Have You Found Your Edge?

doug thorpe leadership coach

The global pandemic has caused everyone to rethink their normal. Finding a new normal has become a worldwide goal.

While there is talk of returning to some kind of old normal, I wanted to challenge you with a simple question.

Have you found your edge or are you standing at the edge?

Let’s tackle the dark side first. Standing at the edge describes a sense of being on the brink. For example, young parents of school-age kids are really expressing the sense of being on the edge. Confinement has been a bit too close for them.

Others have talked about the fatigue of living a groundhog day over and over.

I’ve had coaching clients, leaders in big organizations, admit they weren’t quite prepared for what remote working would do to them and their teams. And I’ve worked with small business owners who have made very tough decisions about releasing staff and cutting back or closing temporarily, if not permanently.

The pandemic has caused concern at many levels. Yet the word I hear most often is resilience. Staying resilient keeps us away from the edge.

The Upside

Finding your edge is a whole other story. The pandemic has birthed some great ideas and some creative solutions for sure.

Just look at the explosion of the Zoom platform. Many businesses large and small have resorted to using the zoom conference. Schools are relying on the video connection to keep teaching students. There are even parodies of zoom video chats gone wrong.

Some of the small businesses I work with have gotten very creative. One retailer who lost all access to her storefront due to a mall shutdown has resorted to home delivery of her products.

A restaurateur discovered a market for one specialty dish that can be prepared in a more commercial kitchen. They have plans to close their regular restaurant and rely solely on the pickup and delivery of the new dish. This results in almost a 5x margin gain by eliminating the rent for the sit-down restaurant. Plus gross sales have tripled.

My larger company clients are finding an interesting phenomenon. While people admit to missing the interpersonal contact an office setting provides, productivity has increased. The crush of meeting after meeting has settled into a focused format that is highly effective and productive.

Companies who formerly feared allowing staff to work from home are finding the reliability to be refreshing.

People are finding a new edge of efficiency, productivity, and profitability. How long will it last? Who knows? Right now the lessons learned by many are being translated into possibilities for a new normal.

Where are you?

Standing at the edge? Or on a new, more meaningful edge for competitive advantage, effectiveness and gain?

Leaders can make the difference.

Here are five ways to find the right edge.

Be open to change – there is no point in fighting the reality of where we are. Follow the guidelines and roll with the flow.

Over-communicate with your people – don’t let anyone on your team get truly isolated. Communicate even when you have nothing new to say. Tell them that.

Ask for ideas – let your team shine during this period. Open up the lines of exchange of ideas and solutions. Think outside the box. Heck just crush the old box.

Be fearless – don’t get afraid of new ideas that radically impact your work as you once knew it. The new alternative could increase your profitability, your brand, and your effectiveness.

Stay resilient – here’s that word again. Don’t let disappointment or frustration get the best of you. Be flexible and ready to respond.

Leaders Helping Leaders

Friday, April 3, at 10:30 AM CT I’m inviting you to join me for a community discussion about our response to COVID-19.

I’ve been talking with dozens of small business owners who are up against the wall. We need to pull together to help each other.

This session will have NO SALES pitches, no products being sold. It’s my idea to allow people together online to talk about what they’re doing to get through this crisis.

You must register though because zoom seats are limited. You can register on my website at DougThorpe.com or click this link now.

https://dougthorpe.us/2xGtWMk

How to Avoid Having a Frozen Middle in Your Company

frozen middle image

Do you remember the last time you took something out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave? You were hoping for a tasty treat. But when the buzzer went off, you grabbed your food and stuck your fork in only to find a frozen middle.

The edges were hot and bubbly, but the center was just as cold as when you got it out of the fridge.

In today’s ever-increasing complexity of business, companies of all sizes are developing frozen middles.

What exactly does that mean?

Senior executives spend their days plotting vision and trying to get the workforce to execute on that vision. Yet the larger the corporation, the greater is the chance to suffer from the frozen middle.

Here’s how it happens.

Senior leaders set a course to deliver a new product or service. Junior executives distill the demands from the top and begin trying to communicate the details of a complex plan.

If the company has reverted to more of a matrix style reporting structure, i.e. people have dual reporting responsibilities, subordinate workers begin to suffer from command and control fatigue.

Signals get crossed and focus is lost. Rather than do something wrong, the folks in the middle freeze. They stop ‘doing’ for fear of doing it wrong. They will work, but the level of productivity lags simply because there is an unintended fear of doing something out of line or off the mark.

Creativity, collaboration, and even inclusion suffer.

Gifted and talented workers simply freeze in place.

What can Leaders do to thaw or avoid the frozen middle?

First, pay attention to your communication. The bigger the company, the greater is the flow of information. New policies, new procedures, new systems, etc. All of these serve to complicate the message(s) circulating through your offices and workshops.

You must strive for crystal clear clarity at every turn. Are your messages coherent and complementary to one another, or have you sent mixed signals?

Are your instructions consistent with the vision, mission, and goals you have launched?

Next, are your subordinate managers able to state the mission, values, and goals? Watch for simple parroting of the message; that is, repeating it back to you like a robot. Instead, they should each be able to state the purpose and vision for their teams in their own words. Yes, it should align with the greater good, but it has to come from their center of understanding, not some plaque on the wall.

Manager Challenges

Encourage your direct reports to work on this clarification of the message with their individual teams. Coach them through the process to create the message for their teams.

In addition, build trust in your circle of influence so that trust can be shared beyond just your inner circle. Model a trusting behavior for others to see so they can begin trusting you.

Speak empathetically. Embrace change.

Be patient. As change comes, not everyone aligns at exactly the same pace. Many will lag your understanding and enthusiasm. As a leader, you get an early preview of the changes that are needed.

Team success

Just because you “got it” and became excited about the change, not everyone else will immediately get it too. It is likely you needed your own time to process a pending change. Remember that. Allow your team their time to process change.

Finding Tools and Solutions

There is simply no better way to avoid the frozen middle than finding ways to keep your teams on the same page.

I’ve been coaching and advocating the Big 5 method of performance management for decades. In every situation where Big 5 has been adopted, work teams experience higher productivity, reduced stress, and greater team morale.

Tools and solutions like Big 5 go a long way to help. Big 5 is a way to get every employee to align with stated priorities for the next week or month. Then a simple, and short, review with the team lead/manager/supervisor can provide coaching and a checkpoint for keeping things aligned.

Silver Fox Advisors – Lunch & Learn Jan 23

sts-121 crew in flight

Attention Houston area business leaders, the Silver Fox Advisors is hosting its monthly Lunch & Learn program. This month features NASA Astronaut Col. Michael E. Fossum, USAFR.

Michael E. Fossum is the Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University. He joined Texas A&M following his retirement from NASA in 2017. 

Fossum was selected as an astronaut in 1998. He is a veteran of three space flights; STS-121 in 2006, STS-124 in 2008 and Expedition 28/29 in 2011. Fossum has logged more than 194 days in space, including more than 48 hours in seven spacewalks.

He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University and Master of Science degrees in Systems Engineering and Physical Science from the Air Force Institute of Technology and the University of Houston – Clear Lake, respectively.

After completing graduate work, he was detailed to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where he supported space shuttle flight operations, beginning with STS-3. Fossum left active duty in 1992 and retired as a Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserves in 2010. Michael Fossum retired from NASA in January 2017. 

Born December 19, 1957, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and grew up in McAllen, Texas. Married to the former Melanie J. London. They have four children and four grandchildren. He enjoys family activities, motorcycle riding, and backpacking. Mike’s main hobby is serving as Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop.

Awards and Honors

NASA Exceptional Service Medal and three NASA Spaceflight Medals. Scouting awards include Distinguished Eagle Scout, Silver Beaver and Vigil Member of the Order of the Arrow. Distinguished Military Graduate from Texas A&M University and Squadron Commander in the Corps of Cadets. Awarded the U.S. Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and various other service awards. Distinguished Graduate from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Class 85A.

“The time will come when man will know even what is going on in the other planets and perhaps be able to visit them.”

Henry Ford, Theosophist magazine, February 1930

Silver Fox Advisors’ President Bill Herman stated, “Come join us and learn about the teamwork and preparation needed to achieve a successful mission by reliving space travel with Colonel Fossum.”

The Silver Fox Advisors’ Lunch and Learn events are held at the Houston Racquet Club, 10709 Memorial Dr., Houston, TX 77024. To learn more about the Silver Fox Advisors’ Lunch and Learn Sessions and to register for this event, visit our Website at www.silverfox.org.

Seating is limited, and due to the special nature of this very informative session will fill up fast, so make your reservation today.

Tables of eight are available for $315. Lunch is served at 11:20 a.m., and the Program will begin at 11:50 a.m.

Silver Fox Advisors are proven business leaders who advise, consult, and mentor other business leaders, CEO Roundtables, and entrepreneurship programs.

For more information visit: www.silverfox.org

Consciously or Unconsciously – Live Well

The following is shared by permission from a dear friend, fellow coach, and down-right classy human being, David Norris.

I hope you find this to be of value to you today. David writes:

unconscious conscious

I recently posted this quote on several social media platforms and received a number of requests to translate and explain further.

Consciously or unconsciously, we are all driven to grow. We see a future that we want to live in, and we are either able to intentionally get there, or we cannot.

A major determinant of whether you will get there or not is simply that you actually believe that you can.

We carry around a huge amount of personal baggage from our past experiences that inform our attitudes about the future. In many cases, we develop a sense of learned helplessness that causes us to believe that we will never be able to get the future we want.

Self-Defeating Logic

FOCUS

This self-defeating logic is reinforced by our own inaction toward overcoming this baggage from our past. It becomes a pattern. We get used to not getting what we want. We come to believe that it’s normal and simply the way things are.

Before we can overcome these issues, we have to understand what they are. This is by no means an all-encompassing list of issues that characterize bad past experiences that can prevent you from realizing your own ability to move toward your desired future, but if you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to get to work.

  1. You have historically associated closely with, and strongly feel a part of a group of people who are not finding success in love, life or work.
  2. You have been so focused on simply getting by that you felt like you were unable to actually learn new ways to be better.
  3. You were brought up in a religious tradition or other circumstance that instilled you with strong feelings of guilt and shame but never focused on positive qualities like love, intimacy, vulnerability, and learning.
  4. All of your past relationships have caused tremendous pain and ended badly, leading you to believe that is simply an inherent quality of all relationships.
  5. You have plateaued when pursuing your goals, and you come to believe that you are simply not the kind of person who is capable of achieving the success you want, incapable of understanding why others are able to reach their goals.
  6. You have believed that you are just not trying hard enough when it comes to your goals, and later when you do try to commit stronger to achieving your goals with the same mindset and more effort, you expect things to turn out differently.
  7. You associate change primarily with things turning out badly. Therefore change is scary and something to be avoided. You may not be happy with the way things have been, but they could likely be much worse.

What these dilemmas all have in common is that they use the past as a basis for constructing the future.

They cause us to forget our own talents and abilities, to undermine our own skillfulness and resourcefulness. They squash our ambitions by prioritizing fear over risk and reward.

Universal Experiences

The experiences described above are universal. Every successful person has faced some variation or combination of these scenarios, and yet they have managed to get wherever it is that they were aiming at.

How does that happen? Is it that others simply have greater abilities or possess more potential? No. It is that they have not allowed the past to become a myopic lens for viewing the future. They have distilled experience into wisdom. They have recognized that failure and difficulty are necessary opportunities for stretching our abilities to enable growth.

The essential thing that you must do is to take the lessons you have learned from the past and put those lessons into practice by actually doing something. You will not overcome any one of these by letting the clock run out. There is no way forward in doing nothing.

Try Something Different

If what you have tried in the past has not worked, try something different. We are often drawn to work harder because we are choosing the more familiar path. That path is our default setting. It is often our first idea and the one we feel most comfortable setting forward with.

But growing is not about feeling comfortable, it is about moving forward through the thick grass toward foggy vistas and breaking through all of that to discover new territory.

The future does not live in the past unless you stay stuck where you are. The future is where you are going, not where you have been.

Wake up! Take control and consciously create your own fate. Live by design. Live today well!

Live today well!
David Norris

Breaking Through the Invisible Wall

There is an invisible wall in the business world.

People can spend an entire career and never break through that wall. The wall is not about equal opportunity, hiring practices, promotion or selection. Nor is it about gender or age.

No, this wall is about moving from management to leadership.

the invisible wall from management to leadership

The Entrepreneur’s Conundrum

The easiest way to explain this wall is to start with an entrepreneur. A solo-preneur; the person who thinks he/she has an idea and wants to start a business.

Let’s say our hero (the start-up entrepreneur) gets some funding and launches the business. In no time, the business starts to make sales and grow.

Pretty soon the owner needs to hire some people to help fill all the orders, make more widgets or whatever they are doing. They need more people.

Now they have a team running. The first experience is to manage the process. The owner has to show everyone how to do or make the things you meant to do in the business.

Your idea as the entrepreneur has to get communicated, trained and shared with others to let the business grow.

As the Manager, you track the numbers, bank the revenue, make the deposits and pay for expenses.

Things seem to be going OK. You survived the start-up phase.

New Opportunities

As the business grows, you have to grow with it. More resources, bigger payrolls, larger space, etc.

But the owner seldom thinks about growing their own ability to manage the business. The thinking goes something like this.

“What I did before got us here, I’ll do more of that, and we’ll be fine.”

That works for a little while longer, but the business still keeps growing.

Now it’s become a full-sized enterprise with layers of management, division of teams for specialized skills, and other expanding roles.

The Thirst for Leadership

Somewhere in between that expansion phase and the enterprise phase, the invisible wall takes shape. As the company grows, so does the wall.

What used to be decent management starts to have problems. The old ways to push people and materials don’t work anymore.

It’s not the people or the business, it’s the owner’s capacity to lead that is crumbling.

This new entity that is the company is hungry for leadership. Not more management; bona fide leadership.

Leadership has to step in and take over.

As Monte Pendleton, Silver Fox Advisor, and founding member states “There is no particular time table for these stages. But the ending of Stage 1 usually becomes apparent when the requisite managerial skills begin to change. The very personality, skills, and capabilities that allowed you to succeed as a Stage 1 entrepreneur or start-up owner/operator, now become detrimental to you in the latter stages.”

When the wall becomes apparent, you have some choices to consider.

First, you could decide to quit growing; stay the size you are, and keep doing the same things.

Or, you can choose to modify your management style and press on toward the next phase. Hire a coach or an advisor to guide you through the changes needed to break through the wall.

Lastly, you might choose to replace yourself with someone who has better leadership skills and experience, allowing you to revert to the core talent and gifts/specialties you started with.

If all else fails, sell the business at its then market value and go fishing. (I digress).

Bigger Enterprise

I dedicate my coaching practice to owners and executives who are right at the wall.

There are senior managers everywhere who still need to embrace the reality of the presence of the wall.

Believe it or not, a wall always exists between the stage of the business unit you run and your ability to lead.

a group of young people working in the office

I’ve said it many times before, a good manager can have a long and successful career never being more than a manager. Turn the screws, meet the deadlines, ship those deliverables and do it through strong management skills; these can be a nice career.

However, for the good of the growth of the enterprise, you need to become a leader. If you already know something about leadership, be a better leader.

Monte states “Leadership is the ability to cause others to take action even when the action is outside their comfort zone.”

Dave Guerra in his book “Superperforming” says “Management is about process and leadership is about people.”

I love that explanation. So true.

Think about your situation right now. It doesn’t matter whether you own the business or run a large team/division inside one. Ask yourself, “where is my wall?”

Question: Have you broken through the wall, realizing the need for leadership over management?