anywhere should expect of themselves the ability to win everyone over. There are just enough personalities in this world to occasionally find the ones who won’t mesh well.

I like to say it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different. When you identify the difference, you have to accept it for what it is.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

On occasion when you get some really negative feedback from a former employee (or current one), take it with a  grain of salt. They pay you the proverbial big bucks to have the thick skin to take it.

Let the haters hate – It’s what they do.

Thoughtful person

If there is substance in the feedback, embrace it. Use the input to improve your leadership skills. However, when you know you gave it your best shot, proven by the feedback from those who mattered at the time (your client, your boss, and the team around you) forget about the Hater. Haters will hate. That’s what they do.

Be bold. Be strong. Don’t let one loud voice drown out your ability to make a difference for everyone else.

Oh, by the way. After over 30 years managing and directing thousands and a current day social media following of over 100,000, I’ve gotten two such letters in five years.

Not bad. Not bad at all. (President Whitmore –  Independence Day)

How Do YOU Look at Problem Solving?

People in management and leadership deal with problems all day long. Plans and projects get started, procedures are written and taught, but things go wrong. You’ve got a problem.

Challenges present themselves in so many forms. People problems, supply problems, customer problems, and so on and so on.

37226366 - problem solution flow chart with basic questions, business concept

A lot of physical and emotional energy gets spent solving problems. For managers, problem solving is a big part of your job description. It can be argued that management is nothing but problem solving. Yet there is one thing that I find curious about most problems.

Usually, the problem is not the problem. The problem is the way we are thinking about the problem.

Problem-Solving Mindset

Our mindset drives so much of our approach to problem-solving. Honestly, we are biased by our prior experience and beliefs. Here are a few examples:

  • If the problem involves money, does our view about money trip us? (see How Much Is Enough)
  • If the problem includes certain people, do we have an attitude about that person or persons?
  • If the problem is about a client, do we have a particular view of that client based on prior dealings?

In what ways do you hinder your problem solving with your own biases? That’s a tough question. Seeking open, objective opinions about problems can be refreshing.

Another Angle

Victor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997), Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, devoted his life to studying, understanding and promoting “meaning.” His famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it.

He went on to later establish a new school of existential therapy called logotherapy, based in the premise that man’s underlying motivator in life is a “will to meaning,” even in the most difficult of circumstances.

In some of Frankl’s work he describes our viewpoint as being so critical to understanding the things around us. Here’s a diagram to explain this thinking.

In this drawing, the cylinder is the “thing”, the problem or the issue. From one view, the issue looks square (see left side). Yet from another view, the issue looks round (see bottom).

Either of these outside views is not wrong. But they are not complete

The Real Question

The next time a problem presents itself, ask yourself whether the problem is really the problem. Instead ask “is my way of looking at life the real problem here”?

24978696 - we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them - a quote from albert einstein - white chalk text on a vintage slate blackboard

Question: How did you look at your last big problem? Was the outcome what you expected?

book-promo-banner-insert

Leadership Lessons Learned in the Trenches

team leadership

In my consulting days, I used to manage teams of people who were contractors, assembled for specific projects, then released once the project was over. These talented people were “gig workers” before that was a thing.

The projects were often high intensity with very little cushion on the deadlines. As manager of these teams, I saw a lot of examples of hard work and true grit under pressure. The work required me to be a nimble manager with the ability to think on my feet.

The experiences in the field often served to remind me of business leadership principles I learned a long time ago, but have to revisit frequently if I choose to keep them fresh and effective.

Guiding Principles

Throughout my project assignments, my ‘master list’ of guiding principles was tested on several occasions. I wanted to share with you my thoughts and remind other leaders about the importance of staying centered on these valuable principles. Here they are.

If you claim to be a servant leader, have empathy and sympathy

On one assignment I ran into a team of folks who were new to me, but who had worked together for years before I arrived. They had just been informed that their workplace was undergoing a somewhat hostile takeover; hostile from the circumstances that caused the life-changing events.

Former management had been caught doing very wrong things. My team was to serve as interim managers to ‘right the ship’ so to speak.

I needed the full cooperation and dedication from the staff left behind. I was immediately reminded of the need to empathize by placing myself mentally and emotionally in their shoes.

I needed to sympathize with the things I was hearing. The old phrase came to mind, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Make the tough calls

I had to quickly start assessing the situation around me, digest facts and data, then make some quick decisions. I couldn’t wait on more data. That was not an option.

Knowing what I needed to know was important, but more critical was the willingness to take the intelligence/information I was being given and then make a decision.

business leader

Difficult people need to be corralled and managed

The impact of a ‘difficult’ personality in the workplace can have tremendous ripple effects.

On this project, the client stationed a senior manager with whom I was tasked to work. He proved to be a very difficult personality.

Fortunately, I was able to get a read on him early on in the project, identify the issues, and make plans for managing across the work team to minimize the influence of the more negative things that he occasionally dumped.

On one particularly challenging day, this individual had spewed a lot of venom across the office; foul language, abusive comments. When he went home, I gathered my troops for a sit-down meeting. I told them simply that “I, as their team leader, wanted to apologize to them on his behalf. The things said and done that day were not appropriate among professionals. I told them I hoped they could see that for what it was and not be deterred in their dedication to the mission by having endured this day.”

Rely on your team

Make team projects a true team event by admitting your own shortcomings and use the skills and abilities the team can bring. Do not ever act so big and proud that you have to know it all. People don’t like ‘that guy’.

Accountable

Inspire people by identifying their strong suits early, and then create applicable opportunities where the use of those individual skills can shine.

Also, share among the team who is doing what and how important the outcome can be. Spread the wealth evenly. Consider this as “know your people”. People respond very well when they know their self-worth is being used appropriately for key contributions to the effort.

Have a little fun

Every day does not have to be all starched and polished. Let your own hair down a little and find opportunities for a little innocent fun. Let the people’s personalities shine too.

By creating an environment for a little friendly banter among the crew, you can keep spirits light and fresh. But watch out for off color jokes and comments or anything that starts to sound cutting or personal. Keep it light. Help make people want to come back to work.

place a call

Maintain your own personal integrity

There are many ways to do this, but chief among them is making and keeping promises. Communicating clearly, openly, and fairly whenever possible.

Of course managers sometimes have to hold things close to the vest. But as soon as you can share with your team, do so.

CONCLUSION

Leaders must be clear on a set of guiding principles that fit their style and belief system. I hope my list helps you. Please comment below on these topics and share others you have used.

Leaders 180 Off the Mark

It’s hard to believe you can run into a successful executive who is 180 off the mark on a certain topic.

I once had a client company who was struggling with the aftermath of undergoing a rapid campaign of acquisitions. Eighteen months into post-merger activities they were hemorrhaging money.

My job was to reassess certain alignment issues and evaluate immediate changes to stop the bleeding.

As a result of a SWAT Team-like blitz through the company, I was sensing a disconnect with one of the key executives. He was their CIO. He and I just couldn’t seem to get on the same page.

Now I’ve been told I’m a pretty good business communicator, but this guy had me doubting myself. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to better communicate with him.

The AH-HA Moment

Then one day the AH-HA moment happened. We were in a meeting where the issues revolved around strategic planning and decisions about tactical ways to execute those plans.

When I presented the blueprint I had crafted, the CIO went ballistic on me. He told me I was full of something organic. Then he proceeded to rip my plan. His chief complaint was that I had it all backward.

He took my information and began going point by point telling me my details were all misclassified. In his mind, my strategy was the tactics and tactics were the strategies. He threatened my termination if I wouldn’t change the structure.

Conflict at work
Photo courtesy of 123rf.com

This may sound pretty elementary, but if you think about it, missing this basic alignment does make a plan look way off base. Plus it prohibits any form of constructive communication to solve business problems Sadly, he was blatantly wrong.

I attempted to politely disagree, but he became more irate. It was clear his understanding of strategy and tactics was 180 different from all my training (including 12 years of military training where strategy and tactics can create actual life and death circumstances.)

I was shocked by his buffoonery.

Yes, I left the assignment not long after this confrontation. I had decided this kind of management was part of their difficulty.

The So-What

I use this example to make one key point. As leaders we must get straight on principles, terms, and vocabulary we choose to lead our teams. If we want to rely upon basic business principles, we must be clear on the meaning and the actual significance of things.

To NOT achieve this kind of clarity sets us up for extreme confusion of others and total credibility loss when others know better.

We All Make Mistakes

When a mistake is uncovered, we need to be open enough to admit it. Digging in and demanding that others around us change their view of the topic only serves to prove what a goof you might be.

“‘Tis better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” ~Mark Twain

Great leadership requires effective communication. Your ability to speak with a commanding voice and unshakable certainty is not the skill required. Rather, you need clarity in your message; something that rings true when talking about basic business principles and standards.

Join our mail list