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Beating Procrastination at Its Own Game – and Ways to Thrive

People often ask me about ways to beat procrastination. I usually say “I’ll get back to you.” Just kidding.

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions—which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day.

procrastinate1

If you do a Google search, there are over 380,000 references to “overcoming procrastination”.

Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off. The bright side? It’s possible to overcome procrastination—with effort.

Procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others. “Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up,” insists Dr. Ferrari (1).

I too struggle with procrastination. From my own observations with decades of clients behind me, plus my own ever-present struggle with it, here are the key reasons for procrastination.

  1. Desire to achieve perfection –  When a normally high energy, high achiever procrastinates, it’s usually due to the desire to achieve perfection. Perfection though is unachievable, especially in most business settings.
  2. Lack of direction –  You can’t leave for a trip if you don’t know where you’re going. Without a good sense of where you want to go with a project or a task, you likely wont want to start.
  3. Self-talk – Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
  4. It’s unpleasant –  Not everything we need to do each day is fun and exciting. Things can be downright unappealing, so we put them off.

Here are the most popular ways to overcome procrastination (2).

STEP 1: Recognize you ARE A PROCRASTINATOR.

Here’s a fun little test for you to take. CLICK HERE

Here are some useful indicators that will help you know when you’re procrastinating:

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List.
  • Reading e-mails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them.
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee.
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important.
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
  • Waiting for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle the important task at hand.

Step 2: Work Out WHY You’re Procrastinating

Even if you’re organized, you can feel overwhelmed by the task. You may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need, so you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do. You may also fear success as much as failure. For example, you may think that success will lead to you being swamped with more requests to do this type of task, or that you’ll be pushed to take on things that you feel are beyond you.

Step 3: Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies

Procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior. That means that you won’t just break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you have persistently stopped practicing them, so use as many approaches as possible to maximize your chances of beating them. Some tips will work better for some people than for others, and for some tasks than others. And, sometimes, you may simply need to try a fresh approach to beat the “procrastination peril”!

These general tips will help motivate you to get moving:

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of tasty flapjack at lunchtime if you’ve completed a certain task. And make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!
  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.
  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.
  • Work out the cost of your time  to your employer. As your employers are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!

If you’re procrastinating because you’re disorganized, here’s how to get organized!

Use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle to help prioritize your To-Do List so that you cannot try to kid yourself that it would be acceptable to put off doing something on the grounds that it is unimportant, or that you have many urgent things which ought to be done first when, in reality, you’re procrastinating.

eisenhower-box

If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

  • Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.
  • Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.

If you’re doing it because you find the task unpleasant:

  • Many procrastinators overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. So give it a try! You may find that it’s not as bad as you thought!
  • Hold the unpleasant consequences of not doing the work at the front of your mind.
  • Reward yourself for doing the task.

Here’s a bonus. Have you seen the story about rocks, pebbles and sand? Watch this video

(1) Quotes courtesy of Psychology Today and Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

(2) Other references courtesy of Mindtools.com

The Issue of Trust in Today’s Workforce

Employees in all job grades want to trust the people they work with. They want to trust their co-workers, their bosses, and the company leaders where they work.

Trends in recent employee engagement studies have revealed there is a declining spirit of trust. Actually the results are mixed in a strange sort of way.

In a recent study I conducted using my own base of social media followers, 63% of respondents said company leadership was trusted the least. The boss only got challenged by 16% while co-workers were mistrusted by 21% of the people answering the survey.

For many years, when employees were asked about trust at work, they pointed to their bosses as being the problem. Not so any more. Even co-worker trust was not a real issue.

The biggest gaps show up when talking about leadership at the top of the business. C-suite leaders are getting challenged by employees.

Internal and external surveys are showing that we have a growing chasm of trust between the top-of-house leaders and the employee masses.

How can that be?

First, it seems there is a credibility issue. Leaders may blame it on the pace of business. That means, things are moving so darn fast, decisions have to get made then changed right away.

However, workers see it as a flip-flop. The seeming flip flop of decisions cause employees to doubt the sincerity of what is coming from on high.

Next there is a reality issue. Workers don’t think senior leaders are adequately tuned in to the challenges on the front line. Budget cuts reduce jobs, leaving the survivors to struggle with doubled and tripled work loads to sustain revenue numbers that are not declining.

Seeing no actual decline in a company’s revenue leads workers to believe the leaders are not present, knowing what is really required to produce the outcome.

In addition we see a sociability issue. The younger workforce is asking their company to become socially responsible for social significance. Whether that is for carbon footprint reduction, social justice, or diversity, leaders are under pressure to perform. Those who turn blind eyes to these issues are not trusted.

What’s the Fix?

Building trust impacts all areas of our life. When we meet someone new, we start down the path for seeking trust by asking and answering questions.

The questions help inform us about the other party. Do we like the same things? Is there a common ground from which we can start building our relationship? The list of key questions can be long.

Employees do the same thing. We all show up to work with fundamental questions in our mind. The company leader/manager who does the best job of answering our questions gets our respect and trust.

My own experience as an executive and now, coach, has shown me six fundamental areas for the questions. All of the questions fall into one of these six buckets. I’m going to quickly list each section.

First, the People questions – do I even want to be here? Basic but powerful.

Next the Purpose – what is this team about and why do we exist?

Then the Plan questions – what is the plan we must follow to win?

Following those, there are the Practice questions – how do we operate? Systems, policies, and procedures can make or break our success.

Next you find Performance questions – how will I be scored and rated? Will the system be fair?

Lastly, we see Payoff questions – was it worth it? Should I do it over again?

Leaders Can Make a Difference

If you manage a team, think about any and all of the issues you face keeping the team inspired, motivated, and moving forward. I’ll bet you a nice steak dinner your team’s questions will fall into one of those six buckets.

Knowing these six secrets can radically improve your ability as a leader to increase the trust within your team. Answer the questions well and you will see your team transform.

Ignore the questions or give half-hearted answers and your trust scores will be very low.

I and a colleague, Roger Ferguson, have made a deep dive into this subject with our new book Trust at Work.” My coaching clients like ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, and UPS have taken these directions and seen great results. You can too.

trust at work

The Keys to Becoming a Great Leader

Today it seems everybody knows something about leadership. 

But when I taught strategic leadership courses to MBA students at the University of Houston, in the beginning, my first question to the students was “who wanted to be a leader and a great one at that?”

There was always this look of bewilderment on their faces not knowing how to answer. 

Leadership can be puzzling and seems like a lofty aspiration as many times leaders are put on a pedestal.

Leadership does make a significant difference in the performance of an organization. Jim Collins demonstrated that in his well-researched book Good to Great. 

Normally, when people begin to talk about leadership, they start rattling off a long list of characteristics.

Well, I am not going to tell you my top ten characteristics of being a great leader as many articles do. 

But in my opinion, listing attributes is coming from the wrong starting place.

If you begin with characteristics and try to figure out who is great, you enter into a mindset of rating one leader against another based on the characteristics they possess.

The focus is all on the leader trying to find that special one. It’s grading on the curve.  You are better than that guy, but this other bloke is better than you.

When the conversation begins with the leader and their characteristics, it leaves out the other half of the equation.

What is really fundamental about leadership is that there are followers. There is no leadership without followers. You can be a great solo performer, but that is not leadership. Leadership requires followers. 

Think of the Other Person First

But why do people follow? 

They follow you because their needs are being fulfilled in some meaningful way.

In effect, the leader must provide a value proposition that fulfills follower’s needs as discussed in my other leadership blogs. 

This is the first key to becoming a great leader, you must start with the needs of the follower by developing a value proposition that motivates them to follow you.

That is what a company does with customers.  It provides a value proposition that causes people to buy. 

You must have a value proposition that potential followers can buy into.

What about the natural-born leader? Don’t people just want to follow them naturally regardless?

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You shouldn’t rely on whether you got that special leadership gene. 

In fact, most serious leadership authors advocate that leadership can be learned and dismiss this great man theory from days of yore.

Develop the We Mindset

Unfortunately, we grow up being graded solely on ourselves.  It begins in grade school right on through to high school, and then on to college.  It is all about me.

When I worked for Shell, there was a lot of emphasis on the qualities the leader possessed. I always felt under the microscope to be this superhuman leader with all these wonderful characteristics. 

I knew an awful lot about leadership theories, but it wasn’t until my later years in senior management that the second key came to light. 

A lot of my conversation had too much I.

To be a great leader you must shift your mindset from me to “we”, which is the second key to becoming a great leader.

That requires going out talking to people finding out what really drives them. Thinking in a “we” mindset opens them up to describing their needs.  People truly love to talk about themselves.

Leadership and Planning Go Together

Leadership is not a random hit or miss process. How do you figure out a value proposition that motivates people to follow you? This requires planning. 

What big thing have you ever accomplished without a plan?  Planning sets a direction. 

Thus, the third key to leadership is planning and setting a motivating direction.

Execution is the Fourth Key

Planning by itself is not enough, even though it does set the stage. The plan must be executed achieving the desired results. People follow successful performance. 

Therefore, the way to measure a great leader is to look at the absolute results. 

If you want to be an effective leader, YOU must focus on results.

That is the mindset shift that makes all the difference. Look at the results, but what results are we talking about?

A leader has various stakeholders with different needs as set out in the first key. Targeting these needs means forming value propositions for each key stakeholder, and since every leader has multiple stakeholders, that means multiple value propositions. 

Great results come from satisfying these different value propositions that cause your stakeholders to follow you. 

Moreover, if you judge leadership on the basis of absolute results, it’s absolutely possible for everyone to become a great leader.  

Leadership Maturity develops a Situational Style

People have different needs; situations require different leadership, and things change over time. 

There is no cookie-cutter approach to being a great leader.

Thus, the fifth key is to recognize that leadership is situational depending on the world you and your followers face.

Look to Other’s Strengths

Next, you win by utilizing your and other’s strengths.

That is what companies do with their value propositions.  They capitalize on their strengths. 

 Great leadership is all about building a winning team, where people step up with their greatest strengths.  That is the sixth key.

You build a game plan that leverages and synergizes on these strengths.

Develop Specific Actions

Many plans fail for lack of execution as set out in the Fourth Key.

The plans must have executable components with specific actions and be constantly reviewed and revised as results dictate. 

Leadership is not about how many initiatives you can create.  It’s about how well did you deliver on your value propositions by taking well-defined actions. 

Thus, the seventh key to leadership is delivering on your value propositions with specific targeted actions.  

That creates authenticity.  Doing what you say you are going to do.

Those are my seven keys to becoming a great leader.

Develop your Leadership Plan

This is a prelude to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader that recognizes that your personal planning is the key catalyst for greatness.

Typically planning is done from the business perspective, at the corporate or business unit levels on what the company is going to do.

The leader needs to figure out how to integrate into these business plans with his or her leadership actions. Some of the leader’s value propositions to key stakeholders will be integral in the business plans. 

Other elements require the leader to formulate more specifically a leadership plan to fulfill those people’s value propositions. In developing these leadership plans, the focus can then turn to what strengths the leader needs to develop and what fatal flaws to correct. 

That requires the leader to fully assess his/her inner profile. 

What is your leadership style?  Which are your proficiencies, things you are really good at?  What are your values, beliefs, and character?  And fundamentally, what is your purpose in life? What legacy do you want to leave?

Weaving together the “outer” world of a leader’s work environment with their “inner” world of character, style, strength, and purpose brings a practical focus to leadership development efforts.

Inner Self

The leader can then reflect on those aspects of the inner self that more directly impact the outer world and pursue improvement in the areas that will make a significant performance difference, and much sooner.

In doing this, the chances of becoming a great leader go up significantly because there is a targeted focus on your actions and behaviors that will make a real difference in achieving great results.

That is the whole concept that led to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader. 

The quest for great results doesn’t end with one great achievement. It’s not one and done; it’s a marathon. 

People will follow the leader who consistently produces great results.  And when these great results occur, that is a great leader.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was contributed by Lane Sloan, former CFO at Shell Oil. Lane is semi-retired but teaches, coaches and provides business advisory services to small and mid-cap business.

Exploring the Real Meaning of Trust at Work

small team

Anyone who has ever been asked to lead a team knows something right away. Steering, guiding, leading, or managing people can be very difficult. It can feel like herding cats. Individual minds don’t fall in line very easy.

As the manager, you know where you want to go or at least you have some idea. Whether you are managing a team at a large corporation or guiding your happy little band of employees in a small business, having a team can be hard to do.

Gather a group of unrelated human beings, give them a task, and soon you have people veering off in various directions. Some are crushing it; producing amazing work. Others are hiding in plain sight, trying to scam the system. In between are souls who give the work a try, but often find ways, whether consciously or subconsciously, to make it look hard.

As a manager or leader of this cheery little assembly, you go home at night and bang your head against the wall.

Therefore, the really big question is ‘what can you do to make a difference?’

Introducing Trust

The longer I work with businesses of all sizes, the more I am convinced that TRUST is a big deal. Unfortunately, I don’t know any company owner or executive that starts with the idea of building trust as a key element of their team building effort.

Instead, managers usually focus on process. They have a vision and a plan that drives the idea of the right process to make a profit. Making money is the chief idea, right? Producing some meaningful product or service is the ‘thing’ that causes customers to pay us. It makes good sense to have a solid, robust process to produce that ‘thing.’

Designing the process then teaching it to your team requires a great deal of time and effort. Yes, we recruit people to join our teams who know things about our process. CPA firms will hire accountants. Engineering firms will hire certified engineers. Manufacturing companies will hire people who know something about the steps in the process or the equipment used.

To talk about hiring a little further, I am also convinced that if you are somewhat successful with your hiring, the people you select will want to do the right thing. The hiring process is a very big “if”, but if you have figured it out, you will generally have a team that is there to do the right thing.

Enter Trust

This is where trust appears, right at the start. As soon as that new employee is inserted into your team culture or situation, they will begin questioning things. The questions may not be outward. But internally, they are screening, evaluating, and judging what is going on. Why?

Why does someone do that? It’s human nature. To be safe in our surroundings, we must build trust with the people and things around us. It’s really pretty simple once you stop to think about it.

When you meet a stranger on the street at midnight, what are your first thoughts? Likely, you’re very afraid. All your defenses go up. It’s fight or flight time. We’re wired that way. It’s about our basic need to survive. We test and question the moment. We look for signs that a threat might exist.

Stranger Danger

If the stranger responds with a willing gesture of open hands, visible face, and cautious movement away from us, we feel just a little bit more secure. Once they speak our language and express apologies for frightening us, we feel even more secure, still on guard, but less afraid. Then, if they act true to that message by walking around us, never closing in, we feel more trust about believing they mean us no harm.

All of the observing, evaluating, testing, and questioning is exactly what a new hire will be doing. The team leader must be the one directing the effort to answer the questions, demonstrate safety, communicate the expectations, and deliver on actions that are consistent with the messages.

The Google Study

In 2018, Google released the findings of Project Aristotle. The basis of this project was the question ‘why do some teams perform so much better than others.’

Google has a rigorous hiring process. In fact, it is considered by many to be the most rigorous of all large corporate hiring programs. Yet when these best-of-the-best employees get assigned to work teams, not all teams perform as well as others. How could that be?

Google’s study took two years to complete. In the end, what they discovered is that ‘psychological safety’ was the number one reason high-performing teams exist. When you read the complete findings, you realize the term psychological safety is really nothing more than TRUST.

The Leader’s Secret Weapon

If you are new to leading teams, you likely struggle with confidence. You may even go so far as to think of yourself as suffering an “impostor syndrome.” You doubt your own ability to manage and lead.

Rather than focusing inwardly on those doubts, start by focusing outward. Talk to your team. Learn what makes them tick. Build an understanding of their strengths. Find out about the basic questions they may be asking as they search for ways to trust you and the rest of the team. They might even be questioning the company (if it’s big enough). You can help sooth those concerns.

Be more of a problem solver for the issue of whether your employees trust the team situation. Focus your time and effort solving that and you will discover you will rapidly become a leader people respect.

The respect you receive will be less about the technical skills you have and more about the ways you made your team feel connected. You too can build trust at work.

Ways to Be a More Effective Team Leader

Above all, the best way to be more effective in your leadership effort to influence and impact the trust factors within your team, is to look at the Team Trust Culture Model. My friend Roger Ferguson and I collaborated to write about this model in our latest book “Trust at Work.”

Team Trust Culture

By following this model, you can become a Trust Builder. The model tells us we can organize all those questions people ask into six logical, connected areas. As a leader, you work your way through the areas helping your team get more comfortable with their understanding of all aspects of the company, the work, their fellow workers and YOU.

Therefore, Leaders who proactively attack these areas find tangible results. Teams do more because they want to do more. Once they elevate their level of trust, they become willing to give more at work; more effort, more energy, and more contribution to the outcome.

Google’s Six Steps

In addition, the six steps of the model address all the factors Google identified in high-performing teams.

Psychological safety: Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive.

In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

Moreover, the Model exists to help leaders and their teams achieve high levels of psychological safety. It is the overall focus of the Model.

Dependability: On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (vs the opposite – shirking responsibilities).

The Model has delivered tangible results. Successful implementation of the Model within work teams has produced an environment where people want to work, take pride in the work, and desire to do more. This is called discretionary effort. The book talks about this in detail.

Structure and clarity: An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging, and attainable. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate short- and long-term goals.

Steps two, three, and four are ways leaders can address concerns and questions about clarity, expectations and results.

Meaning: Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary: financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example.

Step five in the model addresses performance and an individual’s sense of purpose for participating in the team.

Impact: The results of one’s work, the subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s goals can help reveal impact.

Step six is where we explore impact and significance of the team contributing to the greater good.

In Summary

Trust has been identified as a key driver for high-performing teams. Leaders can work on building trust at work by answering key questions all employees ask. To clarify, the more you do as a leader to respond to the questions, the more likely it will be to see trust grow within your team.

Trust is so vitally important. Why not add trust building to your goals as a leader? If you need help doing that, you can schedule a free consultation call to talk about your team and your company.

trust at work

Lessons in Leadership: Soaring with the Winds of Life

windsock

 

In learning how to fly an airplane, one of the first lessons has to do with understanding winds. Winds come in basically three types;

  • Head winds – those hit you right in the face
  • Tail winds – those from behind
  • Cross winds – those at angles from the side

I believe the challenges we face in life and in business model these three types of wind as well. If we consider all the forms of challenge we face, we can boil it down into these three categories. However, it might be interesting to compare the pilot’s concern with each of these winds as we think about our daily responses to life’s winds…..

Head Wind

First, the head winds. Too often we might be prone to think of these negatively. As wind hits us in the face, it slows us down, forces us to press harder against the wind. Bob Seger wrote a great ballad titled “Against the Wind…stronger now still just running…against the wind”.

When a pilot encounters head wind during flight it can be a challenge. Fuel consumption is increased as air speed decreases. The time it takes to reach a destination increases. Stress and fatigue can set in. But did you know it is preferable to take off and land “against the wind”? Why? Because the increased force of that head wind causes “lift” on the wings which is the force that makes planes fly.

A good steady head wind actually makes take-offs and landings easier, more comfortable and effective. So the next time you sense a head wind in life, ask yourself whether it has been provided to allow more lift for a better take off to a new place in life or whether it is there to afford a safer, smoother landing from where you have just come.

Tail Wind

Next let’s talk about tail wind. This is just the opposite from a head wind. We tend to think of tail wind as favorable. During flight that might be true. It can serve to push us forward, reduce effort and speed the time towards the destination.

But did you know it is the most difficult force with which to reckon during take off and landing? At those times, it actually impairs control, reduces efficiency and creates danger.

Maybe in life we need to be cautious of the perceived tail winds. Rather than gliding along with them, we need to watching for hindrances to gaining new achievement or resolving old challenges.

Cross Wind

The final force is cross wind. All things considered, crosswind is the most challenging of all flying situations. That is true in life and business too.

Crosswind means what it implies… a force crossing you at an angle to the direction you intend to fly. During flight, a cross wind will blow you “off course”. A constant watch must be given to direction and compass heading while flying in crosswinds. There is no cruising during crosswind conditions. It is a constant battle.

doug flying
Me piloting a cross country to Shreveport LA

Take off and landing is even more severe. Very special techniques are required to manage a crosswind situation. This is why you see planes doing a crab landing, angling sideways right before touchdown. In some situations the crosswind can be so severe that its force exceeds the designed strength of the air frame on the airplane, which makes the good pilot seek an alternative landing site, one where the winds are more favorable.

Life has crosswind too. It is the skill and grace with which we handle life’s crosswinds that determines our ultimate success. Failure to recognize and manage a crosswind can cause certain disaster. Either we ignore the presence of that crosswind or we acknowledge it but underestimate the consequences. Forging ahead means grave results.

So next time you feel a certain extraordinary force influencing your life, consider the pilot. Is the wind you feel one of these? If so, which one and how will you choose to handle it?

If you need help discerning the winds in your path right now or want to find better ways to navigate those winds, schedule a time for a free consultation.

Burn the Boats – The Toughest Leadership Command

burn the ships

We all like Plan “B” options that afford us an escape when things don’t work out. In 1519, Captain Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz to begin his great conquest. Upon arriving, he gave the order to his men to burn the ships. How’s that for bold leadership?

What Cortés did was force himself and his men to either succeed or die. A retreat was not an option.

In order to achieve the highest level of success we each desire, there are times when we need to “burn the boats.”

The obvious question becomes “what are my ships or boats”? For starters, your ship may be anything that you are afraid to let go of.

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Daniel Mueller on Leadership

leadership banner

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

Change Agents

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Leadership Competentcy

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

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

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

Deciding on a Style

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

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

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

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

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

Being Adaptable

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

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

A Mentor’s Greatest Lament

It’s easy to find a lot of talk about mentoring; being a mentor, using a mentor, and growing from mentorship. One of my most popular posts was about being a stepping stone. But what will you do about that?

Mentors come in many varieties. Anyone who’s been through some form of higher learning has probably been influenced by a teacher or professor. You may remember a magical mentor who inspired you to think differently or be different. To this day, I owe much of my passion for writing to my senior English teacher from high school, Mrs. Geneva Curry.

A Story

Dr. William Hendricks, a well-respected professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was once asked what his greatest fear may be. His response shocked the audience. Again, keep in mind, he was one of the most highly regarded faculty members there.

His answer was “To present and teach my best material, but no one learns.” Let that sink in a minute.

Here’s a well-respected professor who had people clamoring to attend his lectures. His fear was teaching and no one learns.

What did he mean by that? He meant having an audience that was somehow closed to learning.

When I first heard this, I was struck by the significance of being a student or mentee and not being receptive to the teaching that is being offered.

Why would anyone do that? Well, it’s simple. There are those among us who go into a learning situation believing they already have all the answers. They are convinced there is nothing new to learn.

Whether it comes from pride or futility, the idea that you might sit with a mentor and ignore the teaching is insanity!

servant leader

The Smartest Guy in the Room

Have you ever known anyone like that? You know, someone who insists they know it all. They act like and truly believe they are the smartest guy in the room.

These folks just want to sit in the class or in the program because the completion certificate somehow elevates them to the next level. The mindset that you can pass a course without being impacted by it is just plain crazy. What a waste of everyone’s time and talent.

The best leaders I have ever known knew what it was to be a follower first. Once you master the following, then you are qualified to become a leader. This is a key concept that fails many would-be managers.

My freshman year in the Texas A&M University  Corps of Cadets taught me that. The entire purpose of the freshman or ‘fish’ experience in the Corps was to engrain the idea that to be a leader, you must first know how to be a follower.

During that year I was introduced to many examples of ‘leadership’ handed out by the upperclassmen. As you can imagine, some were great. Others not so much. But even from the bad examples, I learned what not to do.

Power of Position

There are those in management who get wrapped up in the power of the position. By definition, every management box on an org chart has a delegated authority about it. Guys who think they know it all can be fooled by this.

The lure of the power of the position trips them up. Rather than seeking more knowledge and better practices to follow, they immerse themselves in the role without ever learning what it may mean to be a leader.

Following the Call

I encourage you to find mentorship. Once the opportunity is open, dive in wholeheartedly. Absorb everything you can from the one who offers to mentor and coach you.

Don’t expect old habits to get you to higher achievement.

In the early days of NASA, the standard for astronaut selections usually involved some high level of pilot experience; fighter pilot, test pilot, etc. While that was a good baseline from which to start, there were new things that had to be taught.

Even astronauts at NASA must learn new and creative new technologies, practices, and principles to survive.

The same is true for leaders of today. The world is moving quickly. Some call it “VUCA” which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Leaders trying to master such a blend of challenges simply must keep learning.

Through mentoring, you can find the resources you need to grow as a leader. Then and only then can you earn the title of manager and leader.

If you’d like to talk about ways you can be coached and mentored, click the button below. I’m offering a complimentary breakthrough session by zoom.

Here’s a recent comment by one of my clients.

I’m in the thick of leadership coaching with Doug and his insight and guidance are invaluable. Every time we talk, I leave with a new understanding, learning, or strategy to implement. Do this for yourself! ~Heather Plank

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

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

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

Well…

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

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

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

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

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

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

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

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

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

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

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

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

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

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

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

Our target was achieved.

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

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

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

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

They must be focused.

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

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

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

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

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

DMAIC

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

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

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

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

The devil is in the details.

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

Great leaders walk the floor.

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

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

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

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

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

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

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

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

2. Be Consistent

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

3. Stay Visible

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

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

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

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

So…do you inspect what you expect?

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

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SWOT Yourself

swot analysis

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 you may serve. Whether you are husband, wife, father, mother, community leader, volunteer or other, you can SWOT your contribution to that effort.

Why? Because every role we serve has three key components.

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:

  • Do you know your personal purpose?
  • 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 personal 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, redefine goals, and set a new course.

Have a great and prosperous New Year!

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