The ONE key to performance

What is the single greatest impact on my performance?

A fairly simple question, and yet the answer tells the story about what needs to change to get things done.

The answer:  ME

My attitude.  My resilience through change.  My courage to be honest with myself and others when the work does not align with my heart. My willingness to ask for help.

In an era where our leaders, our companies, our world change more often than they ever have in history – who owns what I get done today becomes critically important.

Change gives us a reason the right things might not be happening, our first job is to not allow it to become an excuse.

When we own it – our situation looks different.

When we own it and readily ask for help/wisdom/guidance – teams have a chance to develop.

When we own it, ask for help, and our teammates come to our aid – teams have a chance to become healthy teams.

When we say thank you and bring in pizza/donuts/apples to celebrate teamwork – healthy teams can evolve into friendships.

And it all starts with ME.

Go own it – – or not.  It is your choice.

(fyi – here is a whitepaper I created with 5 Tips to help individuals manage their performance.)

Empathy: 3 Things Leaders Can Do to Develop It

Seth Godin recently published a post on empathy – and it starts with the observation that Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, “why did they do what they did?”  He goes on to share that if we really honest with ourselves, the answer to that question is rarely because they are stupid.

Simple advice, but in the world of business people doing the right things immediately impact our businesses, and often more importantly – when we get to go home at night or how much we can actually relax when we are on vacation.  Developing empathy is hard in these situations because we start in a frustrated place where the only questions on our mind are What were you thinking? or Why do I always have to fix this for you?.  These questions create fear and cause people to hide, and empathy does not reside in that place.

The thing is, empathy is a cornerstone for developing the talent in others, because when we do the work to see the things through their eyes helps to drive the conversation – What can we do together to close the performance gap that we both see?.  Asking and listening ultimately leads to the barriers others see that are getting in the way of the work.  Do you hear empathy in that statement?

Here are three things any leader can do to build empathy:

1.  Read – One thing I recommend for women and men is a book series call For Men Only/For Women Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn.  It was designed for couples to read about the perspective of the opposite sex, and I guarantee it will drive conversations and ah ha moments for both men and women.  Any book that gives you a perspective into a culture or person will create opportunities to develop empathy.  Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg was a book that did that for me this summer.

2. Do their job – In his book Rework, Jason Fried (founder of BaseCamp/37Signals) encourages entrepreneurs to do key jobs for 3 months before hiring people.  His reason is that it will give you an opportunity to know the work and challenges intimately so when you hire you find the right person and you know how to support them. Do you hear empathy in that statement?

3. Ask them – In my one-on-one templatesI share questions to help leaders start and end their time by listening.  Great conversations start with a question.  These questions are designed to hear someone else’s perspective on truth.  Remember, in performance situations the truth has multiple perspectives.

    • Recent successes and failures (to celebrate)?
    • What is energizing you right now?
    • What is frustrating you right now?
    • What is one thing that needs to be addressed by me? This organization?
    • How have I made your job harder in the last 30 days?

If we make the assumption that people want to tell the truth and we create a safe place to do that, empathy will happen when we really listen to the answer and learn how/when to act to support them.  Some things (many things) we cannot fix, but we can listen.

Listen . . . Lead.  Repeat often.

Failure 101 – The Movie Is Better Than The Book

One of my favorite TED talks is Connected, but alone? by Sherry Turkle.  It is significant because it brings research behind my belief that social media DOES NOT replace talking in building healthy relationships, and that is a significant concept as Millenials, Gen X, Boomers, and any other groups continue to form teams and work together.  We already made the label/assumption mistake in the diversity conversation, and I see the world repeating that mistake with technology and generations working together.

I was so excited about the video I bought the book (Alone Together) and it has been painful to read.  One word for the book – Terrible.

So do I dismiss the video and reframe my view of Sherry Turkle?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  Failure in one form of art does not mean a voice should be dismissed.  Ten years ago I worried about failure as a career derailer, then I joined an entrepreneurial organization and realized failing fast and moving on was the measure in this world.

It still hurts to suck sometimes.  Failure is painful, regardless of the external smile people put on.  The choice is to wear the failure as a weight or as wisdom for the next opportunity.

Remember leaders – you play a significant role in helping your people with this choice.  How do you use failure with your team?

As a test:  Next meeting brainstorm around the biggest personal/team failures of the past quarter – and end with a conversation about What did I/we learn? and What will we do differently in the next 3 months because of it?  Your teams ability to do this will give you your answer on how you lead through failure/mistakes.

3 Tips for Doing Leadership Development Better Than Your Competitors

I was with a leadership team of a high growth/dynamic company yesterday. One target they put on their Rock list was developing their future leaders. They inherently understand a couple of things:  *Rock = high priority/commitment item from my strategic planning process

  1. Developing future leaders means intentionally devoting effort to it.
  2. A constraint to doing this well IS NOT money. Time and/or focus are their real constraints.
  3. As an Inc 5000 company – their company is their best classroom.

I have done a past trUTips on this very topic.  It is actually a very simple process, and yet not that easy because there is so much you can do with it.  While this trUTips is a recipe to structure a great program, there are some details that will differentiate you. Here are three additional tips to making it great:

  1. Focus on selection(with executive team) – Use your values and three conversations with your leadership team to select the right people.
    • First conversation:  What are the criteria we will use to select our leaders?  (Focus more on attitude than aptitude)
    • Second conversation:  Finalize criteria and take first pass at the people who stand out.  At the end ask questions like:  How can we make this group more diverse?  What questions do I still have about each person that I need to work on finding an answer to before I can cast my vote?
    • Third conversation:  Vote for the final candidates.  Pick a threshhold for the number and create a list of why we picked you for each person.
  2.  Make the first phase a 12 month commitment, and begin by asking each person if they would be interested (share list from Step 1-Third Conversation).
  3. Make the first step a learning about myself (assessment based) and learning about what will be asked of me as part of the program. (there is an opt out option at the end of this step with no negative impact.

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin says:

Telling people leadership is important is one thing.  Showing them step by step precisely how to be a leader is impossible.

He goes on to say:

The alternative is to draw a map and lead.

Make sure your leadership development effort puts people to work on real problems(and make real mistakes), gives them feedback and support, and challenges them to always be learning.

It is that simple – so make it a Rock and get 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.

 

Leadership as a Buffer

Leadership as a Buffer

My job was to be a buffer between the media, the president, and all the other parties so General Schwarzkopf could do his job.”

I saw General Colin Powell speak last night, and this is the comment he made when asked about his relationship with Stormin Norman.  It made me think about situations I hear about and have experienced before, especially as I try and streamline decision making in high growth companies and help leaders create processes that support decentralized decision making and yet still help the organization effectively balance priorities.

I often here the word politics or territory in conversations about how work gets done.  One of my goals when working with clients around the EOS process is helping them lead more effectively by NOT making all the decisions, and yet giving up some instant access to everyone in the company.  You see – no matter what size the company, when the CEO comes in and says something most people will take anything they say as a ‘to do’ and drop everything.  I think back to a CEO’s surprise that his suggested reading list had become a must do item for new leaders and totaled 2,461 pages.  When executives speak, whether it is an order or a suggestion, it either becomes a deliverable or a source of extreme frustration for people who won’t object .  In my experience a majority of the time it becomes both.

It is hard to have an open and honest conversation between the top and bottom of the organization, and yet it is critical to figure out a way to make it happen.

  • What if we asked other leaders to talk to us before talking to our people not because we wanted to protect our people/agenda, but because we wanted to be a buffer so we could help our team re-prioritize work when needed?
  • What if we did it because we had an amazing performer that was a hot head, and being a buffer allowed us to work with them on not swearing when they get frustrated – and it was okay if they made a few mistakes with us for now?
  • What if we did it because you wanted to make sure our people knew how to constructively share their opinions with executives, and being a buffer gave us a chance to coach them on speaking up?
  • What if you had one of these three reasons above AND you shared them with your peers up front so they did not see your actions as SILO Building but TALENT Building?  It might also put you in a position to support their development on listening more effectively and clearly communicating the WHY behind their requests.

There are lots of reasons to respect and admire Colin Powell, and my 90 minutes with him last night certainly reinforced that.  He is definitely a leader worth listening to.

If you want to go fast, go alone . . .

If you want to go fast, go alone . . .

If you want to go FAST, go Alone.

If you want to go FAR, go Together.

go fast go far image

As a leader, have you ever wondered “Why can’t people do what I tell them?” or made the statement “I will just do it myself.”  I once wrote a trUTips to talk about moving past that to become a more effective and healthy person/leader.  Alone in leadership is not ‘without’ people, it is more just about leveraging the talent/resources around me to just do my work in the way I want it done.  From the outside, it looks more like dependence and less like a true team or relationship.

Going alone as a leader means adopting a method of leading where your ideas always trump others.

Going alone as a leader means having meetings where information is exchanged but nobody solves any problems together – after all, working alone as a leader means creating a culture where that is the norm.

Going alone means running into an invisible barrier repeatedly that serves as a cap to your business.

Alone is one way to do it, but it becomes just that – Lonely.

In a tool I use to help leaders and teams move past Alone towards really working together.

The fundamentals are simple, and yet hard.

  1. Start with asking the fundamental questions – “What are the roles we need to grow?” and “Who is willing, able, and capable of doing those roles?”
  2. The second piece is creating a vision for the next 90 days by establishing the BIG priorities for the organization – or ROCKS.
  3. Finally, commit to meeting weekly to connect, prioritize the work, solve problems together, and support each other in the work.

That is together, and to go FAR past where you want it is about learning to work together first (gain Traction) then defining FAR together (Strategic Plan) and learning to lead towards that point.

Leaders can go alone if they want, but that is not really leadership.  Look around – which part of this quote describes your team?

Writing More Effective Goals – Some tools that will help

The most important part of professional development is writing the goals.  We can talk about it, we can get excited about attending a great class or program, but in the end what we do with what we have learned is the ROI!  Sure it takes support, maybe some coaching, but it has to start with defining a target we can focus on.  The goals and action plan are critical.

I was leading a book study with a group of entrepreneurial leaders, and as usual one of the conversations we had inspired me.  Also, as usual I had about 15 minutes to share some tips I have learned around writing goals and it was not enough.  So I wrote an article on LinkedIn titled Leaders – Write Better Goals for Yourself: 3 Critical Mistakes And How to Fix Them.   If you are at or near evaluation time for yourself or delivering evaluations for others, take a look.  My goal, as always, is to equip leaders with the tools they need to have more impactful conversations around growth and development.

Could you share it with your LinkedIn community?  Thanks for the help in starting a conversation around this.

Also – Here is a worksheet I use with clients to help them write better goals as they go through their own evaluation/development

 

What do I do?

I connect students to parents and grandparents.

What do you think the person who made that statement does as a chosen profession?

Lt. Col. Paul Scheidler has served our country for over 20 years, has served multiple deployments in the Middle East, and has been awarded the bronze star.  Oh, and he also happens to be an American History Teacher at Heartland High School in  Hartland, Michigan.  The DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) in Michigan recognized him as the 2015 Outstanding American History Teacher.

We have a choice each day to do our job or to make our work about our purpose, cause or passion.  It is always a choice.

It was a treat to be in the same room and feel the magnetic pull of the purpose that oozed out of Lt. Col./Mr. Scheidler.  I bet his students feel the same way.

Your job does not matter as much as the reason you do it.  What is your reason?  Just ask your teammates – I am sure they know.

Leadership and EGO: Words of Wisdom from Alan Mulally

Below is an excerpt from Eric Schurenberg’s column in the March 2015 edition of Inc. Magazine.  He is the editor.  I also think Inc. is the best source of leadership advice for entrepreneurial minded leaders.  Here is the full post.

. . . ideas alone don’t build companies.  Building takes leadership, and leadership takes continuous, counterintuitive, ego-minimizing work.  That was one lesson I took from a recent half-day meeting led by Alan Mulally, retired CEO of Ford and Boeing. . . . . “Keep reminding yourself,” he kept reminding the room, “it’s not about you.”  It’s about the plan.  The leader’s job is to ensure that the team has a compelling vision; to help everyone understand the strategy for realizing that vision; and to see that everyone is working together to implement the plan.  When teams truly need to mesh, it doesn’t matter whether you were once the world’s best coder or salesperson or idea man.  Your job is now facilitator.  Behavior matters. . . . what was allowed at Boeing and Ford: admitting problems and asking for help.  What was not: texting in meetings, finger-pointing, putdowns, or anything else that interfered with a sense of shared effort. “Working together works,” says Mulally.  “Smart people working together always works.”

In my second chapter of my book(People-Centered Performance) I talk about the OBN leader – the one who knows what they OUGHT to do, BUT they DON’T.  Mulally’s gives some practical advice for fighting the OBN trap.