Powerful Question For Leaders – What is within your control?

What is within your control?

As I talked to the leader he explained a very complex situation that included a hierarchical leadership structure, a workforce that had to stay, and a customer that often spoke up in frustration.  I listened for ten minutes and then asked a single question – What is within your control?  The first response was all the things he did not control – so I repeated myself.  What is within your control?  The next response was the feelings that were created by the whole situation, so I repeated myself with a twist – What part of this situation do you control?  His final response was a list of a couple of things that mattered and a great conversation ensued.

Great conversations start with a question.  Many conversations with leaders start with challenges, frustrations, and sometimes just pleasantries.  It is when we get to the place where we name our place in an issue and what we see as our goal/ownership that the conversation becomes great.  What makes it great is that we demonstrate our trust in the person/relationship by sharing our absolute version of the truth – regardless of the risk.  What also makes it great is that we can openly disagree as part of the conversation by allowing space for others to offer their truth.

I believe trust is a gift, and when someone around me is willing to share something that could be used to hurt them or could cause conflict with a teammate my first move is to be grateful they are willing to share.  The next step is to identify what needs to be done with the idea.  As leaders, recognize there are three reasons behind a powerful statement:

  1. Just needs to be said. (We just need to listen).
  2. It raises and issue/problem that needs to be solved.
  3. It raises the thought of a potential issue/problem that needs to be explored.

The challenge is that leaders are too often wired for #2 and #3 happens by accident because we choose to ignore it vs just parking it in a place that allows further inquiry or conversation.  And #1 – that is in the Husband 101 class that we all need to keep retaking. 🙂

Listen differently today.  What do you hear?  What is your natural response to truth being expressed?

 

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?

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.

3 Questions that help create a culture that SUPPORTS performance

3 Questions that help create a culture that SUPPORTS performance

As a coach and consultant, performance conversations tend to start with emotions and adjectives.  One of the challenges in gaining clarity is to have a conversation that gets down to the root cause, and it also means talking to both the frustrated leader and the individual. Here are the questions I ask:

  1. Do they/you know what is expected of you at work?  What are they?
  2. Do they/you have the tools and resources to do your job well?  (see question 3 for how to deep dive on the specifics)
  3. If Yes to both 1 and 2, do you feel you/they GWC the role.  (G = Get It,  W = Want It, C = Capacity to do it)  *GWC is from a strategic planning tool I use called EOS

 

I don’t look at creating a performance focused culture, because my experience has shown me that leaders take this path by starting with accountability and expecting work to get done.  I have learned through Denison, a partner company I use for surveys, and my own experience that it is important to focus on creating a culture that supports performance.  It aligns with my own belief that individuals own their performance and development, and the organization owns support.

When we start with defining the target together and supporting the work to get there (frequent one on ones, asking what they need, following through, repeating often), more often than not it ends in a trusting relationship where the important things can get talked about.  Leaders, this is your work in SUPPORTING performance through the culture you create.

When people ask you what they can do to help, tell them.  Beware of asking for the extremes – no help (because you are frustrated, angry at someone, or your EGO is on overdrive) or having them do everything.  Sales is a great example because of the frequent ups and downs in a challenging market.  When you are missing sales numbers – role playing, prioritizing your leads, reviewing your pipeline are all great support activities.  Maybe even asking some people to make some calls for you or leverage relationships they have in some of your maybe companies.

Support is a two way street, it has to be offered and it has to be accepted.  The times we get in life when it has to be forced are the tough times.  Just ask an adult child who has arranged assisted living or nursing home care for a parent.  If the point is reached where a leader feels they need to force assistance in getting work done (what individuals often call micro-managing) it is probably time for you to leave.

I know it is never that easy, but it is that simple.  If that outcome is not what you want, then start back at the beginning and make a commitment to change your half of the conversation.

 

 

Relationships or Performance?

When relationships matter, process trumps outcome

As leaders, we are measured largely by outcomes.  Did the work get done?  Was the margin there?  Yet there is a process that helps us achieve those outcomes that does call into question what we believe is most important?

In my work with growing companies I have learned to ask the question “What is your funding source – debt/cash flow, private equity, or venture capital?”  I can usually feel the difference, but ask just to make sure. When speed and growth/returns are so critical (latter two), then generally outcome trumps process.

Your talent strategy should reflect your belief in what is most important in your business.  This is also not about a good and bad labeling exercise.  Those words tend to stop a conversation and start an argument.  I use effective and not-effective, because it forces us to remember the outcomes we wanted in the beginning.  If our goal is 30% EBITDA growth and a few leaders get burned out and leave, maybe that is okay.  Fast growing companies need to be great at bringing in leaders/personalities that will figure it out and be successful.  That needs to be there #1 focus.

You see, the other edge to this sword is building trust.  Peter Drucker once said “The existence of trust does not necessarily mean they like one another, it means they understand one another.”  As a leader, just be clear with your beliefs and lead accordingly.  Actions need to align with beliefs, so people can see consistency in your approach.  You also need to continue to ask yourself “Are the results in my business and my team are proving my methods effective or not effective?”

I love having this conversation with leaders, because is revealing and it matters.  It also helps people define their own path to increasing their own capacity to lead.  That is a process I can get excited about.

When relationships matter, process trumps outcome

**If you want to dive into this topic a little deeper, chapter 2 in my book outlines what I call the OBN (Ought But Not) Leader.  On Amazon.

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.

4 Words That Frame the Succession Conversation, 2 Tips to Reframe it

Great conversations start with a question.  A question I asked to a group recently during a keynote was What one word comes to mind when you think of succession planning?   The answers tell a pretty clear story – it is hard, it carries with it a message that we do it when we are old, and it is a future thing.

I agree with two of the issues highlighted:  It is challenging and it is future focused.

Succession_Wordsthatcometomind

The two pieces I would like to reframe for a more effective conversations are old and training.

  1. Old to Valued:  The #1 reason we do not do this – getting old is hard and minimizing people by not respecting their value will start a fight.  How many of us are at our best if we feel  we are no longer needed?  To have a different conversation, we must first reframe the conversation into key people/key roles.  People discussed in these conversation provide great value to the organization, and most would agree that the ongoing success of the organization is important.   Talking about valued people sends two messages:  You are important to our business and it is important that our business continues to be successful.  I am glad the age piece gets put on the table so it can be addressed directly.  Perception is reality, and this one will never go away as long as people are getting older and younger people are working with them and looking for opportunities.  We quiet this conversation when we make it safe to express changing life priorities and continue to focus on performance with development/support.
  2. Training to Development:  90% of development happens outside a classroom.  A message I share is most training returns nothing to the organization.  What this conversation provides for people is direction for development activities that will increase their capacity to lead in the future – both real skills/experiences for them and perceived capacity for the leaders that will be making decisions on their next move.  Capacity is the key word, and it is what your best people want.  Assignments that challenge them and show them they are valued.

A final pitch for One-on-Ones.  When we are continuing to have conversations with people and supporting them in their work it is like making deposits into a Trust account.  Each time we show people they matter and we care (by meeting with them, listening, and supporting) we build trust.  When we ask the question of someone 50+, what are your 1-2 year plans and 3-5 year plans we will need to draw on that trust to have an honest conversation.

Go build some trust, and go have some honest conversations, that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance.

People Habits before People Skills – Johari Window

I remember the moment I became passionate about one-on-ones.  I was in day 2 supporting a nationally known author/consultant in the area of conflict management/robust conversations.  Our challenge:  We were 16 months into a curriculum rollout/organizational change and the success was present, but only in pockets.  As we went from group to group getting feedback on successes and failures, a question came to my mind, so I asked it.  “Bill, in your assumptions of organizations and relationships between leaders and their teams, do you assume that leaders are meeting one-on-one with their teams regularly?”   His answer “Yes.”  It hit me, we can equip leaders all day long to have these wonderful fierce, crucial, or honest conversations, and yet if they are not creating controlled space that is safe and focused (like a one-on-one conversation) it will be difficult to practice and change habits.  More importantly Failure rate > Success rate – and failure in the area of building relationships (ie. leadership) is expensive at many levels.

That is also the time I realized I would start a crusade around habits that mean the most to people (ie. engagement!) and that busy leaders, if they are willing to practice them will get the biggest ROT (return on time).

Here are some videos I have put together for leaders to think differently about this time using the Johari Window as a lens for not only how they listen, but how they create safety for their people by sharing first.

Leadership and the Johari Window – Part 1

Leadership and the Johari Window – Part 2

 What is to come?  A script for how this could be a 15 minute time of learning in one of your team meetings and a key note/workshop around one on ones where this could be used.  Subscribe to my trU Tips and you will get the templates.

I believe our learning model for most organizations has changed, instead of going off to class, practicing, and then coming back to receive practice/support to help us get better – we now are in positions where we have to learn as we do and it is important in that model to get support and feedback real-time.  Since 99.9% of companies have <500 people, this model works great as long as leaders are present on a somewhat routine basis and the time is productive for both leader and individual.

My goal is to equip leaders and key supporters (HR leaders) to help their people create the habits that feed a frenzy of honest conversations, that lead to thoughtful actions, and result in trUPerformance.

Leadership – The biggest choice you will have to make

As a leader, at some point you must decide what you believe leadership is.

I uttered these words in trU Tips 28, and I can’t stop reading them.  Most of us lead in places where there are no competency models, corporate training departments, coaching pools, or learning and development budgets.  We might not have an exact idea of how to answer this question, and yet it is a question that starts a journey and refocuses a journey.  Once you answer it, these next few questions help you chart a path to personal growth AND significance.

  • Where do you lead in your life today?
  • How would you prioritize these leadership roles?
  • How would you rate your performance in each role?
  • How are you getting better at ________ leadership role?

Continue reading

Leaders and One On Ones – Know your voice

I was timing at a swim meet this past weekend for kids between 8 and 13.  What do you think my primary role was?  Timing?  Actually – no.  My primary role was encouragement and support.  Making sure they were in the right order for the next race and telling them what they did well during that race.  It was easy, because my natural voice is to encourage.  I have known that for a while, and in order to be more effective at using that voice I have had to work on knowing when that voice is NOT the one that is needed at that moment.

Do you know your natural voice when faced with someone that is depending on you for some level of support so they can do their best?  This is one very important piece of leadership.

One important message I share in any leadership training I do is that part of the leadership job description is NOT mind reader.  There are several ways to help leaders get more skilled at this, but the easiest is to ask questions and listen well.

We can make our jobs as leaders easier in the One on One by doing two things:

  1. Asking some scripted questions so we can gauge how the other person is feeling.
  2. Use the question How can I support you? coupled with multiple choice answers of Coach me / Direct me / Not sure.

 

I continue to publish templates for people to use in establishing healthy and productive conversations with their people that result in thoughtful actions and lead to higher performance.  Here is the page of templates, and here is the newest version of the one on one form that incorporates the two tips I shared above.

By the end of my swim meet I had recorded times for every child who swam in my lane, experienced lots of smiles, and everyone started and finished the race they were supposed to be in.  My natural voice came in handy, but so did my directive voice (go!).

As a leader, learn your voice and help your people tell you when it needs to change.