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Are You Triaging or Prioritizing Your Work?

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 05:00

If you’ve ever had to make a trip to the emergency room (hopefully not) or watched a medical drama on TV (probably so), you’ve seen a team of doctors, nurses and other team members doing triage.

Triage is the process of assessing which patients need immediate treatment or attention and which can wait until after the more urgent cases are addressed. It’s a big reason why you might end up hanging out in the waiting room for hours if you go to the ER to get your flu or some other non-life-threatening condition treated. The patients who are literally knocking on death’s door are going to be seen before you.

I’ve been thinking about triage lately as I’ve been working with my executive coaching clients. Just about every leader I work with is operating in an environment where they and their teams have more to accomplish than the time available to do it all. So, they spend a lot of effort prioritizing their work. I’ve concluded, though, that what a lot of them are doing is not really prioritizing but triaging. Here’s the difference between the two.

When you’re triaging your work you’re often focused on failure points. You’re looking for things that need to be done right now because not doing them creates failure points that start a chain reaction of dominoes falling. Leading with the triage approach leaves you feeling like you’re always fighting the latest fire and not really moving things forward. You and your team end up spending most of your time and attention on the urgent stuff that’s right in front of you.

Truly prioritizing your work requires you to start with a different time focus. Instead of focusing on what’s crying out for attention right now, prioritization begins with a focus on where you want to end up. That requires taking a deep breath, slowing down and asking, “What are we trying to accomplish this year and what will the outcomes look like when we accomplish that?” Your answers to that question create a picture of the desired end state. From there, you can reverse engineer back to identify what needs to be accomplished this quarter, this month, this week and even this day to create a successful set of outcomes for the year. That process enables you and your team to get clear about your true priorities.

I’m not suggesting there isn’t a place for triage. Sometimes things blow up and you’ve got to make some quick decisions about what needs to get done first. But if triage is all you ever do, you’re never going to get to the strategic priorities that will enable you to achieve your goals. If you think you’ve got an opportunity to do more prioritizing and less triaging, get started by taking 30 minutes this week to consider what you and your team are trying to accomplish this year and reverse engineer back from that picture to set some shorter-term priorities.

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Categories: Blogs

What Habits Are You Building This Year? Here Are Mine (and What I’m Learning from Them)

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 06:43

So, welcome to the first work day of 2019. By the time you read this, we may be into the third or fourth day or beyond, but as I write this, it’s January 2. And, by writing this, I am following through on one of the habits I set out for myself in my annual planning period between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. The particular habit I’m talking about is to write at least 500 words a day Monday through Friday in 2019.

Why am I setting that up as a habit for myself? It’s because I realized during my annual retreat with Diane (my all-star life and business partner) that I am better when I write regularly. (You can read our tips for how to do a great annual retreat here) I think more clearly and deeply. I’m more creative. I see patterns better. I learn more. I connect with more people more frequently. My 500 words can take the form of a blog post like this one. It could be an entry in my journal. It could be working on a longer essay or article or it could be taking notes as I brainstorm other ideas or projects.

Like a lot of people, I’m always looking for ways to manage myself more effectively (Manage Yourself is the first of three key leadership imperatives I address in the new 3rd edition of The Next Level.) With that in mind, some of the other habits I’m taking on this year include:

Reading more books: I’ve always been a voracious reader but I’ve noticed over the past couple of years that I’m spending too much time reading the news. That’s been a problem for a lot of us lately. It’s important to keep up with what’s going on but how much marginal value is there in reading four or five articles on the same story? Not much really. So, to make sure I read more books this year, I’ve set up a reading list (you can see it here) and a plan. All the books I’m going to read are already on my Kindle app (there’s a lot I’ve bought the past couple of years but haven’t read). That makes it easy for me to get in 15 to 30 minutes of reading time in between meetings wherever I am. I’m not going to read more than two books at a time. There will be a morning book and a rest of the day book. The morning book is to get me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day. The rest of the day book is to expand my breadth. Using this method, I finished John Carreyrou’s award winning page turner, Bad Blood about the fraud that went on at the former Silicon Valley unicorn, Theranos. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the thought provoking Buddhism Without Beliefs as my morning book and just started Stan McChrystal’s Leaders: Myth and Reality as my rest of the day book last night. I’m loving this routine!

Getting More Cardio: If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know that I’m pretty much an everyday yogi. I took up yoga a little over eight years ago to manage the effects of my multiple sclerosis. It’s done that and so much more. I’m probably as strong as I’ve ever been, my balance is great and I’ve made a lot of good friends as part of the deal. You don’t get a lot of cardio fitness with yoga though and as I ran for connecting flights a few times last year, I noticed I was getting overly gassed. I don’t run much for fitness anymore, so I’ve joined a gym close to where we live and have started taking bike, cross-fit and elevated treadmill classes three or so mornings a week. The trick I’ve found for sticking with it is when you sign up for a class on the gym’s app you can’t cancel it less than three hours before the class without endangering your right to continue to sign up for classes online. So, this morning I wasn’t exactly excited about getting out of bed at 6:30 am for a 7:00 am class but I sure wasn’t going to get up at 4:00 am to cancel it so I could sleep in! I’ve been doing this for a couple of months now and have yet to regret going to class. I’ve also noticed that I’m doing better when I have to break into an unexpected sprint!

Getting real about guitar: Last summer, I gave into my rock and roll dreams and bought a beautiful black Fender Stratocaster guitar. (It looks like the one that David Gilmour played in Pink Floyd but is not nearly as expensive.) My original plan was to teach myself how to play using the Fender Play app and I’ve completed two of the five levels of lessons in the app. The other thing I’ve been doing is randomly learning how to play different songs that pop into my head by finding an online video lesson of someone teaching you how to play that song. It’s been fun, but frankly I’ve been driving Diane crazy as I’ve been plunking stuff out on the guitar saying, “Listen to this. Recognize it?” The answer is usually, “Um, no.” The problem is I haven’t had a plan to really learn how to play. Everything was too random. Fortunately, there’s this wonderful Australian guy online named Justin Sandercoe who, for years, has been putting together an incredibly comprehensive set of videos and programs for learning to play guitar. I’m starting with the beginner level and am going to proceed step by step from there.

OK, I could go on, but what are the takeaways that might apply to you? There are a few principles at play in my habit examples that are helping me manage myself more effectively for 2019 that I think can help you too. Here they are:

Have a plan – You’re much more likely to build new habits if you have a plan. It could be a reading list, a well-designed instructional program or anything that creates a map for how you’re going to follow through.

Break it down – I love bite-size chunks. If you have a plan, there’s actually a lot you can do in 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes. Break your habit plan down into digestible bites.

Set some metrics – Write 500 words a day. Go to a cardio class 3 times a week. Have two books going at any given time. Those are all simple metrics that keep my habit goals in front of me. What are yours?

Make it easy  – My online buddy Justin makes it super easy to learn guitar. He’s available whenever I can fit him in and I don’t have to get in the car to go see him. Carrying my books around on my Kindle app makes it easy to read wherever I am without the extra 2 to 3 pounds of book in my backpack (which I don’t always carry with me anyway. I always carry my phone). Make following through on your habits as easy as possible.

Build in accountability – Make it hard to back out. Telling all of you what I’m doing with my habits this year is one way for me to do that. Signing up for an early morning class knowing that I won’t have the opportunity to cancel it is another. What kind of simple accountability processes can you create for yourself so you’re compelled to follow through on your habits?

So what habits are you intending to establish for yourself this year? What kinds of plans do you have for doing that? What’s working for you? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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

How to Be A Better Virtual Communicator

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 08:55

Surely you’ve noticed that most conference calls, video conferences, e-mail threads and virtually any other form of virtual communications pretty much stink. Why is that and what can we do about it?

Dr. Nick Morgan has the answers. In this recorded interview with Nick, I asked him to share some of the fascinating research he gathered and conducted for his new book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World. He did and, even better, he shared his best tips for how we can all be better virtual communicators. (Here’s a cryptic hint. We need to overcome our sensory deprivation.)

In 2018, everyone engages in virtual communication all day long. Want to make it less painful and a lot more effective? Listen to my interview with Dr. Nick Morgan. Better yet, buy and read his book!

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 Reasons Leaders Should Ask for Help

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 05:00

There’s a hero myth that can build up around leaders. The great leaders stand alone, indomitable in the face of adversity, accomplishing their goals in the face of all obstacles. The last thing they need is help from anyone else. Their strength, wisdom and resolve brought them to this point and will, of course, carry them forward.

There at least two problems with myths. One is that they’re not true. The other is that, because they appeal to the full range of our emotions, they can suck us in to believing they’re true. And, like Icarus who fell to earth when his wax wings melted in the heat of the sun, buying into the hero myth can cause leaders to crash and burn.

All of this came to mind last week when I had the opportunity to listen to an accomplished executive leader speak about his journey during a coaches conference sponsored by one of my client companies. He’s the leader of a team that’s running some very challenging and game changing technology initiatives for the company. As the leader told his story, his confidence and competence came through loud and clear. He spoke rapidly and clearly about how his team approached the project, what they had overcome along the way and the impact that their work was having on the company.

It was impressive, but, honestly, it didn’t really resonate with me because in 18 years of executive coaching, I’ve heard a lot of stories like the one this leader was telling. Impressive, but not unique. That’s until one of the coaches asked him to talk about the biggest thing he’s learned in his current assignment. To my surprise, his answer was, “I’ve learned to ask for help.”

He went on to talk about how the complexity and challenges of what he was doing caused him to confront his limitations. He recognized that he needed help from his peer-level colleagues, from more senior leaders and from his team members. He was public and open in asking for help. His willingness to ask for help, he believes, was a critical factor in his team’s success.

At that point, I really was impressed. It may have been the first time I have ever heard an executive leader be so clear and transparent that they needed help and asked for it. It got me thinking about the value of leaders asking for help. Based on what I heard last week and reflecting on what I’ve seen over the years, I came up with three reasons leaders should ask for help:

Knowledge and Capabilities – None of us are born knowing everything we need to know about what to do and how to do it. You can only get all of the knowledge and capabilities you need if you ask for help.

Connection – By asking for help, leaders show vulnerability. By showing vulnerability, they demonstrate that they too are human. That establishes the kind of connection with colleagues that leads to collaborative, value-added outcomes.

Role Modeling – By asking for help and being open about doing so, leaders role model that approach for others. There’s a ton of leverage that comes with a designated leadership position. Just like financial leverage, leadership leverage can yield amazing outcomes when used well or disastrous outcomes when used poorly. Role modeling positive behaviors like asking for help almost always yields positive outcomes.

If you really want to be a leadership hero, maybe the strongest move you can make is to ask for help.

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