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 . . .

3 Tips for Getting Your People to Own Their Development

3 Tips for Getting Your People to Own Their Development

It is a choice . . . to buy into the fear and the system or to chart your own path and create value as you do.  It’s your job to figure out how to chart the path, because charting the path is the point.  ~ Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indespensible?

 

The most important part of my development plan template is the last page.  It is where the individual signs it and commits to scheduling the next update meeting with their leader. That is ownership and I ask people to sign it before I end our session.

The key to getting to this point is to only start the process if the individual is ready and willing to own the process and excited about doing the work. This is not about tricking a person or trying to get into their head and guess their motivations, it is simply about providing them an opportunity to show they are ready and willing to own it.  Here are 3 ways I use to test that:

  1. Ask them to read a book before we start (the two I like are Linchpin by Seth Godin and Do The Work by Steven Pressfield).  The books are important, but more important is their capacity to create time to learn for themselves and demonstrate they can follow-thru. This demonstrates ownership.
  2. Gather 360 performance feedback and present it back to them.  Do they listen and graciously accept the gift of feedback and work through it to the point where they start making changes based on it or do they make excuses why it is not accurate? This demonstrates the ability to own their own strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Ask them to email me to setup a meeting and/or invite them to a learning event. Showing up sounds like a low threshold to demonstrate ownership – but you would be surprised how effective this is.

Seem simple? It actually is, because any one of these give you an idea that they are ready.  The ability to fill out the development plan and spend time quarterly to reflect and update it will be the ultimate test.

Remember, not showing ownership does not mean someone is a bad person or an underperformer, it just means at this point in their life they don’t have the capacity to own it.  I remember one time I took on a stretch assignment of design and delivery of some learning for a group of senior leaders at a Fortune 100 company where I worked.  It was challenging, stressful, and happened during the third trimester of our fourth child. I realized that it was too much when I saw myself spending too much time working and no time feeling the baby move and helping with the other 3 kids so my wife could rest a little. I finally asked for help and handed off the duties because it was too much at that time in my life.  I could support the work, I just did not have the capacity to lead it.

Mastery is a journey, and it is a choice. Help people understand the choice, invite them to own it, and then provide an opportunity to show ownership.

 

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.

Micro-manager or Micro-supporter? One tip for starting the change.

Are you a micro-manager or micro-supporter?

A leader recently admitted that she did not stay close enough to a new leader and let them make decisions that were harmful to the business.  Her thought was that she needed to direct the next person more in the beginning. Expensive lesson, and one that will make her a more effective leader.

Micro-managers . . .

  • Direct the work even if the person has (or should have) the capacity to do it.
  • Sometimes say (and always think) “If I want it done right, I need do it myself.”
  • Consistently lose the people who want to lead and keep the people who want to be told what to do.
  • Are either over-involved or not involved – they have no self-control for meddling.

Micro-supporters . . .

  • Ask for the details of the plan because they either, a) Are building confidence in someone’s decision or, b) Want to see the details so they know how they can help.
  • Frequently meet with their people to brainstorm, problem solve, and delegate.
  • Know when to say “I need to take this,” and don’t do it often.
  • More often say – “Let’s work close on this one because it will be good learning for you and me, and it is important enough that two brains should be working on it.”
  • Have teams of loyal, hard-working, energized people that know they have a great leader and don’t want to leave.

If you are not sure which one you are, just look at your teams and the significance of the problems that get solved when you are not there.

The good news is, you can change.  Pick someone who gets their job, wants their job, and has the capacity to do it and do more.  Tell them what your intent is (support vs do their job) and ask for help.  Then start practicing.

If you don’t get what it looks like, read the New One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard.  Then start practicing.

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.

Owning Your Performance: Gremlin Training 101

The biggest thing getting in the way of performance for most of us is US.  It is why Tony Robbins is a multi-millonaire and countless other people make a living at getting us unstuck and doing our best work.

One book that I have always liked in this area is Taming the Gremlin:  A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson.  When I read his book I quickly became aware of the stories that I am telling myself and it made a big difference in how I experienced life and others.  Recently I found a video of his where he summarizes much of what he says in his book.

Here is the link – Rick Carson – Gremlin Taming Part I

Many of you are in positions where people come to you with problems, and in many cases want an answer to fix it.  If you fix it, they will likely be back with the same question next time.  If you help THEM fix it, then the next time they come back it will probably be with a bigger problem because they have the confidence to handle the other ones.  Listen well and you will hear gremlins in their story.

Keep this video handy because it challenges us to examine our stories/assumptions that become our Gremlins.

 

How to win the Talent War – part 2

Nature abhors a vacuum.  When something is left empty of a critical piece for life something will fill it.

Take performance conversations with your people as an example:

  1. When we tell them nothing – they assume they are doing great.
  2. When we don’t explain why a leadership change happened – the  small talk around the office will create a reason.  It will become the truth, and everyone except the person involved in the change will likely hear it.
  3. When you wait two weeks to talk to someone about unproductive behavior it becomes more difficult because that action has already been filed away as ‘successful’ because the work is done and no feedback indicated it was not perfect.

A gift of leadership is creating a vacuum so something positive can happen:

  1. You share your biggest issue with your team and you create a vacuum by saying I do not know how to fix this, What do you think?
  2. You share a vision with your team that outlines dividing up Sales and Marketing when your growth exceeds $xM in sales in 12-18 months.  People begin to lay the foundation for processes that need to be in place to support that change and the current leader will start thinking about which role they will want to stay in.  People then will start to tell you who they think should be elevated to a leadership role.
  3. Monthly financials are shared, and in it you point out that a $100K gap exists in profitability that needs to be closed.  Anyone have any ideas?  Your top people will bring all the ideas you need.

In my book, People-Centered Performance, I hit this several different ways, and one is my observation that OBN leaders are afraid if they tell the truth, others will leave.  If you make a change. telling the person who received the role Why? is only part of the issue.  Telling the people who did not get the role Why Not? (which creates a vacuum – gap in performance) helps them understand what they need to work on to close the gap.  The right people will appreciate the honesty and work to get better or to shift to an area where they can be more successful and impactful.

Sometimes those conversations are hard, which is why many of your competitors (the other leaders wanting your talent) don’t do them well.  You position yourself to win the war by telling the truth in a way that creates a vacuum for people, and you follow-up to support those who want to fill it.

What vacuums are you creating today?

(for some examples of creating vacuums through performance conversations here are some templates for some of the most critical conversations leaders have with their people)

 

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.)

Friday Thought: Finding Your Growth Mindset – Is it there?

I work with high growth companies and growth focused leaders.  Daily I get to experience people that, in spite of setbacks, inspire me with their resiliency.  There is a name for it this – growth mindset.  In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck shares her research and belief that there are growth and fixed mindset individuals.

We all know these people:

  • Growth mindset people believe in their ability to learn and figure out almost anything.
  • Fixed mindset people are quick to point out ‘why not’ when faced with a challenge – and keep that voice throughout the work.
  • Growth mindset people have a mechanism to adapt when situations require them to make a personal change.
  • Fixed mindset people lead and/or end with That is the way I am.
  • Growth mindset people are quick to set aside their EGO, and ask a question.
  • Fixed mindset people are quick to protect their EGO, and make a statement.
  • Growth mindset people have feelings and get butterflies, they just don’t hide behind them or allow them to define their next step.

Which one do you see or hear in yourself?  Which do you see most prominently on your team?

Entrepreneurial spirit is a trait that is desired by both Fortune 100 and Inc. 5000 companies.  The powerful thing about this distinction is that it’s quickly displayed when the work starts.

It is one reason why a company in Ann Arbor called Menlo Innovations does a test in an interview where two people have to solve a problem with on pencil and one piece of paper.  It is why a strategic planning process I use (EOS) has direct feedback from your teammates in day 1 around whether you Get It, Want It, and have the Capacity to do the job the organization needs you to do.  It is the reason selection for a growth company first asks the question  – Right Person?  The Right Seat will show up eventually if it is not there already.

I have a formula in my book that urges people in the midst of change to manage their mental state so Hope > Fear + Anger + Frustration + Worry + Hunger + Weariness + ______ + _______.  NOBODY is always in balance – but I have watched growth mindset people bounce back time after time from tough situations where they were clearly in a Hope < Fear + Anger + etc. situation.

As you end your week – how is your formula looking?  Which label are you living into?  How can you support a shift in someone around you?