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 . . .

Career Plans – Your Best People Should Have One; Here is How

I was leading a succession planning process with a group of nursing managers. The goal of the process was to identify future supervisors and managers from the current staff and create a process to develop them, monitoring their progress so they would be ready for a leadership role in 1 to 5 years.

Part way through the process, an epiphany happened for one of the managers. After talking about identifying people who were hungry for learning and taking on more responsibility, she said “I just realized that my most skilled nurses, the ones who have been around the longest, are not the people that will be leaders for me in a few years. They just want to do their job.”

The fact is, everyone should have a career plan – even if it is to stay in place and help solve bigger problems. But if you have limited time as a leader, your first focus has to be on the people who want more and are capable of doing more. Is this fair?  Based on the trUPerformance lens I use, I would say yes. A career plan takes guidance from you as a leader and extra effort/ownership from an individual, so asking that of someone is only fair if they are willing and have the capacity to do it. It is built on a foundation of trust and truth.

These three questions are the foundation of truth for this conversation:

  1. Do you want more responsibility?
  2. Are you willing to take on the work?
  3. Do I believe you have the capacity to grow into the larger role?

The ability to answer these questions with the truth, and face-to-face, requires trust.

I have personally been through at least a half dozen processes, from multiple day assessments to formal outplacement services. When it is all said and done, here are the key pieces of information that any individual needs to document:

  1. Strengths (not just Talents, but what the individual has proven they do well)
  2. Weaknesses
  3. Achievements
  4. Short-term goals (6-12 months)
  5. Long-term goals (1-5 years)
  6. Current job responsibilities/accountabilities
  7. Development areas (1-3) to focus on and action plans

The process to do this is outlined in my whitepaper, Own It! 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance.  The trick for you as a leader? Being confident enough to put some extra work into identifying and engaging your best people in the conversation, and the skill to lead the conversation while delegating most of the work. Here is a link to the form to get you started.

If you need help getting started, it is just one click away – scott@thetrugroup.com.  This is a great time of year to have this conversation – it will feed into a few New Year’s Resolutions that will make your business more successful and help you tackle some of the problems that are making your job harder.

4 Books to Improve Leadership Conversations

4 Books to Improve Leadership Conversations

It is very common for leaders to have difficulty connecting with their people. But effective people-centered leadership relies upon effective conversations.

There are resources that can help; here are my top 4 book recommendations to help improve these leadership conversations, specifically the one-to-one, for you or someone you know.

I also have a library of free resources and templates to help get you started.

Johari Window and Leadership Development – 4 Ways to Increase Self Awareness

Every time I share the Johari Window with a group of leaders, I am amazed at the impact it has on their view of the conversations they have with their team.

Then I think of the group of 24 leaders that I took through a four-day leadership development program last summer; at the end, 13 of those leaders committed to focus on asking more powerful questions. I need to stop being surprised because the leaders I meet want to be people-centered leaders, they just don’t know how.

I believe most leaders want to be people-centered leaders, and when given the tools and some feedback (to indicate their effectiveness in doing it) they opt to become more effective listeners. The Johari Window is a great lens for leaders to think about their interactions and for people to see what their leaders are trying to accomplish. At the core of an honest conversation is clarity around both the actions we are taking and the intentions of those actions, which is fertile ground for feedback and developing our self-awareness and ability to lead.

Here are the 4 tips I have added to help leaders see the key activities that develop their self-awareness:

  1. Experience – The best way to learn about leadership and work on how you balance telling, asking, and listening is to do it. If you are intentional about it, you will learn a lot about yourself, and your team will help you get better.
  2. Personality Inventories – These provide a great lens into your BLIND SPOTS and help you formalize how you talk about your own strengths and weaknesses. I focus on transition points, so I use the Birkman Method assessment because of the language it presents around needs and stress behaviors. This provides great feedback for things the leader can share (revealing the HIDDEN) and things they did not see (BLIND SPOT).
  3. 360 Feedback – Sometimes this is just asking people some key questions routinely or finding an outside resource to do a survey of key people. The whole intent is to bring things into the open, by confirming something the leader already thought was in the OPEN area, or revealing a BLIND SPOT.
  4. Coaching – This is the most common way for executive leaders to create an individualized development plan and work on the personal change necessary to make it happen. Coaches provide perspective, access to additional resources/learning, and ask the questions that allow for self-reflection, personal growth, and focused action.

Here is a handout that includes 4 additional introspective tips for moving things into the OPEN area.

Use the Johari Window as a lens to help you ask more powerful questions of yourself and your team. That is what is at the core of people-centered leadership.

If you want a deeper dive, here are two short videos (video 1 / video 2) that introduce the topic and give you tangible advice on what you can do now to be a more people-centered leader.

3 Questions to Shift Perspective on Performance Gaps

3 Questions to Shift Perspective on Performance Gaps

Too often we see performance gaps as things that should be hidden or apologized for. Our narrative around these events contains adjectives like poor or disappointing, which only makes us want to escape them more. Then you start trying to hide what you see as the truth, which too often results in a series of moves where your ego shows up too much or too little to others. It does not take a Psychology major to spot someone who is not comfortable in their work – we just have to listen to the story they are telling.

Then you find a person or place where gaps are accepted, and more energy is put into talking about them, learning from them, and working together to close them in your business and your personal life. At the Inc 5000 conference last week, I interacted with 5 start-up leaders, and while each story contained big challenges that worried them, it also contained things like pride, resourcefulness, teamwork, hope, and perseverance. They were not trying to cover anything; they were just sharing.

It never ceases to amaze me what energy comes from choosing a more hope-filled narrative. If you are a leader, you can shape this with the questions you ask.

Three I love are:

  • What is energizing you right now?
  • What is frustrating you right now?
  • What are you learning today?

People need a place to vent. We also need to create equal amounts of space to dream and reflect so we can learn and plan. We can use words like failure, and when they are used with words like learning and growth our story is fundamentally changed. People-centered leaders create this space and invite people in – and those that value that involvement #ownit.

To learn more about my philosophy on Performance Gaps – take a look at my new whitepaper.

 

 

Powerful Questions

Powerful Questions

Great conversations start with a question.  This is one of my core beliefs.

I spent four days this past month delivering a customized leadership development program to twenty-five leaders – in their final checkout one-third of the leaders shared a commitment to asking more powerful questions.  As leaders, they realized they had limits to what they could accomplish without help.  After being challenged to get their teams more aligned and engaged in the goals for their group, it became clear that asking questions is a critical first step.  It was great to see them own it.

The difference between a question and a powerful question is in what it produces.  Powerful questions produce thinking, feeling, and ultimately sharing that makes the conversation meaningful and helpful to both people who are engaged in it.  Powerful questions reframe our perspective on an event so we see it in a more significant way.  Here are some examples:

  • Question: How was your day?  Powerful question:  What was the best part of your day?
  • Question:  What are you working on right now?   Powerful question:  What are your top 2 priorities to complete this week?
  • Question:  How would you like to spend our time today?    Powerful question:  What 2 things do you want to make sure we cover today?
  • Question:  What did you think of the book?   Powerful question:  What is one thing you plan to do differently based on what you read?
  • Question:  What went wrong?   Powerful question:  What was your role in the outcome?

To achieve mastery at asking powerful questions, it is important to create scripts that help ensure they get asked in the time you devote to your people.  Let’s face it, we get weary sometimes and when we do our conversations become shorter and shallower.  We miss opportunities to really listen as leaders, so scripting helps create more moments where powerful questions get asked.  Here are four that I put into my one-on-one template:

  1. Recent successes and failures (to celebrate)?
  2. What is energizing you right now?
  3. What is frustrating you right now?
  4. What do you want to make sure we cover in our time today?

What meeting do you have in the next 24 hours that needs some powerful questions to be asked?

Remember – Great conversations start with a question . . . . think of how much greater it could be if it started with a powerful question.

If you want to explore some other ways to work questions into your conversations with your people many of my templates have questions included. Here is the link to some free talent management templates.

Wait Not – Waste Not

Wait Not – Waste Not

I attended a leadership team meeting for a company that started 15 minutes late.   Half the team was there on time and the ninety minute meeting ended up taking two hours.  The team laughed about it, and yet during the meeting they spent a considerable amount of time talking about waste around spending and labor costs.   The leaders all scampered off talking about the meetings they were now 30 minutes late to.

In the age of lean thinking waste has become a focus.  While the focus is often financial and physical waste, the waste to our organization of waiting is often overlooked.  Think about the impact of waiting on your organization and the opportunity generate waste in the minds of the people around you.  Ever thought this?

  • John is late again, his department must still be a mess. Is he the right leader?
  • Well, if the boss does not view this as important why should I?
  • We can’t make a decision until she arrives – another example of her micromanaging style.
  • All I can think about is being late to my 2pm stand-up with my team – I would vote for any solution now so I can leave.
  • If I share my opinion it will just make this meeting longer.
  • Just another reason why we should only meet once a month.

While it might seem counter intuitive, the biggest part of an effective strategy is building the discipline to meet weekly and manage all the change that is associated with a short term (90 day) goal.  One reason the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) focuses on starting and ending every meeting on time is to harness and focus the energy of everyone on the needs of the people and the business.  Think about “start and end on time” as is not as a military leadership philosophy, but the commitment to being a team that values the person next to them above all else.

No hugs needed.  Just be on time.

Simple but not Easy

Simple but not Easy

Simple doesn’t always mean easy.

Seth Godin shared this wisdom on February 28th, 2011 and I printed the post and hand it out every time I start an EOS strategic planning for an organization.

The reality, when we face decision points as leaders Simple but not Easy means – My options are clear, and . . . .

    1. I have never done what is being asked of me and asking for help seems weak, so I will think a little more
    2. I am a leader and it is important to be right so I need to think about it some more
    3. I wish there were one where the people, the business, and our customers all won
    4. My Strengthfinder talent is analytical, so I will keep using it and then switch to reason #2
    5. I am just plain scared of what I have to do

Simple blurs the resistance that keeps us from moving forward.  Seth calls it Shipping. Simple makes us feel like ‘I just need to figure this out.’ We move by the resistance by speaking the truth and using it to gain the support that will help us ship.

I sat with a leader recently that shared a story about a difficult conversation they had just had with an employee that was not performing and it was too important of a job to allow it to continue.  The employee agreed with the non-performance, and it looks like they will probably leave in the next 30 days or be let go.  Simple.  This conversation has been evolving for 12 months.  Not Easy.

Simple doesn’t mean easy.

Choose to ship. Encourage and support others to make the same choice.

trUTip – QuickTip:  Want to explore the concept of resistance?  Check out this video by the author of Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson.  I also like the book.

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.

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.