The Sweet Spot: How to find it for yourself

The Sweet Spot: How to find it for yourself

Touring a garden recently with a master gardener (My Mom) and these words kept coming out of her mouth – they love it here. At the nursery last week, another seasoned gardener talked about healthy places for certain trees. Both of these experts taught me the same lesson, to always look for vibrant signs of health – growth, healthy color, and a full look. Life through the eyes of a gardener gave me a different view of the world around me.

It hit me that same view can be taken with people. That place where we are comfortable, happy, challenged, and energized is a great place to be. What words would you use to describe yourself in that spot?

  • Energized
  • Creative
  • Confident
  • Collaborative
  • Positive

This is our sweet spot. The ultimate trick is not knowing how to find this spot, but how to realize when we get there and how to return to it.

Some leaders can see it, just like the master gardeners can see when a plant is in the optimal spot for growth and performance. Most of us need help from people to tell us where that spot is, and maybe a little more help to stay on track making the moves necessary for all people on our team to be in their sweet spot. Imagine if we could coach our team so each individual knew where that spot was for themselves, and were driven to continually improve and increase their understanding of their own sweet spot?

Maturity is simply the knowledge to know where your spot is, the patience to work toward it, and the ability to make the shifts to perform at a high level even if you are not in the exact sweet spot. Mature does not equal old, it just means wise.

Leaders need to know their own sweet spot and surround themselves with people who can handle the critical work outside of that spot. Great leaders also know how to develop the wisdom in others to replicate that sweet spot for themselves at all levels of the organization. Imagine being surrounded by a dozen people who feel energized, creative, confident, collaborative, and positive? Even an amateur gardener like me could spot that team.

There is nothing better than to watch your kids, your friends, your team, or yourself perform in that sweet spot!

Anybody told you lately, “I can tell that you like it here…”? If not, it is time to get to work finding it.

Three great resources to help your thinking:

Master gardeners don’t just work with plants.

Lead well . . .

Time for a Career Check-up?

Time for a Career Check-up?

What is your habit about doing a career check-up and development plan?  I encourage the calendar changing to a new year as a place to step back, take a deep breath, and think about the past year, the current moment in time, and the coming year.  As I mentioned in my whitepaper 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance, a key piece is tip 5.5 where you Hone the Habits of revisiting your plans from the previous year.

Here is an outline of what a personal reflection might look like, in 4 simple, but not so easy steps…

First, remember my 30-30-40 rule on conversations.  A healthy conversation focuses 30% on the past, 30% on the present, and 40% on the future.  With that in mind and the goal being to answer a few questions about you and translate that into tangible goals for next year.

Part 1:  Look back on the past year

  • What were my most significant learnings from the past year?
  • Who were people that I am most thankful for because of the part they played in my year?
  • What did I accomplish?
  • What would I like to forget?

Part 2:  Take inventory of where things are today

  • Fill out a wheel-of-life (see attached).  For each piece of the pie answer the question – How satisfied am I with that part of my life? What do I have to celebrate?  What would make this part of the wheel stronger and more fulfilling for me?
  • Looking back at the entire wheel – What is one area I want to focus on in the coming year?

Part 3:  Look to the future.  I took this exercise from Rich Sheridan’s book Joy, Inc. – How We Built a Workplace People Love (p. 241)

  • Take a quiet hour to sit down with your computer, your tablet, or a pen and paper and describe a good day one year from now.  Pick an exact day.  Write down what is happening in your life on that day.  Here is a start to that letter:  It is December 15th, 2016, and today I . . . .   Then start writing.  The description should be dripping with detail.  It should be both personal and global – it shouldn’t be just about you; it should be about both you and the joyful results you are helping to produce in the world.  It should reflect both your personal goals and your work goals.
  • As you read through it – What part of your story jump out at you?  What are the significant things that you see happening – both personally and professionally?  What are the relationships you are celebrating?  What does it tell you about the things you need to focus on maintaining?  Building?

Part 4:  Read through the things from Part 2 and 3.

  • What do I need to KEEP Doing this year?
  • What do I need to START Doing this year?
  • What do I need to STOP Doing this year?

It is that easy, and not that simple.  Once you create a goal, build in some time monthly to review them and set up some progressive steps for making those goals a reality.  Here is a worksheet to help make your goals SMART-Er.

Let me leave you with one quote that I use with many of my clients and in my own life.  It is an African Proverb that says – If you want to go FAST, go ALONE.  If you want to go FAR, go TOGETHER.  This journey towards mastery is best done TOGETHER – so find some travel partners.

Mind the GAP

Before the holidays I was asked to speak to the Growth Group, a group of people working for the state of Michigan charged with helping businesses grow.  They work daily on the cash, commercial, and leadership issues that keep companies from reaching their full potential.  The request was simple – share your perspective and tools for developing leaders and talent in high growth organizations.  Here is what I shared.

The analogy to leading is MIND THE GAP – a common phrase I first heard in London as I was using the Tube, their subway system.  It is a simple reminder to watch your step, and for me it just stuck in my head AND made me constantly aware of what I needed to do next.  Here are four ways leaders MIND THE GAP.

  1. Create the GAP – At the core of leadership is defining the preferred future for the group they lead.  The simple act of planning (strategic or operational) is a way of creating the GAP.  For high growth companies, I use a tool called the Entrepreneurial Operating System that, at it’s core, helps a leadership team Create the GAP.
  2. Create the GAP 2 – Define the WHY for the key talent you need to close the GAP.  My experience in helping companies find talent has taught me that talent will come if you define your story well and help people see how the role is a critical part of what it will take to close the GAP and reach the goal.  I have a tool called the Role Summary and Focus that translates the GAP created into a compelling job.
  3. Manage the GAP – The forgotten step.  The actual work of leading and managing.  The part that made one leader say to me in frustration, “I love leadership, it’s the people part that drives me crazy”.  Managing the Gap is being intentional about building a team to bridge the GAP in front of you.  The key steps are:
    • Fill the GAP with knowledge of each other (foundation of Build TRUST).
    • Build FOCUS for each person through a SUCCESS PLAN – especially the new additions to your team.
    • Build TRUST through demonstrated competence.
  4. Owning the GAP – The last and most important piece of individual performance.  The career/development plan the individual creates to guide their development and performance so they develop faster than the organization needs them to based on the defined GAP in front of them and the organization.  The two key pieces are the career/development plan and the habit of frequent/formal one-on-one conversations.

Great conversations start with a question – and I appreciated getting asked How do you help leaders and companies through the key transition points tied to growth?

It all comes back to MIND THE GAP, except outside of the controlled environment of mass transit in London, the GAP changes daily.

As you look out into 2016 – What is the GAP in front of your team?  In front of your role?  How will you manage it successfully?

Those questions start a great conversation.

Here is the presentation – Mind the GAP – The presentation.  I am always looking for professional conferences to speak, so let me know if you are going to one this year that has an audience that would benefit from this conversation.

How to win the Talent War – Part 3 – Be people-centered leader

At a key midpoint in my career I was in a job that was not stimulating and wondering what was next.  My manager at the time gave me space to say that and actively helped me get into classes and get a coach to help me find some answers.  He stated at the time that his goal was “what was best for me, even if it meant leaving the organization.”  I ended up going through a 12 month journey (as I continued to contribute in my current role) that resulted in me moving to another role within the organization that was a perfect fit for my talents and passions.  I stayed five more years in that organization and did some great work.   Ironically I stayed there longer than my manager did.  He was a people-centered leader.

How committed are you to the development of your people?  A people-centered leader is committed to aligning the unique abilities of their people with the work that has to get done for the organization.  Committed to a point where the person realizes their ideal role might be outside of their current organization.  Committed to moving beyond that point until the right match is found.

Yes, there are lots of reasons to draw boundaries around our support, but know that every boundary sends a clear message that “I am a people-centered leader, but . . . . “.  At the heart of the OBN leader is great intent, but actions that raise doubt in others.  (OBN is Ought But Not leader – a term from my book – People-Centered Performance)

What if you asked people at their annual performance review to share their career plans?  I guarantee that if you ask 5 people and they are honest – at least one has a role they are targeting that would take them outside your organization.  This will be the ultimate test of your capacity as a people-centered leader, and testing our capacity is the only way to build it.

Here is the other challenging (or liberating) part of this solution – you don’t have to ask anyone else’s permission or blame a company policy for getting in your way.

Listen . . . Lead.  Repeat often!

 

Extra: If you ask people for their career plans you will get some blank stares.  Here is a whitepaper that outlines my 5 Steps for managing your career and development.  This will get them started.

4 Questions People-Centered Change Leaders Ask

4 Questions People-Centered Change Leaders Ask

For those of you in Michigan, you know the name Rich Rodriguez.  He coached football at Michigan for several years and was fired for not being successful.  The ironic thing is that he was successful before Michigan (West Virginia) and he has had success since (Arizona).  The story I have about him is about being a new neighbor.  I was teaching a class and in small talk I met one of his neighbors in Ann Arbor.  She told me a story about him moving into a house that had 6-12 trees in the front yard and he did not like trees so he cut them all down when he moved in.  The neighbors were angry, and by this time he was also not winning on the football field, so the story ended with they were still angry and ‘he was a bad coach‘ on top of it.

Leadership is about managing change, and part of managing change is picking your battles initially until key people know you and trust you.  In any role there are a few key people that have to be on your side, and the key to success initially is taking steps to build trust with them.  These are called stakeholders, key people, or sometimes just neighbors.  A leader has 3-12 months to win over these stakeholders.

I specialize in leadership transitions, and one rule is not allowing a new leader fire anyone for 3-6 months.  My second rule for a new leader is to get a ‘grace’ period light on deliverables for about 3 months so they have a chance to build relationships with people.  When they do get deliverables they need to be heavily focused on getting wins with the people that need to trust and support a new leader when they do make mistakes, and mistakes are a given.

Back to Rich – as a leader and homeowner he can do whatever he wants.  His mistake at his house was cutting down every tree before people got to know him – which was only made worse when he did not win on top of it.  Ironic thing, he did the same with the program and alienated many people so fond of traditions he cut (like a weekly radio show) that when he started to lose more than win they did not support him.  The lesson, as a new leader ask before you cut down any trees – maybe by asking first which trees need to be cut down.  What does that sound like in a conversation?  Imagine interviewing all your new team and asking:

  • What questions do you/the team want to ask me?
  • What is working here?
  • What needs to be fixed?
  • What is one thing I could do to make you more excited about your job?

Listen well and they will tell you which trees to cut down.  My experience tells me that their list will look eerily similar to yours.

It is not that Rich Rodriguez is not an effective coach – he has proven he can win in the right situations.  His problem is that he does not adapt well to situations where he has to be patient and cannot just cut all the trees down at once.  What kind of leader are you?

Here are my proven processes on change.  I use them because they are people-centered and less focused on the outcome and more on emotionally moving people through the change.  Still performance focused, but people-centered.

 

Jackhammers and Leadership

I learned a very valuable leadership lesson when I was 19.  I was working as a laborer on a curb repair crew for the summer.  Part of the job was breaking up the old curbs using a jackhammer.  I remember the first time I was asked to operate it I was very excited – it was loud, dirty, and made me feel very manly.  I received the instructions from my crew chief, and off I went to break up 100ft of curb.  After 5 minutes I started to feel weak and I was sweating profusely.  After 10 minutes I was light headed and almost ready to throw up when I had to stop. It was then I noticed the whole crew standing back laughing at me as they saw the fatigue and nausea overtake me.  When I shut the jackhammer off, my crew chief came over and gave me my first leadership lesson.

“Kid, you have to learn to let the jackhammer do the work.  When you learn to work with it and not try and control it, then you really get work done.”

That summer I gradually learned to let the jackhammer do the work, and as I look back on that day, I realize how it was a lesson for every important role I would ever have – leader, husband, parent, friend, and facilitator.

As I work with new leaders – The biggest mistake I see new leaders make is to over-manage their teams and not focus on setting clear goals and working to remove the things that are getting in the way of their people.  Leadership is exhausting if you opt for total control vs working with it.

As I lead entrepreneurs and their leadership teams through a process to build a strategy and culture focused on performance – I have to stand back and let them work through the change, learn what works for them, and struggle with growing up as a team.  They have to delegate the work that will allow them to lead more effectively.  I have to be patient and persistent.  If either of us tries to do too much for others, it will exhaust us and the effort will not be successful.

In my work as a coach – If I go into a coaching session trying to guess the answers ahead of time and force knowledge into my coachee – it is exhausting.  When I go in with the intent of being present and working through the process of coaching with a coachee, they leave with the strength of conviction and ownership, and I leave amazed at the work that gets done when I am present and allow space for exploration.

As a parent of teenagers – If I go into conversations armed with the intent that I will convince them they are wrong and I am right, it usually ends with tears and loud voices.  If I am patient and work on listening and drawing out what is on their mind and gather their reflections on the event, it does not alway end in a hug with music playing in the background, but it generally ends with energy in reserve for us to work on the next challenge or to celebrate the next victory.

Kid, you have to let the jackhammer do the work.  Leader, you have to let your people do the work.

Coach/Leader, you have to listen well and draw out the reality and possibilities from your partners in performance.

Dad, you have to let your daughter grow up a little, and feel loved on their journey.

Friend, sometimes you just have to sit there and listen, because you can’t cure the cancer, fix the marriage, or bring their child back to life.

What are you challenged with today that you have to learn to let the jackhammer do the work?

Lead well – in whatever role you take on today.

Do What You Love

Do What You Love

When I am bored with TV and having hundreds of channels with nothing to watch, I fire up the AppleTV and go to Vimeo.  That habit has given me  two videos that I think about often – one for a guy now called Slomo and another chronicling the challenges of Formula 1 driver Alex Zanardi.  I can remember watching each and just smiling.  It was a smile not based on something being funny (although Slomo reminded me of a friend of mine), but more on the fact that two individuals made a choice to chart a different future – one on their own and one because circumstances forced a change.  It was a smile celebrating a choice made and the inspirational story that resulted.

A foundation of professional development at any level is based on a similar choice.  It is hard to see that choice when we dislike our boss, worry about the debt that needs a paycheck to support it, or are scared of not having a keycard to enter the building you have been going to for a decade.  It is also hard when like our team or the praise that comes from having the same customers that know us and love us.  I preach the lines great conversations start with a question and when we have honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions, the result is improved performance.  Three questions that come to mind when I think of these videos are:

  • What are my choices?
  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • What matters to me?

Here is a link to my 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance – and the number one is Own It.  If you know someone (or maybe someone that works for you) struggling with their next step, please pass this on.  The caveat I am adding is that most Own It outcomes don’t mean rollerblades on the strand in LA.  More often it means some different projects, a bigger smile at work, or finding more balance between work and life outside of work.  I call these pivots, and whether big or small, they all start at the same point – ownership.

Living into choice is simple, but rarely easy.

Do What You Love.

 

Listen Well

I follow several thought leaders and information sources, and there are only a couple I read >90% of the time.  Seth Godin is one.

His post today was very simple:  Two ways to listen

You can listen to what people say, sure.

But you will be far more effective if you listen to what people do.

I have been working with a career transition program called Shifting Gears, that helps mid/late career professionals make successful career transitions.  Many come because they have been out of work for >6 months.   One of the most important part of the program is captured by changing Seth’s words around a little.  I would say:

Others can listen to what you say, sure.

But the relationships you build will be defined by your actions.

Others are listening, and instead of worrying about how you are perceived, focus on how you live into the words you speak.

I remember one conversation in Shifting Gears that happened as our day began, and the individual was angry, frustrated, and seeing all the barriers (plus making a few up) between themselves and work.  Two hours later, they had moved past the barriers, and were optimistic and doing the work of finding work.  In listening to their actions, it became clear that they were developing  the capacity to get knocked down, and to get back up.  I saw them do this multiple times, and each time they came to apologize to me for being so stuck and negative – – I shared with them what I saw.

“Being stuck is part of any journey, and telling me about it is fine.  My job is to just listen sometimes.  What I respect and admire is that you made the choice not to stay there.  Keep doing that and you will be fine, and the world will get a gift when you are back working.”

Seth is right, and we will be far more effective as spouses, parents, professionals, friends, and leaders if we use that lens on ourselves before we use it on others.

Listen well.

 

An Open Door is not enough – How about an Open Ears policy?

Early on in my own entrepreneurial journey a client asked if I read Inc. Magazine. When I said no and listed the other, more traditional publications, he just replied “If you are going to be an entrepreneur you need to read Inc.”. I listened, and it continues to give me things every month that help me develop.open ears

This month Jason Fried (co-founder of 37signals – Basecamp) makes the case that if your door is open as a leader, it does not mean they are lining up to come in. The article reminds me of a phenomenon I continue to see in workplaces – people are reluctant to bother their leaders.

Here are three excuses(direct quotes!) I have heard from people why they don’t go in:

  • “They are always so busy, I don’t want to bother them.”
  • “If I take them my problem, they will try and fix it.”
  • “I don’t want to look like I can’t do my job.”

When we went virtual with our teams and our time, we forgot to change our terms. Open office is outdated and irrelevant as a concept, because the virtual world has made it insignificant. Here are two habits and two questions to help you translate an open door policy to an open ears policy.

  1. Habit: 20 minute One on Ones 1-2x per month (see my guidelines and template if you want to learn more about this one).
  2. Habit: Eat lunch with your team 2x per month.
  3. Q: What is the dumbest things you are working on? (thanks Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com for this, INC. Nov 2013)
  4. Q: (for one on one) What things should I Keep doing? Start doing? Stop doing?

Do you have any to add?

Talent management is about great conversations, and it does not start with an open door anymore, it starts with our presence and open ears.  The challenge for followers is to have the courage to step into that open ears space and take advantage of the opportunity.  The challenge for leaders is to slow down and actually listen – really listen – and do something with what you hear.  Here is your big risk:  You can fake an open door policy – you can’t fake an open ears policy.

Here are some templates to help you listen better and make open ears work.

Note: Rework by Jason Fried is in my Library/Resource Center.  I also added a few more great reads this month:  The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey and Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard,  Leadership and Self Deception.

Ingredient #1: Owning your development

The career conversation is a tricky one.  After all, the organization provides you a check for doing your job today, and talking about tomorrow is not often on the radar of the leader because they have lots to worry about.  I have a 30-30-40 philosophy on talent conversations (30 past, 30 present, and 40 future).  The 40 is there to pull us into the future of our business and our own career so we can be intentional about preparing for it.  The reality, while it is nice for organizations and leaders to support that conversation, it is ours to own.

I am preparing to have a conversation with a group at a conference around the topic of owning your career, and the first point is simply that – decide that it is yours.  The supporting point is without being angry that someone is not taking care of you.

Too often I see people approach ownership with a caveat.  I will own it . . . .

  • Caveat 1 –  . . . if I have to.
  • Caveat 2 –  . . . since my leader does not care.
  • Caveat 3 – . . . since we all know I am just a number to this company and my job could be gone tomorrow.
  • Caveat 4 – . . . but I am still angry about the last leader who failed to see my gifts and contributions in my last job.

A critical ingredient to successfully navigating personal change lies in our perspective.  After spending a year facilitating a career transitions program called Shifting Gears I have seen ownership with and without caveats.  When we bring in unfinished business (what William Bridges refers to as endings in his book Transitions) it sabotages the effort and will block that path to success.  When our endings/caveats are gone, the personal transformations are nothing short of amazing.  I love seeing those stories unfold.

So when you commit to owning your career, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Why am I doing this? (5-10 bullets)
  • What are the things I expect to get out of it?
  • How do I feel about what I have to do?
  • What help do I need and from who?

Leverage a close friend to proof your answers for caveats / unfinished endings.

If you are a leader, it is not your job to do this work for your people, but it is your job to support it.  Support is often just about listening.

Perspective shifting resources

It is hard to shift our perspective on our own.  I recommend a few of books in my libraryLinchPin by Seth Godin, Mastery by George Leonard, or Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer are all books that help paint a picture of ownership that might help you make a healthy shift to ownership without baggage.

One video I have used in training to help people see the power of perspective is Celebrate What’s Right With The World by DeWitt Jones.  It does an amazing job of painting a picture of how perspective changes everything.  It is 20 minutes well spent.