The Sweet Spot: How to find it for yourself

The Sweet Spot: How to find it for yourself

Touring a garden recently with a master gardener (My Mom) and these words kept coming out of her mouth – they love it here. At the nursery last week, another seasoned gardener talked about healthy places for certain trees. Both of these experts taught me the same lesson, to always look for vibrant signs of health – growth, healthy color, and a full look. Life through the eyes of a gardener gave me a different view of the world around me.

It hit me that same view can be taken with people. That place where we are comfortable, happy, challenged, and energized is a great place to be. What words would you use to describe yourself in that spot?

  • Energized
  • Creative
  • Confident
  • Collaborative
  • Positive

This is our sweet spot. The ultimate trick is not knowing how to find this spot, but how to realize when we get there and how to return to it.

Some leaders can see it, just like the master gardeners can see when a plant is in the optimal spot for growth and performance. Most of us need help from people to tell us where that spot is, and maybe a little more help to stay on track making the moves necessary for all people on our team to be in their sweet spot. Imagine if we could coach our team so each individual knew where that spot was for themselves, and were driven to continually improve and increase their understanding of their own sweet spot?

Maturity is simply the knowledge to know where your spot is, the patience to work toward it, and the ability to make the shifts to perform at a high level even if you are not in the exact sweet spot. Mature does not equal old, it just means wise.

Leaders need to know their own sweet spot and surround themselves with people who can handle the critical work outside of that spot. Great leaders also know how to develop the wisdom in others to replicate that sweet spot for themselves at all levels of the organization. Imagine being surrounded by a dozen people who feel energized, creative, confident, collaborative, and positive? Even an amateur gardener like me could spot that team.

There is nothing better than to watch your kids, your friends, your team, or yourself perform in that sweet spot!

Anybody told you lately, “I can tell that you like it here…”? If not, it is time to get to work finding it.

Three great resources to help your thinking:

Master gardeners don’t just work with plants.

Lead well . . .

Golf, Ego and Leadership: 3 questions to get you out of the trap

Golf, Ego and Leadership: 3 questions to get you out of the trap

In my league this week I shot double my handicap, which in my case is an extra 10 strokes for nine holes. I was playing against a guy named Reese, who happened to shoot under his handicap, which was a 3 already. In real terms, he shot a 37 and I shot a 55. I lost.  More than losing though, is I lost a chance to learn. You see, part of my problem was the long grass that has grown since my last round. When I got in it, I never cleanly hit my ball out, and one time it took me 3 swings to move it 40 feet to regular grass. Reese got into the same grass and knew how to hit the ball cleanly towards the hole, and one shot traveled over 100 yards and landed within 10 feet of the hole.

My loss was not in the score, but in the anger and frustration that just made me swing harder. Ironically it was 12 hours after the round ended that it dawned on me – why didn’t I just ask Reese for some tips on how to hit out of that grass?  He and his father were both great golfers and nice guys, and I am sure he would have given me some pointers because I will be back in that stuff next week, guaranteed. 🙂 My EGO got in the way.

Has your EGO ever put you in a position where you just ‘swing harder’ or maybe just stopped participating?

In my book, People-Centered Performance, I call misaligned ego as the number one threat to people-centered leadership. Ego, by itself, is actually a necessary ingredient for leaders. Merriam-Webster defines ego as “the opinion that you have about yourself.” As a leader, it gives you confidence and helps you recover quickly from mistakes. Here is what I wrote about the conditions that make ego get negative:

Ego is most at risk when we are in the midst of disorienting change. When change is too much, too fast, our self-perception is challenged by the unfamiliar landscape. Anytime our ego is at odds with reality, we are vulnerable.

Back to my golf game, I wrote these words but did not live by them. You see, I am not a great golfer and if I am faced with changing conditions I will shoot a higher score until I figure out how to change how I play. Historically it is the next round. 🙂 My misaligned ego kept me from adjusting. It kept me from asking for help.

Where is your ego misaligned?

  • Is a peer offering input that you are dismissing because you have more experience?
  • Are you managing people that are experts in their work and you spend time getting in the minutia of their work vs aligning their efforts with bigger organizational goals and removing barriers they are encountering?
  • Are you working for someone younger or less experienced than you are and find yourself thinking ‘What an idiot’ or ‘Who are they to tell me what to do?’ everytime they open their mouth in a meeting?

As I look back on my coaching work over the last year I have seen this over and over. It can be an expensive leadership lesson if not corrected quickly – Your best people leave. Your bonus is lower. A promotion goes to someone else. You lose your job.

Tip: Spend a week looking for situations or people that trigger you into going into EGO overdrive. If you are not sure ask your spouse or close friend and they will tell you. Next time you find yourself in that situation or with that person, here are three questions to get out of the heather:

  1. What outcome is important here?
  2. Who can help me achieve this?
  3. Am I ready to ask for their help? (then ask)

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

Easy Way, Hard Way

Easy Way, Hard Way

As a young parent, a challenging task was bath time – especially when the kids developed the muscles to effectively jump, squirm, and grab. The toughest part was hair, because the “No more tears” promise on the bottle never seemed to work. When I encountered Avenger-like resistance to washing hair, I developed a standard script with them which sounded like this – and most of the time it was delivered in a calm and even tone of a loving father. Most of the time 🙂 “Aubrey, you have a choice here. Easy way – You hold your breath and close your eyes when I tell you, and I will do everything I can to keep the soap from getting in your eyes and mouth. Hard way – you keep screaming and I will just pour the water.”

Many of you know I wrote a book on parenting, and as I look at the paragraph above I am not sure a chapter like that would ever be written. If it did, it might involve waterproof stickers or $50 Avengers mask that protected ears and eyes. In hindsight, I was trying to teach them a first lesson of choices and teamwork because we face decisions like this daily as teenagers and adults, and the reality is that this flips as adults when the hard way actually becomes the right way.

People-centered leaders focus on the choices their team members have and work hard to coach them through decisions so there is greater ownership. They recognize when people choose the ‘hard way’ in communication by sharing a hard truth that puts their job at risk. Here are some examples:

Situation 1: Your leader is not effective at leading you because they second guess all your decisions, fail to give you the information you need to make the right decision, and have not given you any routine performance feedback in 2+ years.

Easy way: Complain at happy hour about your leader or resign and hope there is an exit interview for you to share your frustrations.

Hard way: Share how the leader is making your job harder at your next one-on-one and ask for help.

Situation 2: The smell of a teammate’s perfume or body odor is making it hard for you to work (allergies, or just a bad smell) to the point you are thinking about working remotely. {Sounds crazy – but ask an HR professional about their story on this and I guarantee they have one.}

Easy way: Buy $100 worth of potpourri for your office.

Hard way: Pull your team member aside and share the impact the odor is having on you (perfume, body odor, shoes being off) and ask if there is a way to address it.

Situation 3: Your project is going badly and you don’t know how to fix it.

Easy way: Do the best you can to fix it, but hide the truth in updates to your leader and team.

Hard way: At the next update or meeting with your leader, tell the truth and ask for help.

Of course, the key ingredient in all of these situations is trust. If it is there, it makes the hard way easier. When a high degree of trust between two people is not present, the easy way becomes the only way.

People-centered leaders recognize when someone has chosen the hard way, and shared something that they did not have to. When that happens, make sure you stop and recognize the choice they made. If you don’t know what to do? Easy way – Pretend you do and make promises you might not be able to keep. Hard way – Tell them this is a new situation for you and ask for 1 hour/1 day/1 week to give it some thought so the next conversation will be a productive one. Commit to helping resolve it, and follow through on your commitment.

What did you do today to build trust with each individual on your team?

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

Here are two resources for those of you interested in what a conversation around different ‘hard way’ choices might sound like:

Read Crucial Conversations

Podcast and book: Radical Candor

Leadership Wisdom 101: Developing Your Capacity to Lead Change (Part 2 of 3)

Leadership Wisdom 101: Developing Your Capacity to Lead Change (Part 2 of 3)

What is the biggest change you have ever experienced in life and how well did you lead through it?

How long did it take you to move from ‘the fog’ that overtakes you in a big change to a place where you could see new opportunities?

I believe transitions are the single biggest place for growth and pain. It is also the place where big personal changes provide us an opportunity to develop the wisdom and experience that translates back into our ability to lead change at work. The researchers call this resilience. The regular word we use in daily conversation is wisdom. Here are two lenses to help you develop the capacity to lead change. Next time you hit a change of any sort, use one of these to reflect, act, and grow.

Lens #1: William Bridges – This model is presented in more detail in his book, Transitions, and is a powerful lens through which to see our personal transitions in a different way. I have used it extensively with people in career transitions or any other job-related change. It is based on a recognition that in personal changes we need to let go of things (Endings) before we can see our situation in a new way (Neutral Zone). In the Neutral Zone, painful and confusing feelings still exist (emptiness, confusion, alone-ness) until we actively begin to try new things, which ultimately move us to a New Start. Yes, we do slide back, and in highly complex changes, multiple endings emerge that force us to retrace our steps. Here is a real example of how the model plays out in a career change:

It was the first day of our 3-month career transition program. During the check-in, she talked about how she was a teacher, and the idea of leaving her profession made her feel guilty for abandoning her kids and losing her summers. (Can you hear the endings in those statements?)  After a few classes and different exercises, she shared that she was beginning to see herself as someone who had a passion for helping people, and was skilled at using learning to assist people to grow and contribute more in their work. She was also wondering where that fit in the business world? Admittedly, she was still feeling anxious about actually working in a business. (Can you hear the neutral zone clues?) In our last conversation, she was two weeks into an internship with a business helping them pull together customer training for a new product they were launching. She was excited about the realization that learning for adults was like the hands-on/experiential approach she used in her classes. She was also excited about how quickly the learning showed up in performance. Having the summer off was still something she was not sure she wanted to give up.

Lens #2: 3 Ps by Martin Seligman – In her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg shares a model explaining the barriers to personal recovery in life events. If you don’t know her story, Sandberg is the COO at Facebook and lost her husband from a heart attack a couple of years ago. Here are the 3 Ps that stunt personal recovery from events in our lives:

  1. Personalization – The belief we are at fault.
  2. Pervasiveness – The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life.
  3. Permanence – The belief that the aftershocks of an event will last forever.

Studies have shown that adults and children will recover more quickly when they realize it was not their fault, begin to see the positives in other aspects of their life that were not taken away by the event, and begin to see improvement and healing through the gift of time.

While the Seligman 3 P model is generally applied to big life events like death, divorce, job loss, or abuse, can you hear the similarities with what Bridges shares? For those of you that have navigated such a life event, how has that translated back into how you lead others?

Change will happen inside and outside of work, and each event is an opportunity to develop the personal ability to navigate those changes, which becomes the foundation for all of us to be great leaders of change.

For leaders, here are the three truths that you need to take into any change conversation:

  1. It is a studied process, so rely on a model to plan the change.
  2. It takes time, so the sooner you start planning, the better.
  3. You cannot control how people react, but you can control creating conditions where people feel supported/safe and are invited to take the next step in change.

The #1 reason leaders struggle with change is because they cannot control the choices others make. The #2 reason they struggle with change is because they have not allowed people the time they need to process change, especially the big ones.

The third issue that trips up leaders in navigating change is that it requires the help of others. In the next post, we will explore what I call The Power of 2.

Download a free one-pager on change. It includes the Bridges model, and also an additional tool that works well with planning organizational changes from Scott & Jaffe.

Lead well!

What will people remember about your leadership?

What will people remember about your leadership?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.

~Maya Angelou

The great thing about aging is all the different situations you have experienced. They are not all positive, but with time they all have the potential to become wisdom, and this quote reminds me of the value of a smile and being present.

I admit that I still get this wrong. Recently I was doing a check-in on day 2 with a client, and two people on the leadership team commented how great the exercise was and how it energized them about the year to come. Energized? My memory was of a low energy, difficult to facilitate time with a group of people that needed to be carried over the finish line. Clearly I was wrong.

I did not create the one-on-one template with this quote in mind, and yet it is designed to help leaders create conditions where feelings flow and people leave feeling supported and listened to. We all need to keep learning this lesson as we lead. I always smile when this reminder happens, and if a client asks I simply say, “You just reminded me of the importance of being in a room together and getting the truth flowing. Even at the end of a long day it is energizing – so let’s do that again today.”

And remember – it can also go the other way. When people feel devalued or fearful, that is what they will remember. The problem is, they will not share that at the morning check-in, which makes your job even harder as a leader.

Which lasting memories are you going to sprinkle around your team today?

Stress – is it bad?

Stress – is it bad?

Last month I shared my 5 favorite leadership TED talks. Today I want to add one:

How to make stress your friend ~ Kelly McGonigal

I work with leaders of growth-minded organizations, and one of the most important questions is, “Do you have time to do the accountabilities of the job/jobs you signed up for?” It is a core part of the EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) process. It is during this conversation where the leaders who feel overwhelmed say it, and it is over the next six months of working together that I can tell how they are handling it. Stressed people can still be happy and productive, and yet some get so buried in it that rocks don’t get done and they start to withdraw from the work of the leadership team. This video puts some perspective on it, and it is really a life or death situation.

My favorite part of the video is the last six minutes, where we see the impact of reaching out to others to help you with stress or reaching out to friends that you know are under stress. One big aha: Caring for others creates resilience.

Stress is not bad in itself. What is harmful is how we process it. When we process it by connecting with others, it actually makes us stronger.

Lead well!

Leaders: What their questions will tell you

Leaders: What their questions will tell you

Recently I was invited in to lead an EOS® review session with a group of next level leaders. I believe great conversations start with a question, so every session I lead starts with, “What questions do you want answered today?”

When I asked this group of leaders, here is what they shared. As you read these questions, what themes do you see and what gaps would they reveal if this were your organization?

  1. Data/Scorecards/Measurables/Issues: How do you make things more visible and knock them out forever?
  2. What is the biggest hurdle when companies go to EOS®?
  3. Agile is a software design approach of cross-functional teams. How does EOS® fit into this?
  4. Does EOS® work for all companies/organizations?
  5. What happens when Rocks are not hit?
  6. How did EOS® come about? Why did we decide to use it?
  7. When did our organization start using EOS®?
  8. How challenging should Rocks be?
  9. How many companies have implemented EOS®?
  10. Accountability: Is it dependent on my manager?

As I listened, a few things hit me about this group:

  1. There was a gap in teaching around Rocks and people were still a little uncertain about them. (#5, #8)
  2. When helping adults learn, it is important to connect new concepts/words with something they are already familiar with. This should be part of onboarding, and I wondered if that was happening well? (#1, #3, #10)
  3. It is easy to forget to talk about the ‘Why?’ when teaching and spend too much time focused on the ‘What?’ and ‘How?’. Someone on the leadership team needs to be a storyteller, and in this case not enough time had been spent talking about the journey. (#6, #7)

Empathy is not a talent that all people have, and trying to become an expert in reading behaviors or all the subtle hints that get passed along in conversation is something most of us will fail to master. We can all ask questions, and if we couple that with creating a space where we can listen to the answers, it becomes easier to understand the needs, wants, and barriers of the person sitting across from us.

That is the main belief behind my people-centered leadership motto: Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!


Here are some valuable tips on listening using the Johari Window in a short video.

Here are a couple of tools I use to script questions for leaders:

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!

My Top 5 Leadership TED Talks

My Top 5 Leadership TED Talks

I was recently speaking with a group and asked if they had seen one of my favorite TED Talks. Over 50% of the group had not.

It hit me that there are thousands of great talks and, as a result, some of the classics I share as part of my journey to help develop people-centered leaders have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Here are my top 5:

  1. Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action – One of the most-watched TED Talks ever. The wisdom he shares can be used at many different levels; I have used it in career conversations, strategic planning sessions, and change management training. Watch and share often!
  2. Simon Sinek: Why good leaders make you feel safe – Is trust and safety important? Aspiring and committed people-centered leaders know the answer is ‘Yes’, and this video will help you explore it and identify some actions you can do tomorrow.
  3. Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? – What is the role of social media in healthy relationships? There is research around this, and Sherry Turkle is an expert.
  4. Susan Cain: The power of introverts – I like this video because it stresses the importance of having introverts on teams, helps understand how common it is to be introverted, and challenges introverts to speak up!
  5. Derek Sivers: How to start a movement (short and funny) – There are not too many funny and short TED Talks. People-centered leaders understand the importance of having people willing to follow them, and this video lays a clear vision for the importance of followers.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

Scott

The #1 Skill Your People Need

As I reviewed the most popular pages on my website in 2017, I found that the Rock Project Plan was the most visited page. I was surprised at first, but the more I thought about the leaders I had coached, taught, and mentored in 2017 and the challenges they faced, the more it made sense.

The fundamental thing your people need to understand is how to predict and plan how the work of a project will get done. Creating a project plan is a great way to organize this information and break down a goal into actionable steps and accountable owners.

Two things that are driven by a project plan:

  1. The foundation of accountability, i.e. the goal and the specific work that has to happen to complete the task
  2. Multiple moments where “I need help” can be said

All leaders are helped by #1, because it creates conditions that are easier for them to manage.

All individuals are helped by #2, because the hardest words for the leaders I coach to say are “I need help.” This impacts your team’s outlook because if they see you as resistant to asking for help, they interpret that as not being okay. Here is an example – I did a feedback session with a leader and their team where each person had the chance to give and receive feedback to every other person through answering the question: What is one thing [person’s name] could START or STOP doing in 2018 for the greater good of this team? The overwhelming message people told their leader in the feedback – we see you being stressed and busy, and you need to START asking for help because we want to help you! Hidden benefit – a project plan of any type drives teamwork too!

All this from a little old project plan. Practice and teach this skill in 2018 and reap the benefits of performance AND teamwork!


So you understand the following templates, in EOS® we call the most important work for the next 90 days ‘Rocks’. All Rocks need a basic project plan. Here are free templates I share to help you be the most effective leader/manager you can be.

View all of the 25+ FREE templates. I share them to equip aspiring and committed people-centered leaders. Lead well!