Someone we all need to listen to – Jessica Jackley

Image representing Kiva as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

I like listening to interesting people.  Recently I was able to see Jessica Jackley speak.  If you don’t know her, she is the co-founder of Kiva.org, which enables micro lending to happen in the world’s poorest areas.  Successful?  In five years they have made loans in excess of $130 million to 700,000 people.  In the process over 98% of the zero interest loans have been paid back.  If you want to hear her speech here is the link to the TED website.  It is a worthwhile 18 minutes.  Here is what I took away:

  • Know your mission (what / how / why).  It helps you say no to some things and connect with people who share similar goals.
  • In order to co-create with people you have to give up control (Kiva uses volunteer translators).
  • Do iterative development:  Build it, get feedback, improve it, and remember it is okay to fail.
  • Entrepreneurs see tomorrow > today

Finally, in response to a student asking her a question about whether he should pursue a similar career track, she responded with these steps to helping others:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the person you want to help.
  2. Ask if they have a place the can go to get their needs met.
  3. When you see things/needs that are not being met, find a way to fill in those gaps.

These three simple steps could be used anywhere it is important to connect with people and make a difference in their lives.  Which is everywhere from main street to the board room to the factory floor.  It is refreshing to see someone who did not read all the leadership books succeed because they were passionate and willing to try something.  Passion is the fuel for change, and Jessica Jackley stands out as a modern-day example of that.

We are in this together . . TrustBUSTER#10 – Asks team to make sacrifices, but does not follow

TrustBUSTER #10 – Asks team to make sacrifices ($ / time), but does not make same sacrifices

Something good came out of the most recent recession – shared pain.  When organizations have to cut as deep as they did, people saw the ‘shared’ part of it.  Money and other perks went away, so the pain from all parties was shared in most cases.  Here are three things that causes this TrustBUSTER and two ways to make it go away.

What causes it?

  • Executive – Sees the perks as entitlements.  Cars every two years, club memberships, assistant to pick up dry cleaning, or maybe the box at the local sports venue.  Is it part of your base compensation?  No.  Is it a performance bonus? No.  Is it something that is earned because of the stress and personal sacrifices made for work?  Probably the closest thing to a reason there is.  What employee will empathize with the last reason?  Enter TrustBUSTER #10.
  • Employee – Sees their work as the hard stuff and wonders what their boss actually does to earn their money.  Printing executive pay scales sells papers.  Piling on the working class for spending too much time complaining does not.  Studies have found that compensation is not a motivator, but can be a demotivator if there is a perceived inequality.  The only wisdom I can offer is my experience hearing leaders wish for their old job back.  It is not as easy as it looks.
  • Both – “If you could only walk in my shoes for a day!”  There is a TV show called Undercover Bosswhere the owner of a company spends a week doing frontline jobs in their company as an anonymous new hire.  I am not sure if it is all real, but it shows the impact of leaders getting their hands dirty once in a while.  Sam Walton was famous for visiting Walmart stores to interact with people directly.  I am guessing this one was not as much of a problem for him.  Too bad there is not a show allowing people to be a leader for a day.

Two solutions:

  1. Leader – get out of your office and talk to people – A chief nursing officer once shared conversation she had with a new nursing graduate.  The RN asked “Who drives you to work?”  An innocent perception of inequality.  Makes you wonder how many people thought that but were afraid to ask?  It is impossible for a CEO to know everyone, but the more you focus on people seeing you in normal situations the more you will be seen as a person and not a primadona.  Being seen in the cafeteria or the lunchroom a couple of times a week makes you  accessible and normal.  Take it to the next level and try sitting with non-executives when you eat.
  2. Look for chances to get to know your leaders – Your leader asks you to lunch?  Go.  Is there a corporate function?  Go and seek out leaders to meet and hear what they are thinking about.  When you get a chance to ask them questions, here are a few:  What have you learned lately?  What are your favorite things to do what you are not working?  What are the things that keep you up at night?  What do you want me losing sleep over?  

This trustBUSTER goes away when leaders and followers get to know each others.  For leaders, it is harder to implement a one-sided sacrifice when those on the short end actually have a name.  For followers, seeing leaders as people helps to alleviate some of the us versus them thoughts that fuel this TrustBUSTER.

Is Failure The End?

I went to a class sponsored by our local chamber of commerce this week.  The presenter was terrible and it was two hours of wasted content.  The benefit was that it got me thinking about when we fail, what it means, and what it should mean.

A mentor of mine, Doug Silsbee, once shared the observation that “We have to shift from a success/failure belief system.”  As a startup, I have that posted on a piece of paper on my desk to give me some perspective on viewing good and bad days.  I am not to the point where I want to ban the word because it has power.  It has the power to be positive if we do things with it.  Here are three ways failure can be a building block: 

  1. If it means the beginning of something – In Parker Palmer’s classic book  Let Your Life Speak he shares some wisdom from a Quaker elder.  She said “A lot of way(doors) has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.”  Failure should be a guide on a journey, not an end.  The ability to see it and process it this way does take some strength and maturity, but it will make a huge difference on your journey.
  2. It is only part of what defines us – When I talk to groups around career choices and job searches one of the main themes I use is ‘Your Story’, and that any resume, LinkedIn profile, or references should tell our story.  Part of our story are failures in jobs, projects, and degrees.  When I hire I want to hear them and hear how the person has processed them.  It is that part of our story that helps us either not repeat past mistakes or handle the same situation differently to produce a different outcome.
  3. We learn empathy –  Let’s face it, to walk off the stage after a poor presentation, get escorted out of our workplace, or fly home from a failed selling presentation it hurts.  But once we experience it we understand what it feels like and what kinds of darker choices enter our mind when the memory is fresh.  By dark, I mean the emotions or things you want to do to lash out at those you view as responsible.  I will stop here.  If you have been here you know what I mean, and being familiar with this place allows us to guide others past it and on to better places.

The final thought is that failure often needs a friend.  Someone to come along side you, help identify the event for what it was, and help put some positive energy into the event that will allow you to move along.  Gallup did a study that identified the positive outcomes of having 3 friends at work.  Buried in the reasons is the benefit of having someone familiar with you that can help process these moments.  It is not the only reason for building relationships at work, but it is a significant one. 

I hope the presenter makes our time together the beginning of something better.

The Career Question No One Asks – and 5 Questions All Leaders Should Answer

A couple of times a year I do a keynote address to high school students for something Junior Achievement calls a reverse job shadow.  This is a day where people come to the school to talk about their careers.  One question I always ask the students is:

  • Did any of the presenters share a mistake they made during their career journey? 

The answer is always no – which is a shame.  We get the students into a room to help them consider career choices, and we don’t take the time to tell them mistakes are part of the journey.  Like any journey, career journeys are not defined by the mistakes, but by our response to those mistakes.   They should know that, and we all need to remember that.

Next time you have a chance to tell your story, make sure you include the answers to these questions:

  • What careers/degrees/jobs did you have before you found this one?
  • What is one thing you wish someone had told you before you started?
  • What is the biggest mistake you ever made and what did it teach you?
  • What part of your job is more fun than hard?
  • What part of your job is more hard than fun?

If you are a leader, what would be the impact of sharing this information with your people? 

Remember . . . Vulnerable <> Weak.

I know I said I would do that, but . . TrustBUSTER™ #9 – Four common causes and solutions

TrustBUSTER™ #9 – Does not consistently follow through on commitments

It was a team of eight people and we had just gone through a DiSC assessment and were discussing the results.  One of the individuals was particularly stressed out, and as we were talking through strengths and weaknesses she had an epiphany.  She said “I am overwhelmed with my work and exhausted.  I have too much to do because I cannot say no, and as a result I am missing deadlines.”

It is not normal behavior to not complete tasks on time.  We are not all task focused people first, but under normal circumstances we should all be capable of hitting deadlines.  So what gets in the way?  Here are the four most common causes of TrustBUSTER™ #9:

  1. Ignorance – In his Situational Leadership Model, Ken Blanchard called the initial development stage the enthusiastic beginners.  Remember when you would say yes to things, even though you had no idea how to complete the task?   Also, remember that ignorance is only a temporary condition. (hopefully)  Solution:  Recognize ignorance and either shorten the performance leash (check in frequently) or offer to partner/coach through the task the first time. 
  2. Trying to please – There are many different situations that contribute to this problem.  Fear from seeing people lose their jobs that results in feeling that yes is the only answer.  A high performing team of highly driven individuals and you want to do your share.  A leader that puts in 70 hours a week, and there is an expectation (real or imaginary) to keep up.  Solution:  Focus on having conversations  that define expectations and reveal how people are feeling about tasks.  In addition, self-awareness and understanding how teammates are wired so the situations above can be addressed openly.
  3. Big eyes / little stomach – We have all been there.  The buffet looked great and a little bit of everything is the decision.  The certain outcome is feeling sick and dissatisfied.  Some enjoy the challenge of too much or feel they are at their best when overwhelmed.  Even the best take on too much sometimes.  Solution:  Make it a habit to have frequent discussions about priorities to make sure expectations are clear.  Individuals have to learn to recognize limits and how an overloaded task list can negatively impact the overall team.
  4. Not enough time – There are people in every group that have time boundaries.  Whether it is someone working part-time, a single parent, or maybe someone who has learned through a heart attack that they need to keep their stress levels down.  Solution: Talk about it.  Not everyone wants to live a life of too much to do at work.   If it does not fit the culture (ex.  a startup company) then get that on the table and make the decision that is best for the individual AND the organization. 

How can a leader proactively address this TrustBUSTER™?  First of all, leaders need to be fanatics about making it safe to question priorities.  Secondly, making accountability a norm within the team is critical.  Mistakes will happen, but missed deadlines have to be discussed openly and the problems/barriers have to be named and addressed.  Always have the questions in hand “What will it take to get things back on track?” or “What has to change or fixed?”

Building a Strong Team – no ropes needed, just a BBQ

I read a great story today about a team that developed largely through the actions of the team members.   It is about the Michigan State University offensive line and what they did to build a more cohesive and higher performing team.   It resonated with me because it was done largely through two things that we can all afford:  attitude and time.  Highlights for me:

  • Leadership (the coach) set the goal to develop a more dominant running game.  (result was +30 yds/game in 2010 vs 2009)
  • Their time together off the field was spent around a barbeque – eating.  (ie.  no ropes course or expensive consultants were needed)
  • The quarterback provided leadership (via encouragement) by buying t-shirts for the linemen to help show their unity and pride. (ie. no $$ compensation was needed to motivate this group)
  • No significant individual honors were received by any of the offensive lineman.
  • The opponents recognize their teamwork, and the players use the word PRIDE to describe how they feel about what they have accomplished.  What great key measures.

It is not certain that their team will win their bowl game, but it is certain that this group of young men have shown us they understand how to build an effective team.   Here is the link  – http://www.tidesports.com/article/20101228/NEWS/101229701/1011?p=2&tc=pg

I care… really! TrustBUSTER™ #8

TrustBUSTER™ #8 – Shows little concern about me a person

When I stand in front of a room of leaders and ask the question “How many of you care about your people?”, 100% of the people raise their hands.  I believe that 99.9% of leaders care about their people.  (I will save a discussion about that .01% for later)

Recently, I led a group discussion around trust that divided 30 people into four groups based on personality type.  I provided them with the TrustBUSTER™ list and asked them to identify one behavior on the list they saw most frequently from the other three styles.  One group received feedback from all of the other groups that #8 was the behavior that tripped them up.  The group receiving this feedback was the task focused/achievement oriented group.  This is the same group that 60+% of executive teams fall into based on my past experience.

Why does this happen? A manufacturing supervisor once shared this wisdom with me, “Intentions without action equals SQUAT”.  In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey makes the point that “We judge ourselves on our intentions.  We judge others based on their actions.”  Both quotes lead to the same conclusion, if people don’t see it they don’t believe it.

As a leader, how do you bridge the gap between your actions and the perception of the people reporting to you?  Here are three ways to keep this TrustBUSTER™ from tripping you up:

  • Self Assessment: Test your knowledge of your people by asking these questions.  What are the names of their spouse/children?  Where do they live?  What non work activities are most important to them?  What is the biggest event going on in their life right now?  Take a moment to evaluate how you answered these questions.  This is pretty basic stuff, so if you missed anything you need to spend more time with your people.
  • Monday/Friday rule:  Spend time on Friday connecting with people to hear about their week or upcoming weekend activities.  Spend Monday hearing how the weekend came together or what they are looking forward to during the week.  (take a few notes after each conversation if you are like me and forget things)
  • Find a partner to help:  If you are an executive chances are you have way to much to do and connecting with your people is not a strength.  Find someone around you that will remind of key dates for your people(birthday, anniversary) and keep a pulse on what significant things that are happening with those in your team or department.  Enlist their help to remind you of opportunities to connect.

Joy – 3 Steps to Create More as a Leader

Map showing ten largest municipalities in Mich...
Image via Wikipedia

I participated in a panel discussion around the ‘new normal’ in Michigan business that was sponsored by CORP! Magazine.  If there is one message everyone is sure of it is that the economic recovery will be slow and the main thing individuals look for to measure improvement (jobs / income) might not get back to normal depending on your profession.  Regardless of the speed of the rebound, there are things leaders can do to create more energy in the workplace.  This also applies to followers.  We need to create more JOY.

What is joy?  Joy is not a superficial adjective, it goes deeper than that.  The Joy I am talking about is a noun, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary says it is a source or cause of delight.  Words are important, and the word source jumps out at me because it makes me think of a deep flowing spring that fills a lake or starts a river.  Something that we know is down there because we see it emerge and create something powerful and beautiful.  Thinking of that, as leaders we need to be a source for more joy in our workplace.  Here are three ways to make that happen.

1.  You first! Joy is a choice.  Being able to look at what we do, at whatever the situation is, and commit to being hopeful is the first step.  Jim Collins presented what he called the Stockdale Paradox in his book Good to Great, which was to “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be AND retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.”  A first step, make it a habit to smile and greet people.  Another move is starting each speech by recognizing a couple of people for their attitude as well as a specific accomplishment in the past week.  

2.  Ask others to join: It has been a tough few years for workers.  At one point I saw a statistic that 69% of people had either taken a pay cut or lost their job. A simple first move for leaders, start every meeting with your executive team by asking people to share what they see is going right this week.  Cover the tough stuff, but start with the positive stuff.  For any name mentioned make a point to have people email them or call them after the meeting to congratulate them. 

3.  Allow space for the opposite – but get back to joy: I worked with someone who used to ask for what he called a “Carnegie free zone” every now and then.  It was a break from the great Dale Carnegie’s mantra to never engage in the 3 C’s (criticizing, condemning, complaining).  This zone was 5 minutes of unloading the thoughts and frustrations of the day.  At the end, the goal was to ask a simple question – “So what can I do about it?”  Choose a positive step, a potential solution to some nagging problem, and then get after it.  A second move is to purposefully create this space in your one on one time with each team member.  Accomplish this by inserting the following questions into the one on one agenda (that you should be doing at least monthly).

  • What is your biggest frustration right now?
  • What can I do to help make it go away?
  • What move can you do to help make it go away?

Remember that joy is not ignorance.  We need to face realities, both personally as leaders and in the presence of our teams.  Joy is more about attitude.  So Leader – you first!

TrustBUSTER™ #6 – Criticize decisions AFTER the team made them – How to handle the 3 most common situations

TrustBUSTER™ #6 – Criticizes decisions AFTER the team has discussed them and the decision has been made

I still remember the situation vividly.  Early in my career I went to a meeting, listened to the discussion, and heard the decision.  I went back to my desk and did some more analysis(things I should have done before the meeting), realized that I had a different opinion, and went back to the leader with my concerns.  He was visibly frustrated and let me know that we had already discussed it.  It was a lesson in being present for a discussion vs being engaged in a discussion.  I had been there, but not contributing like I should.

Later in my career I heard a different story from a senior executive.  He shared a decision that had been made by his peer that he did not agree with.  His comment was “It was his decision so I will give him some rope.  He will run into problems eventually, then we can discuss bailing him out.”  His strategy was to let his peer fail (without giving him the right kind of help) so that his plan would ultimately prevail.

In both cases it was not a lack of discussion, but a lack of open and honest dialogue by all the parties involved.  The result, people leaving the table with individual agendas that trumped the team agenda.  Nothing erodes trust faster than failure to listen, failure to share opinions, and failure to support decisions made by your team.  Here are the three standard situations you will see happen on a team, what the issue is, and what the leader should do to ensure the person stops doing this TrustBUSTER™.

  1. Openly criticizing people/decisions after the fact = criticizing = character issue = Action:  Direct warning (job loss)
  2. Questioning decisions after the fact = criticizing = character or self-confidence issue = Action: Need more info . . .
  3. Bringing more(new) data after a bad decision = criticizing = takes guts = Action: Thank them for finding the information, then explore – Why did we not have this information?

This is one of those behaviors that highlights something Stephen M.R. Covey shares in his book The Speed of Trust, which is “We judge others based on their actions and we judge ourselves based on our intent.”  This is an especially critical message for the kind but timid person on your team that does not speak up.  Their actions create trust issues with their teammates.

The key question for a leader when this happens – How can I lead differently so this TrustBUSTER™ never becomes an issue?  The key action is to deal with it quickly and directly because it will grow like cancer in your team.  Secondly, look also at your meetings and evaluate if you are creating time for key debates to happen or if decisions are just being unilaterally made and not discussed.  Finally, if you see this happening between two departments in your organization, examine the relationship of the leaders of those groups.  Likely the departments are mirroring the leaders.  In any case, address it directly and be willing to change the leaders if it does not stop.

trU Tips 9: There is no ‘I’ in team – When and why this is wrong

This is a reprint of the monthly publication called trU Tips – Strategic People Reminders for the busy executive.  To subscribe to receive a monthly trU Tips, click here.

What I’m hearing

Forming teams is not a new concept. It can be, however, a new experience for many entrepreneurial organizations entering their next phase of growth, and for industries such as financial services.  Teams can help raise revenue, keep relationships connected with service, and reduce the risk of having one person dictate the success of the organization.  While the process of team building is simple, doing it effectively is a bigger challenge when the people being asked to join a team are successful largely because of their individual drives.  
 

What it means

“There is no ‘I’ in team.”  Great slogan, but it’s wrong.  When bringing people together who have been successful largely because of their personal drives to succeed, there has to be room for “I” somewhere, or the team won’t work.  It’s unrealistic to ask someone — a top sales person, a driving entrepreneur, a teacher — who has basically worked independently for the first decade of his or her career to change overnight and become a great team member.  Bringing independent-minded people together requires an open and honest conversation focused on defining both individual needs and team goals, then deciding if a balance can be achieved.
 
Building trust is the basic component of performance.  In my experience, trust comes before the other three pieces in a four-step process I call trUPerformance: build trust, build focus, build confidence and build rhythm.  While the last three parts are essential for a great, high-functioning team, trust is the key. Allowing people to process through their individual needs, as well as those of the team as a whole, will promote an understanding of how the team can meet its overall goals while allowing its members to have their own needs met.  In the end, individuals might decide that being part of a team won’t work for them.  Sharing truth allows for good choices to be made.  
 

What you should do

The key in all of this is having a series of conversations with potential team members to identify:
 

  1. A list of what they bring to the team, including strengths and weaknesses
  2. A list of things they want or need from the team
  3. A list of personal reasons for joining the team, including what they see as the group’s goals or potential

Process these pieces by sharing openly, identifying common themes in both individual needs and team goals. Challenge people to identify needs that are purely “Me” goals (e.g., keeping one’s top 20 clients) and those that are “We” goals that benefit the entire team (e.g., offering a more complete service solution to customers).  By systematically going through these conversations, it will become evident whether or not potential team members are compatible, and whether joining the team is the right move for an individual.
 
Need a partner in effectively forming a team that will have a huge impact on your business?  Contact me.   Scott@thetrugroup.com