Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

We are all too busy.

Do you believe that? I see too many leaders struggling with this feeling, and with the health effects that all too often follow this constant state of being.

At this moment, 20+ leaders from my EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) clients are doing a 6-week challenge to develop or reinforce the habit of taking one hour every week to spend time in what Stephen Covey called ‘sharpening the saw’. Gino Wickman calls it a ‘clarity break’™, and like many of the leaders I coach, I have struggled to establish the habit. I believe it is important, and currently I have two straight weeks of clarity breaks going, so here are two tips that have helped me:

  1. I created a template to make it easy to focus on the most important questions I need to answer each week and the work I need to review.
  2. The place is important. I live near Lake Michigan, and have found that a short drive to the water and sitting in my car helps me detach from my work. The picture you see here is the view that I have. My desk and coffee shops did not work for me.

Clarity breaks don’t fix being too busy, but the impact is to help you see your priorities more clearly so that the time you have will be focused on them. (FYI – check out my LinkedIn article about 3 Things Leaders Should Stop Saying in 2018 – “I don’t have enough time” is one.)

I am thinking of doing a broader Clarity Break Challenge in a few months for all of the readers of this blog and I am open to allowing each of you to invite people from your company. If you have interest in learning more, sign up here; if you would like to explore doing a challenge with leaders/individuals within your company indicate that in the note space. I would be glad to explore the possibility of kicking it off with a webinar or lunch and learn to help jumpstart their success.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

I had a clarity issue in my recent trip to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We only spoke English and all the people we met only spoke Italian. In hindsight, the celebratory dance I did when we were able to get the grocery store owner to realize we were looking for eggs (fyi: uovo in Italian) would probably be embarrassing if it was released to YouTube.

It is impossible to have clarity if we speak different languages, and the irony is each day we go to work and find places where clarity issues exist between people who speak the SAME base language. Some examples:

  • Engineering talking to sales
  • Leadership reporting financials to everyone
  • Accounting communicating to anyone

We have all experienced it, and the irony is that it is always the other person’s fault. One of the reasons every leadership program has a piece on communication styles – using a tool like DiSC or BEST – is because we need a lens to see these moments differently so we can step back and ask, “What can I do to communicate more effectively?”

The place I encourage you to start is with your words. For leaders, I see a huge opportunity to standardize how you talk about the priorities in your business.

I use a methodology called EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) with my clients for strategic planning. It is very clear around setting terms for priorities and commitments we make:

  • To Do: less than 7 days to complete (single owner)
  • Rocks: less than 90 days to complete (single owner)
  • Goals: 1 year to complete (owner is leadership team, or whatever team commits to doing it)

Even with these terms defined, leaders still come back and talk about goals the team set for this quarter or tactics for 2017. It is a simple concept, and yet not that easy to do.

Here are two tips for creating clarity around your plan and priorities:

  1. Commit to the same language: I can help you start this with my ebook Demystifying Strategic Planning (free on Kindle). This simple step will have a huge impact on your ability to create clarity at all levels of your organization. Also, remember that things have to be communicated 7 times before they are retained – so the roll-out is a journey, and not just an email or single all-employee meeting.
  2. Write things down on a single page: The spoken word does not create clarity. The written word does not, by itself, create clarity. But writing it down will help drive a more productive clarity conversation so you will get there faster.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

As leaders, we all have moments when decisions must be made that cannot be fully explained to the organization. Sometimes even your team has to be kept in the dark as to the full truth. Some of these moments include:

  • Firing someone for criminal acts at work
  • Reducing your team by 10%, including the two nicest and most liked people in the department
  • Asking an under-performing and extremely good person to resign in 45 days
  • Negotiating a sale of the company
  • Reassigning a leader due to allegations for certain behavior
  • Firing an executive for performance issues

I remember a conversation with a leader about the impact of one of these big decisions, on both his people and the trust within his team. He had just let someone go and nobody could know the truth. It was immediate, and it was explained by a vague email. I shared with him a perspective I learned in watching trust shifts after these BIG events: in my experience, these events did not alter the trust level because it was the thousand decisions we had made up to the event that made forgiveness easier.  Trust was kind of like a bank account. If the deposits had been made along the way, then the effects of the one big withdrawal were minimal.

Leaders make these little deposits when they:

  1. Tell people the real business numbers when sales records are hit and missed
  2. Publicly apologize for a bad decision that made life harder
  3. Show up at potlucks
  4. Go to funerals, weddings, and other big events in people’s lives
  5. Send a note after seeing someone’s child recognized in the paper
  6. Ask questions about family – and remember their names
  7. Have monthly breakfasts with people where any question is answered
  8. Answer emails from employees that send questions
  9. Embrace policies that make a positive impact on the lives of people

The good news? Big events don’t happen that often. The better news? They will pass faster if you spend the time between them being open and honest with your people, and practicing some of the habits mentioned above.

Just remember – focus each day on telling and hearing the TRUth and building/giving TRUst.

For EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) leaders, at your next clarity break tally all the ‘deposits’ you made this week and pick one thing you can do tomorrow to make a deposit.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often.

Communication: One reality and three healthy habits

Communication: One reality and three healthy habits

Great conversations start with a question.  Let’s have one on communication.

  • How is the communication in your team?
  • How does your team feel about the flow of information?

In a recent post, Why Growing Past 20 Employees is so Damn Hard (and what you can do about it) by Eric Jorgenson, the author makes the point that a 10-person company can have 45 different 1:1 relationships while a 20-person company can have 190. Think about these numbers – we increase the size of the team by 100% and we increase the communication complexity by over 300%.

The reality of communication, especially for growing organizations, is that complexity grows exponentially as we add people to our team. Layer on top of that the complexity of building trust with new teammates and with you as the leader, and it might make you want to curl up in a ball in the corner.

People-centered leaders face realities like this and overcome them, because effective communication unleashes the talents and skills of people. The other opportunity is having help to do the work, solve the problems that arise everyday, and celebrate the successes that will inevitably happen. If leaders do this well, the health of the business will follow. The other truth is that these do not depend on your leadership style; they are leadership skills that can be learned.

Here are three healthy habits that will help achieve healthy growth using communication:

  • Company gatherings – Quarterly (monthly if you can): What are the key messages that have to be shared and the key questions bubbling through the organization which need to be answered by you? Make this a priority and NEVER cancel it! A best practice is to record it so everyone has a chance to see it.
  • Team gatherings – Weekly (direct reporting team): Review progress, revisit commitments from the last meeting, get aligned as a team, and solve the biggest problems facing the team. If you do these 4 things every week the teamwork and culture will thrive.
  • Individual meetings with your team – (One-on-Ones or 5-5-5™ if you are an EOS® company): I see too many executive teams ignore this because of their calendar, their ego (“I am an executive and don’t need the coddling”), or their fear of sharing they are scared and confused. People must need this, because it is the #1 download from my website.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

. . . and do your organization a favor by passing this on to a few peers and/or teams so you can critique your own performance at your next leadership meeting and fill in the gaps that exist in your own habits!

Notes:

The key to a long journey? Focus on the next town. (Thanks, Gary.)

Yesterday on my daily run with my golden-doodle, I ended up walking with a guy named Gary. We have passed each other on the trail for two years and never really spoken. Sometimes I realize it is time to walk and listen, and this was one of those moments.

As Gary told me about his journey across the 2000+ mile Appalachian Trail in 2008, I asked him this question (remember – great conversations start with a question):

“What is the trick to successfully completing the Appalachian Trail?”

Without much thought he answered,

“You just have to focus on the next town and not think about how far away Maine is.”

I thought of my EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System™) clients and how creating a vision for a company is critical, but establishing smaller goals and the disciplined execution of those goals is most critical.

Successful leaders learn to help their teams understand and stay focused on the next town. People-centered leaders invite their people into the process vs just sharing the goals.

Sometimes you just have to slow down and talk to the Gary’s you run into – they have a lot to share.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often.

3 Reasons Career Discussions Don’t Happen; 2.5 Steps to Start

3 Reasons Career Discussions Don’t Happen; 2.5 Steps to Start

I sat down with a leader to talk about succession, and her biggest concern was the age of two key people and the timing of their retirement. When I asked if she had initiated a conversation about their career plans, her answer was, “My lawyer told me not to because they could sue me for age discrimination.” When I asked what their counsel has told them they could do, she answered, “He never told me that.” I was tempted to ask if they had only paid half the standard hourly rate for that conversation, but held back.

This is not a post about age issues, but a conversation around the barriers I see in leaders around career conversations. The reality is there are risks in these conversations because plan <> promise, and yet having these conversations will make you stand out as a leader and will engage your best people even more.

Reason 1: Don’t know where to start (Ignorance) – When I lay out my proven process to leaders, you can see the tension release. They realize how simple it is and come to see their role as more guide/partner than a leader.

Reason 2: Bad past experience (Scared) – The example I shared above is a great example of scared. The other situation is a bad past experience with career plans because they were laid off in 2007-2009 and still see ‘keeping my job’ as a career goal. They are afraid to say it or assume that is what the answer is. One reason I start my own process with capturing strengths and successes is to energize people.

Reason 3: Too much other work (No time) – I received this from a leader, and when I asked, “How much of your time do you think this will take?” they started a list: meetings, having to fill out a bunch of forms, constantly monitor progress, schedule future meetings, and generally do lots of extra work. When I shared with them my process and their role of being present, asking questions, and giving the ownership to the individual, they were pleasantly surprised and this barrier disappeared. It is work, and the work is largely on the individual if it done correctly. Time is a concern, but it should not be a barrier.

In 2015, I wrote Own It! 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance. This stemmed from my experiences helping leaders become more people-centered, in which I noticed them struggling with some of the basic performance conversations with their people. Own It! was written to be handed to someone so they saw their role and each tip becomes a step in the conversation between leader and team member.

Step 1: Ask if it would be of value? If they say yes, hand them Own It! and Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself (Harvard Business Review) to read. If they say no, and you are okay that they have no plan, then focus your efforts on other people on your team.

Step 2: Have them pick the questions around long-term or short-term goals (p. 4 of Own It!). Make the first meeting about reviewing their answers. Ask questions to better understand their answers, and provide them with input on how those fit into some of the challenges you face as a leader and organization.

Step 2.5: Write down their answers and any goals/actions set because of the conversation; set a date to review them in 6-12 months. (Here is a template if you need one.) Around 80% of the time there will be some tangible things the individual can do, either start exploring their plan through gathering more information or actually doing work or start learning around a role they aspire to do.

One of my favorite quotes to frame this whole effort is:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song ~ Maya Angelou

 

How would it change your own journey if you saw your career plans as a song you wanted to sing instead of an answer you were trying to find/provide?

Go Own It!

My top blog posts on this topic:

 

Will you be my mentor? 4 Steps to make this effective.

Will you be my mentor? 4 Steps to make this effective.

I was talking to a group of graduate students and the question was asked, “What advice would you give to someone about finding a mentor?”

I asked the follow-up question, “How many of you have ever had a mentor?” 

Less than half of the hands went up. So I started at the beginning because, from my experience in working with learners of all ages, I knew most of them (even the ones with their hands up) were missing some key knowledge they needed to create a great mentoring experience.

Mentoring is a personal growth and development strategy where a mentor supports the mentee by sharing resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies.

 

The short version –

Mentoring is finding someone smarter than you and learning from them so you get smarter faster.

 

As I work with leaders of high growth companies, I encourage them to find people who have faced the same challenges they have faced and learn from them. I do this because as a consultant and coach, I need them to own their development and find people to help accelerate their development.

I believe that in growth transitions (double-digit growth or moving into a new leadership role), there is tremendous opportunity for growth and tremendous risk. Having a support team around you in those transitions that is focused on your development is critical. I am confident in what I can do as a coach or consultant, and I also know I cannot do it all. Encouraging mentors is my way of asking for help without eroding their confidence in me as a consultant and coach.

Here are the 4 Steps for creating a positive and productive mentoring experience:

  1. Identify what you are trying to learn or what problem you need help solving.
  2. Do some research: Who do you know that has the knowledge or experience that you are seeking?
  3. Determine who is the best fit and how long you think it will take to meet your objectives.
  4. Make the ask by reaching out (or being introduced); be ready to provide this information:
    • What input/expertise are you looking for?
    • Why are you asking them?
    • What is the time commitment? (guide is 1-2 hours a month for 3-6 months or until objectives are met)

Recently, I reached out to a friend who is about 10 years ahead of me in consulting. I am reaching a point where I need to run my business differently to continue the growth I have experienced in 2016. I followed these steps, we had two sessions, and I left with a pretty big assignment: analyze my time and use it to create filter on my work in 2017. In this way, I can focus on the most important things, find help for some things, and say no to other things.

My commitment was to follow up with her by the end of the year with my progress. In my experience of mentoring dozens of people, this follow-up is the #1 missed step. Remember, at the heart of every mentor is a desire to help. Follow-up lets them know how they helped and demonstrates our ability to follow-through on commitments. It is also a fundamental belief/value of my business:

Learning + Doing = Growth

 

Whether you are a leader charged with developing your team, an HR leader supporting questions around development, or an individual that is committed to mastery in what they do, mentoring is probably the most powerful and accessible tool to help achieve your outcomes.

Here is a document I share with coaching clients to help them build powerful and positive mentoring relationships.

Lead well . . .

My 7 Favorite Books for a Leadership Book Study

My 7 Favorite Books for a Leadership Book Study

Book study groups are an easy way to get leaders at all levels of your organization connecting and learning together.

One of my core beliefs is Learning + Doing = Growth, so I’ve also offered some tips on how to put this learning into action.

Here are my top 7 book recommendations, plus book study tips.

The ONE question leaders should answer hourly

The ONE question leaders should answer hourly

In the next week, I’ll be publishing a list of 5 books I recommend for leadership book clubs. A new addition is my favorite book this year: Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. Here is why.

I believe that great conversations start with a question. Marshall Goldsmith asks some great questions in his book Triggers.

Some of the best:

  1. What is the most memorable change you have made in your adult life?
  2. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  3. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals?
  4. Did I do my best to find meaning in my work?
  5. Did I do my best to be happy?
  6. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  7. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
  8. Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic? (called AIWATT for the rest of this post)

There are many reasons I love this book, and the main one is the author’s sharing of powerful questions that he has accumulated in his career as an executive coach. This post will focus on the significance of question #8, and how you can use it as a leader.

In a recent EOS quarterly, a leader shared a learning – “When we set goals, we need to make sure we set them so we can be excited about them and use that energy to complete them.” That is a powerful learning, and something that every leader needs to be thinking about when they accept a To Do or a Rock (quarterly goal). The AIWATT question is the action to ensure this happens.

Remember my 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance? The first tip is Own It, and it is my way of saying what Goldsmith does by posing this question to us. If you answer No to AIWATT, then some other conversations need to happen.

This brings me to a second belief I have – Leadership is about honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance. One of the powerful outcomes for me from Triggers is that, as a coach, I need to always be focusing on creating space that allows honesty to happen, because that is the hard part. In my experience, thoughtful action is the easier part.

Two myths that leaders need to remember:

  • We need to love 100% of our work. There is an eastern adage: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Here is an example: I don’t like confronting people I don’t know. However, as president of an all-volunteer athletic booster organization, one of my roles is to call volunteers who have made commitments and are not doing the work. It is my job and the team depends on my doing it – so I do it because I have to, and make sure I overbalance it with other tasks I enjoy doing.
  • We have to do 100% of our work. Delegating pieces of our work to others who have more talent/passion for that work is fine. Just don’t always pass on the hard conversations, and tell them why you are asking for their help – because they are better at it/more passionate about it.

Let me propose two actions:

  1. For EOS leaders: Teach the AIWATT philosophy. As you go through the To Do list, ask people to answer the AIWATT question with the caveat that if the answer is No they acknowledge who they will ask for help – or that I will Own It (and use those words). *Note: Make a note for anyone answering the latter, and follow-up with them one-on-one to do some micro-supporting.
  2. For individuals: Put an AIWATT on two post-it notes and stick one to your computer screen and one to your phone for a week. Ask yourself that question continuously during meetings, when you answer emails, and when you do any morning/evening quiet time. After a week, do 5 minutes of personal reflection with the question, “How did AIWATT impact my leadership this week? Of myself? Of others?” If this reveals something for you that you need to bounce off someone, just call me and we can do a 15-minute coaching session: 616-405-1018.

I believe . . . great conversations start with a question.

 

Leadership is . . . having honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance.

 

Lead well . . .

Hope as a leadership strategy: 4 keys and 2 questions to help build one

Hope as a leadership strategy: 4 keys and 2 questions to help build one

There is power in Hope, and yet it is something that does not come from the world as much as it used to. It is still something that comes from within us, and it is the hidden and critical piece of our ability to perform at our best.

Here are a few examples I have experienced:

  • Hope in a major personal transition

I experienced an unexpected job loss, and in the days that followed I learned about the difference between a good day and a bad day. On a good day, my personal outlook was captured in this formula: Hope > Fear + Anger + Hunger + Frustration + Loneliness + _______ + ________. I learned that in times of overwhelming change, our foundational outlook and strength (I called it YOUR ROCK in a keynote earlier this year) will be tested and defined. This is where our faith and social capital (friendships) will be tested.

  • Hope in developing your best people

When doing development plans for people, the best place to start is with something that will demonstrate their ability to get feedback and use it; 360° evaluations do that. I think of an organization that did this simple task with three high potentials (future leaders), in which two of them accepted the feedback and had a hope-ful discussion about how they could use it. The third was not ready, and spent most of her time on the threat and fear it created, not able to move past it.

  • Hope in leading

People expect leaders to be human in some ways, but not when it comes to managing stress and being hope-ful in the most difficult situations. Part of my work as a coach is providing a safe place to be honest and allow frustrations and fear to come out. When I coach, it is important to allow what has to come out to come out, and then ask the question – “What would be the one thing you want to focus on today in our time together?” It is a simple invitation to a hope-based problem solving session. Leaders need to learn how to balance reality and hope, and this gets modeled and practiced in every coaching session.

I read some wisdom recently from a hope expert, Dr. Anthony Scioli, who wrote a book based on his research – The Power of Hope.  He identified the four cornerstones of hope:

  1. Attachment – a feeling of connection and trust
  2. Mastery – a sense of empowerment and purpose
  3. Survival – the ability to manage our fears and generate multiple options
  4. Spirituality – faith in a religion or a set of life-defining values

Notice any common themes between my words and Dr. Scioli’s? It is no coincidence that the name of the process I use for career/development plans is simply called Journey to Mastery.

What are you doing as a leader to build and rebuild a hope-filled outlook for yourself? What are you doing as a leader to build and rebuild a hope-filled outlook for your team?

A client asked me to lead a sensitive conversation for them in the midst of some major change, and added, “You have such a great ability to make it safe to share difficult things and help us find solutions.” I thanked her, and thought back to my internal compass for selecting the clients that I work best with – passionate, hope-filled leaders that are over-challenged and under-supported.

What does your hope formula look like today?  Hope > ______ or Hope < ________?

What can you do to change the latter and maintain/build the former?  (Hint: See cornerstones above)

That is the foundation of a hope-filled leadership strategy.