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Updated: 1 hour 6 min ago

To Grow Your Team and Get More Done, Let Go of Perfect

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 05:00

No doubt, you’ve heard the phrase that the perfect is the enemy of the good. That doesn’t just apply to other people; it applies to you and your team too. And, the thing is, a lot of the time what you expect as a leader is your version of perfect. There are some cases when perfection is truly an objective measurement but most of the time it’s subjective and good enough is good enough even if it doesn’t meet your version of perfect.

If everything has to be perfect, not much gets done and the growth of your team stagnates.

Here are three action step ideas you can take as a leader to hit the sweet spot between what has to be perfect and what can be “good enough.” By following these steps, you’ll get more done and grow your team.

First, ask yourself on a regular basis, “By getting personally involved in this, do I create a significantly better result?” I’ll bet you’ll find some pretty interesting answers to that question. And the answers are going to be, most of the time, not so much. The key word in that question is significantly. Is your direct involvement as a manager really going to make it that much better? It might be marginally better with your involvement but is that really the highest and best use of your time and attention? What about the impact on the development of your team?

Second, recognize that while you’ve likely become an expert in a lot of things, getting results through your team probably no longer requires you to be the expert. Now that you’re in your leadership role, start giving away the things that you’re an expert in to your team. That’s how they’re going to grow and develop. They may not do it exactly the same way you would do it, but at some point, earlier in your career, somebody took a bet on you and asked you to do some things that they used to do. You did them well enough that you’re here now. Place the same kind of bets on your team. Identify the things that you’re an expert in and start giving them away to your team. 

Third, step back and consider the risk to reward ratio as you decide what has to be perfect and what can be good enough.  As you do, recognize that there are different kinds of risk. To name a few, there’s financial risk, operational risk and reputational risk. You certainly want to mitigate those, but if you look at your team’s daily workstream many of the things they’re doing everyday don’t have a lot of direct impact on those risk factors. There are also other types of risk like the risk of lack of engagement, low morale and developing and retaining great talent. To mitigate those kinds of risk, you need to factor in the rewards of giving people space and support to learn from mistakes and develop into doing their best work. 

Accelerate the growth of your team and get more done by letting go of perfect.

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Categories: Blogs

Preparation Is the New Leadership Differentiator

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 07:06

In watching and working with top executives and their teams over the past few years, I’ve come to a fresh conclusion. Preparation is the new leadership differentiator.

You might argue that preparation has always been important. I would agree with you on that but would contend that preparation is in shorter supply than it used to be. As pretty much every organization continues on its quest to do more with less, it’s become common for executives and managers to show up for meetings and conversations only partially prepared or even fully unprepared. 

The first few times they do there might be murmured apologies for not being ready. Then it becomes the accepted norm for both the leader and the people they’re meeting with. Then the slope gets slipperier as a culture of poor preparation flows from the top down into the rest of the organization. Everyone has become “so busy” that winging it (and the rework that comes with it) becomes the new normal.

Leaders who show up prepared differentiate themselves from those who don’t. How can you be that prepared leader even when your plate is overfull? Here are three best practices that I see my best prepared executive coaching clients follow:

Book the time: The best prepared leaders book the time to prepare. Most of them do that through three lenses of time – short-term, medium-term and long-term. Their short-term preparation is focused on the next one or two days. They book somewhere between 45 and 90 minutes every couple of days to do the reading, thinking or writing they need to do to be ready for the commitments on their calendar in the next 48 hours. Their medium-term preparation is focused on the next one or two weeks. They book about 30 to 60 minutes a week to scan their calendar for the next couple of weeks with the goal of flagging commitments that they need to start preparing for further in advance.  Finally, long-term preparation is focused on three months ahead. This is handled with a monthly session to scan for commitments like a major presentation or project that will require a sequenced plan of multiple sessions to prepare. They then book the time on their calendar to do that longer-term preparation.

Don’t overcommit: The best prepared leaders don’t overcommit themselves. They have a clear point of view on the tasks and initiatives that are the highest and best uses of their time and attention and commit accordingly. They don’t overcommit by agreeing to do things that aren’t aligned with their highest and best use. They’d rather say no and create a short-term, small disappointment than say yes and create a bigger disappointment down the road by not being able to follow through in a meaningful way.

Get the picture: The best prepared leaders have busy days just like everyone else they’re working with. What differentiates them is that they have the habit of pausing throughout the day to mentally prepare themselves for what’s coming next on their calendar. They do this by walking through a simple two-minute visualization exercise that enables them to get the picture of what they’re trying to accomplish in the next meeting and how they need to show up to make that outcome likely. As they consider the “what”, they remind themselves of what success in that meeting would look like in terms of information shared, problems solved, lessons learned, agreements made or inspiration generated. They then focus on the “how” of the energy they’ll need to project to lead the group to that outcome. Are they transmitting, receiving or demonstrating a balance between the two? How will their body language, tone of voice and choice of language reflect their intent? Two-minute sessions of just-in-time preparation on the “what” and “how” helps make the best leaders fully effective throughout their busy days.

What’s working or not working for you on being a prepared leader? What best practices would you add to the three I’ve shared here?

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Categories: Blogs

A Prescription for Eliminating 4th Quarter Panic

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 05:30

Yesterday, I was starting a call with a long-time client I hadn’t talked with in a few months. In a somewhat breathless tone of voice, the first words she said after hello were, “I can’t believe it’s already the end of September! Where has this year gone?”

That’s a question that I and, probably, most of us in the corporate world could have easily asked. Back in January, we and our teams set out goals and objectives for the year. It all seemed so promising back then, didn’t it? Time was plentiful and the list was long. Hopefully, you’ve accomplished a lot so far but the impending beginning of the 4th quarter can create a sense of panic.

If you’re feeling stressed by all that’s left to do this year, know you’re not alone. Know too, though, that the stress you’re feeling is creating a state of chronic fight or flight that is counterproductive to making good decisions. Get yourself out of fight or flight and into a productive frame of mind by taking some deep breaths, stepping back and applying this four-step prescription for eliminating 4th quarter panic.

Review – Start by reviewing your goals and objectives from the beginning of the year. Give yourself credit for all that you and your team have accomplished. That includes the objectives you’ve completely checked off your list as well as the progress you’ve made toward other goals.

Reset – Next, reset the board by considering what’s left on your list.  Get your team or trusted advisors together to take a realistic look at where you are now and what you can realistically accomplish in the next 90 days. Apply the “Will this make a difference?” test to what you’re considering keeping on your list. What can you drop for good or defer to next year? Negotiate or reset stakeholder expectations where needed. Focus on how you can use what’s left on your list to set yourself up with strong momentum to move into next year.

Take Account – Now that you’ve got a tighter and shorter list, take account of the resources you’re going to need to move forward. Consider the time and talents of your team along with your budget and deploy your resources accordingly. Perhaps some targeted investments will give you the push you need to complete the big priorities this year. Or, maybe there are investments that will help you build a foundation that carries into next year. If you have budget resources that are limited to this year, consider the best ways to invest them to sustain progress well into 2020.

Take Action – This last step is pretty straightforward. Use the focused plan you’ve developed for the next 90 days and take the actions that will move things forward. Start by sharing your plan with your team, stakeholders and internal and external partners and asking for their help.

Here’s the thing – most of life and business isn’t like a football game. For most of the things we do, there isn’t a clock running down to 0:00. Sure, there are financial and other metrics that close out on December 31, but most everything else just rolls over. The calendar is a construct for measuring and managing time. Don’t let it freak you out. Stay calm and keep taking steps forward. You’ll get there and arrive without the stress effects of 4th quarter panic.

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Categories: Blogs

Three Simple Ways to Take the Big Picture Perspective

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 06:12

One of my mentors, Harvard professor Ron Heifetz, likes to say that leaders can either be on the dance floor or on the balcony. In the fast-paced world that we live and work in, it can be all too easy to spend most of your time dancing and not enough up on the balcony observing what’s working, what’s not and what adjustments you need to make to live and lead at your best. In other words, you can be so busy doing things, you don’t see what needs to be done.

Here are three action steps you can take to spend more time and attention on taking the big picture perspective.

First, regularly ask yourself, “What else is going on in the world that matters?” Spend some time each week to learn something new about trends in technology, business, politics, society, the arts and other domains unrelated to your daily work. What interests you? What are you seeing that might have a direct or indirect impact on you, your team, your organization, your friends and your family? What action steps or opportunities do those trends suggest for you?

Second, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Will this matter a year from now?” When you’re dancing as fast as you can, it’s easy to end up in a state of fight or flight where everything feels like a crisis. When you notice yourself feeling spun up by an issue or a challenge, take a few deep breaths from your belly and ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now?” Chances are that it won’t and you can adjust your approach accordingly. If you determine it will matter a year from now, there’s still an opportunity to adjust to a different approach by asking a second question, “How do I need to show up to create a great outcome?”

Third, step back from time to time to ask, “What else am I trying to accomplish?”  I find that most leaders are really clear about what they want to accomplish at work. However, they often focus so much on their work outcomes that they don’t have a big picture perspective on two other big arenas of life – their life at home and their life in their community. Don’t let that happen to you. Take some time to write down the outcomes you’re trying to create not just at work but at home and in your community as well. Check yourself against those outcomes at least monthly so you can make the adjustments that would help you accomplish your goals in all three arenas of life.

For more ideas on how to take the big picture perspective, check out chapter three of The Next Level – Pick up regular renewal of your energy and perspective; Let go of running flat out until you crash.

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Categories: Blogs

Networking for People Who Are Too Busy to Network

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 07:11

When I speak to groups of leaders I regularly ask them, “How many of you think it’s important to your professional success to grow and maintain a healthy network?” Pretty much every person raises a hand.

Then I ask, “How many of you think you’re doing a great job at managing your network?” Hardly any hands go up.

Then I ask why there’s such a big gap between what they know to be important and what they’re actually doing about it.

The number one answer is lack of time. Most people feel like they’re too busy to network. The good news is you don’t have to spend countless hours at networking events. You can build your network by focusing on your work in a slightly different way.

Here are three action steps you can take to build your network when you’re too busy to network.

First, ask yourself, what kind of help or perspective do I need? Take a bit of time to get off the dance floor and go up to look at your work with a fresh perspective. What are you working on that could benefit from new ideas, knowledge or experience?

Second, ask yourself who do I know? Step two is to identify the partners who can help you raise your game. They may be people you already know. Or, they may be people you don’t know yet but are friends or colleagues of people you do. If you’re still stuck on who can help you, do a little Googling on who’s doing great work in that space and then reverse engineer your way back from them on LinkedIn to identify some people you have in common.

Third, ask for help. Help might look like an introduction to the person you’d like to get to know better. Or, it could be a direct request for help from that person. Either way some fundamental things apply if you want to raise your likelihood of establishing a meaningful connection. First, you have to be relevant to all parties. That means you have to know what’s important to them and address that. Then you have to have a clear declaration of what you’re working on and why it matters. Next, be ready with a clear, simple and easily actionable request that is relatively easy for the other person to honor. Be ready to extend your own offer of how you think you might be able to support their work or goals. That can help build the trust that is the glue of positive long-term relationships.

For more ideas on how to build your network to stay connected to the market and gain fresh perspective, check out Chapter Nine of The Next Level – Pick up an outside in view of the entire organization; Let go of an inside out view of your function.

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Categories: Blogs

Would You Rather Be Effective or Be Right?

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 06:34

If you’re in a leadership role, there’s a pretty decent chance that when you were a kid, you were one of the smartest kids in class. If that wasn’t you, you probably remember who was. You know the smartest kid routine. They always had the right answer and wanted to make sure everyone else – especially the teacher – knew it. In organizational leadership, being right is less important than being effective. My point isn’t that you should strive to be wrong. My point is that there is often more than one right answer and your answer is one among many possibilities. Instead of seeking to prove you’re right, focus on being effective.

Here are three action steps you can take to make that shift.

First, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What am I really trying to accomplish here?” In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get spun up or distracted by the little things people do or say that don’t really matter. When you feel yourself getting triggered by that, take a couple of deep breaths to clear your head and calm down. Then remind yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish and line your comments and actions up against that picture.

Second, take a break or sleep on it. Some of the biggest clown car moves I see from managers and executives happen when they react to an email they disagree with by immediately sending back a flamer to tell the sender how wrong they are. Quite often they’ll compound this by cc’ing everyone in a 50 mile radius. The next time you get triggered by an email, take a break or sleep on it before you reply. That will give you an opportunity to regain emotional equilibrium and choose a response that is more about being effective than right.

Third, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Does this really matter?” When you get up on the balcony and look at the pattern of what happens in your typical day or week there’s a lot of stuff that happens that just won’t matter in the long run. If you try to fight every battle, you’ll likely end up losing the war. Get clear about the things that really matter and quit engaging on the things that don’t.

For more ideas on how to choose effectiveness as a more important outcome than being right, check out Chapter Ten of The Next Level – Pick up a big footprint view of your role; Let go of a small footprint view of your role.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.

Categories: Blogs

Three Ways to Tailor Your Communications to Your Audience

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 05:26

You’re probably familiar with the saying that if you’re good with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That approach may work in construction but it doesn’t in communications. To be an effective communicator you need to custom-fit your approach by being outcome-oriented and audience specific. That means you need to tailor your communications based on what outcome you’re trying to create and how you need to show up with specific people or groups to make that outcome likely.

Here are three action steps you can take to tailor your communications to your audience.

First, follow the lead of Olympic athletes and visualize what it is you’re trying to do. Before you go into communications mode, think through and visualize your answer to two questions. First, if you’re wildly successful in your communications, what happens at the end? What do people know, think, do, feel, believe or agree to? After you’ve got that picture in your mind, think through the second question – how do you need to show up to make that outcome likely? That will be more about how you engage in terms of your energy and body language than the specific content of what you say. Should your energy be high or low, positive or negative? Are you transmitting more, receiving more or hitting a sweet spot between the two? Creating a pre-game picture in your mind of what you’re trying to do and how you need to show up to do it, will make you more effective in the actual event.

Second, as you prepare, work through your answers to three important questions: What? So What? and Now What? What is about the topic. That may not change much from audience to audience.  So What is where you start to tailor the communications by getting clear about what this person or group cares about and why they care or don’t about your topic. Now What is about the outcome or next step. Before you wrap up the communications, take time to make sure that everyone is on the same page with the Now What.

Third, receive as much as you transmit. Communications is not just about talking, it’s about listening. Take time to ask the questions that will help you learn more about the other people in the conversation and what’s important to them. In the sales world, they call it needs based selling. This is the same idea. You want to learn and address the key issues of everyone involved and what’s really important to them so you can shape the rest of the conversation to where they’re coming from.

For more ideas on how to tailor your communications to the needs of a particular audience, check out Chapter Four of my book The Next Level – Pick up custom-fit communications; Let go of one-size-fits-all communications.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.

Categories: Blogs

What Multiple Sclerosis Has Taught Me About Life and Managing Myself

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 08:36

It was ten years ago this summer that I was diagnosed with MS. That first year or two was really scary. My thinking was frequently foggy. Most days my brain felt like a wet sponge inside my head. One way that showed up was that I was constantly letting our dog roam through the neighborhood because I thought I was pressing the button to close the garage door after walking him when I was really opening it.

My body was betraying me too. In a few months, I went from regularly going on 8 or 9 mile runs on the weekend to barely being able to walk around the block without leaning on my wife, Diane. There was one afternoon in DC that I’ll never forget. I was coming out of a meeting and a huge thunderstorm opened up out of nowhere as I was walking the three blocks back to the parking garage. I started to run to get to the garage and literally couldn’t feel my feet on the ground. I had to steady myself against buildings as I walked back getting soaked in the storm.

Today, things are very different. This is the fifth year in a row when I’ve flown 100k plus miles on United by the middle of the summer. I’m not particularly proud of that stat;. it’s just one way of making the point that MS isn’t slowing me down. Diane tells me that people ask her all the time how I do what I do and keep the schedule I keep. My first thought is I just do it. Then when I stop and think about it, I recognize that what’s working for me is what I’m always telling leaders will work for them.

It’s all about the routines – physical, mental, relational and spiritual – that will help you live and lead at your best. For me, my core routines have become such a normal part of my life rhythm that I don’t really think about them anymore. You know how you can end up doing stuff so automatically that you just assume everyone else does all of that? Of course, that’s not true but it is true that routines can cut both ways – there are helpful ones and ones that aren’t so helpful.

The early effects of MS really caused me to step back and reassess the pros and cons of what I was routinely doing and open myself up to new routines that could help me get my life back on track. One thing I learned early on was that when you have a chronic illness you have to manage your stress. You can’t afford to live in a state of chronic fight or flight. Doing that makes you less productive in the short run, feel worse in the short to medium run and reduces your life expectancy in the long run.

So, in the hope that this might be of help to some of you who are reading this post, here’s what I’ve learned about life and managing myself in these past 10 years with multiple sclerosis. I’ve organized what I’ve learned and do by the four domains of routines that I share with readers and clients when I teach them how to create and use their own Life GPS®.

Physical

Keep Moving – Rhythmic, repetitive motion activates your nervous system’s parasympathetic response. Pretty much every positive outcome in your body flows from that activation. I am constantly moving throughout the day and doubling down on that with regular yoga classes, long walks and lifting weights. All of that has increased my strength, range of motion, flexibility and sense of balance. Those are super important factors in living a healthy and confident life whether you have MS or not.

Eat Cool – Over the years, I’ve adjusted what I eat and drink to reduce inflammation in my body.  There’s a ton of research that demonstrates that chronic inflammation is a big source of disease. My anti-inflammation diet approach is no gluten, very little dairy, lots of plants, no red meat, lots of hydration, and limiting the alcohol to red wine and the occasional gluten-free beer or small glass of really good single malt scotch (Those last two are cheats but I also believe in doing things you enjoy in moderation even if they’re not on the “approved” list.)

Sleep – Research demonstrates that 95 percent of human beings need at least seven hours of sleep a night to be fully functional in the short run and reach their full life expectancy in the long run. When I learned this, I got serious about my sleep. When I get seven to eight hours in a night I feel and perform a lot better the next day both physically and mentally.

Mental

Keep Breathing – In 2013, I did a 200 hour yoga teacher training program with a wonderful, highly experienced instructor named Birgitte Kristen. I quickly realized that a lot of what she was teaching us also applied to my work with leaders. I asked her to lunch to get her input on what I should share with my corporate clients. She immediately said, “Breathing. Ambitious people don’t know how to breathe.” She explained that the right way to breathe is deeply from the belly. About the same time, I learned of Nobel prize winning research from Elizabeth Blackburn and her team at the University of California at San Francisco that shows that as little as 12 minutes a day of meditative breathing improves genetic expression. When I heard that I thought, “As someone with MS, why would I not spend 12 minutes a day on breathing in that deep meditative way?” Since then, the meditation app on my phone tells me I’ve spent about 450 hours breathing deeply and intentionally. I’ve found that has lengthened my gap between  stimulus and response. It’s made me less reactive and more responsive. There are way fewer things that trigger me than there used to be. I think more clearly and it feels like I make better decisions. All of that breathing has slowed things down in a way that sometimes makes me feel like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. That’s super helpful in maintaining a productive perspective on the ups and downs of life.

Almost Everything is Temporary – If there is anything MS has taught me it’s that almost every condition in life is temporary. In my early years with the disease I would feel completely crappy for a few hours and then suddenly feel OK if not pretty good for a few hours. Everything was subject to change. Since then, I’ve learned how to manage myself so I have way more feel good moments than bad but I haven’t forgotten the lesson that most everything is temporary. It doesn’t really matter whether you like it or not because it’s going to change pretty soon anyway. Accepting that has made life in general much easier.

Relational

Enjoy the Now – Once I literally got my feet back under me, Diane and I decided that whenever we could, we were going to enjoy and take advantage of the “Aren’t we lucky to be alive?” moments that life presents. My MS diagnosis made us realize that we don’t have any guarantees about how life is going to play out so let’s not wait. We don’t wait to connect. We don’t wait to have that experience or create that memory or touch that life.

Share Your Secrets – In the first five years after I was diagnosed, we only shared my condition with immediate family and close friends. We were so scared by what MS did to me early on and all of the terrible stories we had heard that we didn’t want people to know what I was dealing with out of fear that my clients might think I couldn’t perform or show up for my commitments. Then, in 2014, I wrote my second book, Overworked and Overwhelmed. I couldn’t have written that back without the experience I had had learning how to deal with MS so I felt like I had to share my secret if I was going to be authentic in putting that book out into the world. What was shocking to me was how supportive people were and how much they appreciated me sharing what was going on and what I was learning from dealing with it. It was a huge stress reducer for me (which made me feel even healthier) and also a huge source of connection. One thing about being a human is we all have something going on. I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to deal with your something when you share it. The bonus is that other people sometimes benefit from your story and what you’ve learned along the way.

Spiritual

Reading for Purpose – This last lesson is one that I learned a long time ago, kind of forgot about and have recently returned to. The volume and availability of news in 2019 makes it way too easy to overdose on the latest headline, tweet or outrage. A recent trip out of the country for business and pleasure made me aware of what I’ve been doing the past couple of years. In two weeks abroad, I didn’t see a single flat screen TV with a “Breaking News” headline in a public space. Here, in the US, you can’t escape them. For me at least, the news culture was causing me to spend more and more time reading the same story in five different places. Thanks to the trip abroad, I’ve been on a cable news fast for the past month and, boy, do I feel better. I’m reading more books and fewer articles. I’ve found that my new reading habits are generating less stress (always good when you have MS) and providing more impetus and space to reflect on questions of purpose like why am I here and how do I want to contribute. That feels great and I intend to keep doing it.

So, this post has turned out to be way longer than I originally intended. I guess it takes about 2,000 words to process ten years of life lessons and experience. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for hanging in there and I hope you’ve found something useful. If you did, I’d love to hear what landed with you. In the meantime, remember we all have something going on so, whatever it is for you, know you’re not alone and continue to rock on.

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Categories: Blogs

If You’re Only Transmitting You’re Not Influencing

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 05:00

As I’ve written here before, effective leadership communications involves two distinct activities – transmitting and receiving. You can think of it like a two-way radio or a smartphone. They only work when they both transmit and receive. For your leadership communications to be inspirational and influential, you need to do both as well.

Too many people in leadership roles overemphasize the transmission and underemphasize the reception. These folks equate leadership with giving inspirational speeches or pep talks. Before you can have the inspiration, you’ve got to have the conversation. To inspire and influence others to action, you have to know and address what they care about.

To do that, you need to be super-intentional about putting yourself in reception mode. An easy and proven way to do that is to conduct a Listening Tour. I talk at some length about how to stage an effective Listening Tour in chapter 8 of The Next Level but, for now, here are some tips for getting started.

Identify Representative Stakeholders: The groups of people you’re trying to inspire or influence are made up of real human beings with hopes, fears, wants and needs. They’re all people who have a stake in the movement you’re trying to lead or the outcome you’re trying to create. Go have conversations with a representative sample of them. Note that I said “have conversations” instead of “talk with.” The distinction turns on transmitting vs. receiving. “Talking with” is usually transmission-oriented; “having a conversation” is usually reception-oriented. You want more of the latter and less of the former.

Start with Open-Ended Questions: Once you’ve figured out who you’re going to listen to on your tour, develop a list of open-ended questions that will help you learn more about them. Some of my road-tested favorites include:

  • What will make this a great year for you?
  • What difference would that make for you?
  • What’s helping you accomplish your goals?
  • What’s getting in the way?
  • What’s going on that has you excited?
  • What’s going on that has you concerned?
  • What kind of help do you need to be successful?
  • What can I do to help?

Compare and Contrast: Take notes during or immediately after each of your Listening Tour conversations and then compare and contrast. What similarities do you see across the conversations? What differences do you see? How do the dots connect into a bigger picture that could give you guidance on how you should lead and communicate?

Spending some quality time in receiving mode will make you much more effective in transmitting mode. Get the balance right and you’ll be a more inspiring and influential leader.

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Categories: Blogs

My Top Three Leadership Reads for Your Summer Vacation

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 05:00

Just in time for your summer beach reading, I thought I’d share a quick recap of the three most popular blog posts I’ve run so far this year. Happily, each of the posts addresses one of the three key leadership imperatives I identify in the new 3rd edition of The Next Level:

  • Manage yourself
  • Leverage your team
  • Engage your colleagues

My most popular post on managing yourself so far this year has been How to Keep Your Poker Face. If you could benefit from not letting your facial expressions or body language give away everything you’re thinking, this one’s for you.

On the imperative of leveraging your team, the most read post so far this year has been How to Stop Inspiring Your Team to Underperformance.  Starting with “Dial Back the Nice,” this one has three proven and practical ways to raise your team’s game.

And, this year’s number one post to date on engaging your colleagues is How to Get Your Micromanager Boss to Back Off. For all the people who have a micromanager in their lives, this post teaches you how to Anticipate, Train and Show your way to a more productive and less frustrating relationship.

So, there’s my contribution to your summer reading list. Maybe not as pulse pounding or as steamy as that spy novel you have lined up, but guaranteed to be a quicker read and something you can actually put to work when you get back from vacation!

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Categories: Blogs

Beat the Churn with Context

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 05:00

One of the stories I tell in The Next Level is about the CEO of a very well-known company who, in speaking to a meeting of the top 200 executives there, spontaneously riffed out loud about how “We could use more employees with the skill set and approach that Competitor X has.” Over the next six months, the CEO’s company had hired scores of employees from Competitor X and, as they did, unintentionally changed the culture of their own company. The CEO started to notice what was going on and asked why the company was suddenly hiring so many people from Competitor X. The answer was, “You told us to at the top executive conference.” The CEO’s response was that he was just thinking out loud that they could use people like that and he didn’t mean that anyone should go out and poach them away.

Chalk one up for needless churn. Based on a random comment rooted in a fragment of a thought people sprang into action, spun things up and changed the culture of a major company in the process.

Another way to spark churn in your organization (which both I and a number of my executive coaching clients have been guilty of) is to send your team members an email with a report or article attached with a cryptic cover note like, “Please take a look at this.” I was reminded of this one lately in a senior leadership team meeting where some of the executives were talking about how they had been acting on an article their CEO sent with a “Read this” message. The boss was surprised when they told him that and said that he had only sent it because he had found it interesting. In the meantime, hours were burned and churned by people guessing and then acting on what they thought he wanted.

So, if you’re the designated leader how do you avoid sending your people into a cycle of churn?

It’s pretty simple really. Slow yourself down and take a few more moments to provide some context about what you’re saying or sending and why you’re saying or sending it. For instance, the Competitor X example that I started this post with could have been avoided if the CEO had first said, “I’m just thinking out loud here and putting this on the table as food for thought, not action.” Or, in the case of sending an article around, expand on “Take a look at this,” with a sentence or two more about why it resonates with you and how you think it could be useful to others.

You may think that advice is beyond basic and that it should be obvious that you don’t expect people to take action on the things you say and the stuff you share unless you explicitly ask for action. Yeah, it may be obvious to you, but it’s likely not obvious to them. Experience shows again and again that even senior executives are so motivated to please their boss that they will often spring into action at the slightest prompt. As a result, there’s a lot of needless churn in a lot of organizations.

Beat the churn. Provide some context.

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Categories: Blogs

What I Learned About Leadership from Reading Mad Magazine

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 06:40

You may have seen the recent news that Mad magazine is ending regular publication. On the other hand, you may not have known it was still being published (I didn’t) or, depending on your age, have even heard of Mad.  I definitely have. As a tweener and a young teen, there was a three to four year run where I read pretty much every issue.

As a matter of fact, the copies of Mad in the photo that accompanies this post all belong to me. In thinking about writing this, I remembered that I had a bunch of old comic books and rock and roll magazines stored in a plastic box in my closet. I haven’t looked through it in years but figured there were some issues of Mad in there. Sure enough, I found a couple of dozen of them from the era of peak Mad.

If you don’t have your own copies and want a quick recap on the heyday of Mad, I recommend Tim Krieder’s opinion piece in the New York Times, “The World According to Mad Magazine.” My favorite line from his article is “Grown-ups who worried that Mad was a subversive influence… were 100 percent correct.” After browsing through some of my old issues today, I completely agree. I don’t know if my parents actually ever looked at Mad, but if they did, I’m amazed that they let me read it.

For good and for bad, Mad influenced me in my formative years. Reading some of the stuff that I read back then makes me cringe today. My old issues of Mad are definitely reflective of where the U.S. was in terms of race, gender and sexuality in the 1970’s. (Of course, given some of the headlines we’ve been reading regularly lately, it’s reasonable to wonder if we’ve really come that far since then.)

On the other hand, I can see how Mad started shaping my 10 to 13 year old brain in ways that, for the most part, have been useful influences on the way I’ve engaged with and led others over the years. There are a few things in particular that stand out for me:

Words MatterMad was full of plays on words. The magazine’s writers were also highly skilled at conveying a lot with a few words. One photo article I found today was a “Mad Look at Then and Now,” where they juxtaposed two photos with a “from this to that” caption. My favorite was a side by side of Moses holding up the Ten Commandments next to a picture of Nixon holding up his arms during a parade. The caption was From PROPHET… to LOSS. And, of course, they were famous for their movie and television show parodies. A few of my 7th grade buddies and I were so inspired that we produced an issue of our own Mad knock-off called ZAP! I have a copy of that too (yes, I know it’s strange).  We came up with our own satire on The Exorcist that we called Extrasick. Today, I try to keep my writing style casual, conversational and, hopefully a little bit smart and occasionally funny. A lot of that took root while reading Mad.

The Difference Between What They Say and What They Think or DoMad was always calling out hypocrites and their hypocritical actions. One little illustrated piece I found today was on “What Coaches Say in Public and in Private.” For example, the football coach says in public, “We won because we stuck to our original game plan!” and in private says, “We were just lucky they fumbled more than we did!” Another issue provided a handy guide to “Bulling Your Way Through Election Campaigns” where, in true Mad-Libs fashion, you could pick your topic like foreign policy or the economy, choose a pre-written draft of an all-purpose statement and then select two adjectives from columns A and B and a noun from column C. And, voila, you kind of sound like you know what you’re talking about. Learning at an early age to focus on what people say versus what they do served me well later in life when I started coaching leaders. If what you say doesn’t line up with what you do, people will eventually check out on you and your culture will fall apart. Who would have guessed that Mad would end up being a guide to assessing corporate cultures and their leaders?

Question Assumptions  – In my years of being a leader and working with leaders, I’ve always found “Why are we doing it this way?” to be a very useful question. That impetus to question assumptions (and quite often authority) probably started with reading Mad. Their editors and writers were ruthless in leveraging “the way we do things around here” for laughs whether it was a mock catalog of worthless junk sold through direct mail, a take-down of the power and light company or any number of other absurdities you encounter in everyday life. Learning to step back and question the assumptions about the way things are done around here has proven to be valuable in both being a leader and coaching leaders.

All of that said, I’ve also learned, as I wrote years ago, that being a smart-ass can only get you so far. It can be charming and funny until it’s not. In reading Tim Kreider’s and other writers recollections and appreciations of Mad, I had one of those almost embarrassing flashes of self-knowledge. It was like, “Oh, so that’s where that came from!” Like most things in life, the impact of reading so much Mad magazine as a kid wasn’t all good and wasn’t all bad for me – it was a mix. So, I’ll continue on with the journey of leveraging the good and mitigating the bad. That’s a big part of life and leadership isn’t it? We keep on keeping on or, as Alfred E. Neuman might ask, “What, me worry?”

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Categories: Blogs

A Life Leadership Lesson from My Mom

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 05:48

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may remember the post I wrote back in April after my dad, Jack Eblin, passed away. One of the things I mentioned early on in that post was that my mom and dad were together for a total of 69 years. They dated for seven years starting at age 14 and were married for another 62 years after that. So, not surprisingly, I’ve had a lot of friends and readers ask me over the past few months, “How’s your mom doing?”

My answer is pretty much always the same, “She’s doing amazing.” Of course, she misses the love of her life, but she has shown an amazing and inspiring amount of strength and resilience since Dad died.

As an example, she called me up one afternoon about three weeks after the funeral to run an idea by me. A year or so ago, my dad had bought a super nice but extremely large SUV. I found it cumbersome to drive and my mom did too. She wanted to know what I thought about the idea of her trading in dad’s car and her own 10 year old car that she loved for the new version of her car. I immediately said, “That’s a great idea.” Clearly, she didn’t really need my affirmation as she then told me that she’d already been talking to the dealer, had the cars appraised, picked out the color of the new one she wanted and figured that she’d get a cash payout as part of the deal. Two weeks later, she had traded the old cars, got the check and picked up the new car in time to make the five hour drive to my brother’s house to spend Mother’s Day weekend with him and his wife.

My mom gets shit done. The car trade is one example out of dozens from her over the past three months. Most of the time when I call her during the week, we have to cut the conversation short because she’s headed out to dinner with friends, going to a charity event, playing bridge, or organizing something for church or another community organization she supports.

My wife, Diane, and I spent last week in West Virginia with my mom to hang out with her and help clean out the garage. One evening, we talked about how she’s been doing what she’s been doing these past three months. She shared something neither of us will forget. While Mom misses my dad greatly, she has chosen not to feel sorry for her loss. Instead she’s chosen to feel grateful for the amazing gift of all the years they spent together. She believes it would be greedy to feel sorry for herself given the great life they had for so many years together.

The life leadership lesson from my mom is we all have the option to choose our response. That’s what Viktor Frankl wrote about in his classic memoir of surviving the Holocaust, Man’s Search for Meaning. The determination he made in the concentration camp was that while he could not control what the Nazis did to him, he could choose how he would respond to his circumstance. He chose to respond with dignity.

My mom, Judy Eblin, in facing the common but profound life challenge of loss, has chosen not to respond with self-pity but, instead, with gratitude for all she was given. In addition to being the best possible way to honor and remember her husband, my mom’s choice to be grateful improves the quality of her own life and everyone who knows and loves her.

We all face challenges as we lead our lives. The quality of the outcomes depends on the responses we choose. I’m fortunate to have a mom who reminds me of that truth by embodying it.

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Categories: Blogs