Leading with Trust

Quit Babying Employees Through Change and Do This Instead

Hey leaders, let me ask you a question: Do you ever feel like the burden of successfully implementing an organizational change rests squarely on your shoulders? I know that I have frequently felt that way and I’m sure you have too.

Tell me if this sounds like your typical to-do list when leading a change effort:

  • Build the most persuasive business case to convince people of the need for change
  • Craft the perfect communication plan to address every possible question
  • Patiently address every concern with empathy so people “feel good” about the change
  • Make the change as easy as possible so people aren’t disrupted too much
  • Control the pace of change so people don’t have to change too much too fast

Notice the similarity in all those items? You, the leader, is responsible for everything related to the change effort. No wonder you feel exhausted.

These are all important items that need to be addressed when implementing change. However, the result of the leader assuming responsibility for convincing employees to change, getting their buy-in, and making change as easy as possible actually creates learned helplessness among employees. Leaders babying employees through change denies them the personal growth of developing resiliency and readiness to change.

In her book No Ego—How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results, Cy Wakeman offers two commonly held beliefs about change that actually force leaders to shoulder all the burden and rob employees of personal responsibility in adapting to the change.

Myth #1: Change is Hard—Wakeman says that leaders who believe this tend to over-manage and under-lead. If the goal is to make change easier and more palatable for people, then leaders end up shouldering all the burden for the success of the change initiative (see the to-do list above). This creates a culture of learned helplessness, and when employees figure change isn’t their responsibility, they fail to develop resiliency and readiness for what’s next.

Myth #2: We Can’t Handle So Much Change—The marketplace never stops changing, Wakeman points out, and it’s indifferent to people feeling uncomfortable or disturbed. Resistance to change usually comes from those who find themselves unready and they fear being exposed. Instead of asking “How can we make this change easier for you?,” leaders should be asking “How can we build your skills to be better at change?” Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary, and neutral. They coach people through a process of incremental growth to build their skill at being ready for change.

So the next time you’re faced with leading a change effort, question your long-held beliefs about how you should lead. Your efforts to make change easier for employees, or to slow down the pace of change, may actually make the change effort more difficult. Instead, teach your employees how to exhibit self-leadership and take responsibility for developing their own readiness for change.

3 Steps to Opt-Out of The Rat Race and Achieve Lasting Fulfillment

So how are you doing with that New Year’s resolution? What’s that you say? You can’t even remember your resolution? If you’re like me, the rat race of life has taken over and you’ve been focused on other things. We aren’t alone. Surveys show that a few days into a new year 22% of people have already broken their resolution, 11% have abandoned them altogether, and only 8% will keep their resolution all year.

It seems as though the rat race wins every time, yet we keep coming back for more. In fact, we seem addicted to the constant pursuit of self-optimization. Notice I didn’t say self-improvement. Our culture has moved beyond the old-school simplicity of improving ourselves through ways like reading a book, taking a class, or developing self-awareness. Instead, we opt for the high-tech version of self-optimization of hacking our way to improved productivity, the monitoring of every possible biochemical process in our bodies to achieve peak performance, and having apps to remind us of how woefully short we’re falling from achieving our goals. We are literally trying to improve ourselves to death.

Ready to Opt Out of the Rat Race?

It’s easy to forget that we are human beings, not human doings. We get so focused on what we’re doing that we forget to just be. We wear our busyness like a badge of honor, when in reality it’s a scarlet letter that shows our priorities are all jacked up. When was the last time you just sat in quiet reflection for any amount of time? No, we tend to eschew self-reflection because it’s easier to stay busy with checking our phone for incoming email, new posts on social media, current news headlines, or the latest celebrity gossip.

But we have a choice. We can choose to focus on being, rather than doing, and I would argue it’s necessary to have a healthy balance of both if we want to live joyful, fulfilling, and contented lives. The rat race isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As Lily Tomlin wisely said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. ~ Lily Tomlin

So how can we opt out of the rat race? I have three suggestions:

  1. Live for something bigger than yourself. Blaise Pascal had this to say about mankind’s search for ultimate meaning: “This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there, the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” Living for something bigger than yourself means you are clear on your purpose and priorities. If you don’t have a clear sense of living for something bigger that drives your actions, then other people will determine your course for you.
  2. Focus on others, not yourself. It’s a paradoxical truth in life that the more you focus on serving other people, the happier you are with yourself. Serving others brings joy, gratitude, and contentment. Focusing on yourself ultimately brings anxiety, discontent, and loneliness. Life is better lived in community and service with others.
  3. Learn to be content with your limitations. What?! Isn’t that anathema to the current thinking of self-optimization! Yes, it is, but it’s crucial in breaking free from the chains of the rat race. We all like to think we can do anything we set our mind to, and it’s counter-cultural to suggest otherwise. The reality is that we can’t do it all. Those who are happiest in life are those that have learned to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are, and to focus their time and energy in areas where they perform best. There’s a tremendous amount of relief that comes from being able to say “You know, I’m not the best at doing that. Why don’t you give someone else the opportunity?”

If you’re disappointed because you abandoned your resolution before January was over, or if you feel the stress and anxiety of trying to keep all the plates spinning, consider these three suggestions. Life is better when we remember we are human beings, not human doings.

Too Many Priorities? 3 Tips to Focus on What Matters Most

overwhelmed-350x350Do you feel like you have too many priorities to accomplish at work? Yeah, me too. It seems to be all the rage these days, although I think most of us would rather not be part of this popular cultural trend. Most professionals I speak with struggle with the same sort of issues: the rapid pace of change, tight organizational budgets that force us to do more with less, and trying to encourage the growth and development of our team members in flat organizations with limited mobility.

I took on an increased scope of responsibility this year, and as the year winds down and I reflect on how I invested my time and energy, I’ve realized my focus was diffused over too many competing priorities. It left me a bit unsatisfied with my level of effectiveness, so I want to enter 2017 with a renewed focus on channeling my efforts into the most important activities that will drive the highest levels of impact.

If you find yourself in the same boat as me, then maybe you can benefit from the following three steps I’m going to take to renew my focus in the coming year:

Acknowledge you’re not serving yourself or your team—It took me awhile to recognize this truth. I kept expecting the white water of change to smooth out at some point, and when that happened, I’d be able to refocus and feel more in control of my efforts. News Flash—change isn’t going to stop! The constant pace of change makes it even more important to be crystal clear on your top priorities. Having a fewclear priorities gives you the flexibility to deal with new ones as they arise without causing you to drown in a sea of work. You, and your team, deserves your full attention and focus. Taking on too much dilutes your leadership effectiveness.

Assess where to focus your energy—We need to focus our leadership on the most important areas that will have the greatest impact on our teams and organizations. Looking at importance and impact through the lens of a 2 x 2 grid can help us decide which priorities deserve our focus.

Obviously, our primary focus should be on those initiatives that are of the highest importance and carry the most impact. A prerequisite is to first determine what important and impact means for your particular situation. Your definition of important and impact will likely differ from mine depending on the needs of your team or organization. But whatever activities qualify for this quadrant, that’s your sweet spot. That’s where you add the most value as a leader.

The opposing quadrant, low importance/low impact, are activities you need to discard or delegate. Those are the projects that don’t warrant your time and attention. Getting rid of these activities can be challenging. They may be something you personally enjoy doing, are impact-vs-importancefun, and may have even served an important purpose at one time. If these activities still carry a modicum of importance and impact, delegate them to someone who can make them his/her primary focus. If not, jettison them. They’re holding you back.

The toughest ones to figure out are the other two quadrants: high impact/low importance and high importance/low impact. These require analysis and decision-making. If the activity provides a high level of impact, but isn’t that important, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. To help you make a decision, estimate the return on investment if you devote your energy to this activity. If the ROI is there (the impact makes it worth doing), delegate it to someone who can make it a primary focus. If the ROI isn’t there, discard it.

If an activity is important but carries low impact, it’s likely something that isn’t urgent but needs attention at some point in time. Prioritize these activities, get them scheduled out, and/or assign them to someone else to manage. These activities are important, but you have to keep your primary focus on those activities that are of higher importance and carry greater impact.

Act—This is the final step. Using the criteria above, you have to take action and make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. You may have to give up some pet projects in lieu of other initiatives that warrant more of your leadership focus. It may also involve some uncomfortable changes for your team members. Perhaps you may need to realign reporting lines or restructure your team to help you, and them, focus on the most important and impactful areas of the business. This isn’t a one and done process. Throughout the year you’ll need to periodically reassess your priorities and make necessary adjustments.

Feel free to leave a comment with your reactions or additional thoughts on how you handle the challenge of focusing your energies on the activities that drive the most value.

Depressed Over Losing a Star Player? Consider These 5 Benefits

star-playerA few years back my team underwent a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players moved on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team had remained relatively stable, but we entered a new phase of growth, which was both scary and exciting. It seemed like each day I was having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we tried to sort out who was going, who was staying, and how we were going to get our work done.

It’s easy to get discouraged when top performers leave your team. The immediate reaction is often to look at all the challenges that lay ahead — How do we replace the intellectual capital that’s walking out the door? Who is going to cover the work while we hire replacements? Will the new hires be able to match the productivity and contributions of the previous employees? All those questions swirl through your mind as you ponder the endless hours you’re going to have to invest in recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new team members.

Rather than being discouraged, I get energized and look forward to the future because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term difficulties. Here’s five benefits I see to losing top performers:

1. It proves you’re doing something right. Huh? Doesn’t it mean that something must be wrong with your leadership or team dynamics if you’re losing your top people? Well, if you’re a toxic leader and your team’s morale and performance is in the tank, then yes, there’s something wrong. But if you’re doing a good job of leading it means you’re hiring the right talent and developing them to high performance. I take pride in knowing that other leaders see the immense talent I have on my team and they want to hire them away.

2. Your team is better off for their contributions. The contributions of my star players have helped raise the level of professionalism, productivity, and capability of my team over the last several years. They have redefined what “normal” performance looks like and we’ll be looking to existing team members and our new hires to reach that same level. We are better off for having them on our team and I believe they are better off for having been on our team.

3. It provides a chance for existing team members to step up. Losing valuable contributors is an opportunity for other team members to step up their game, either by moving into higher levels of responsibility or by taking on short-term duties to cover the gap. When you have several high-performers on a team, it’s easy for other valuable team members to get buried on the depth-chart (to use a football metaphor). Losing a star player allows second-team players to step into the limelight and prove their capabilities.

4. You can bring in new blood. Having long-term, high-performers on your team brings stability and continuity. However, stability and continuity can easily become routine and complacency if you aren’t careful. Hiring new people brings fresh perspective, a jolt of energy, and a willingness to try new things you haven’t done before. Teams are living organisms and living entities are always growing and changing. I see this as a new era to bring in a fresh crop of star players that will raise our performance to even higher levels.

5. It facilitates needed change. Bringing in new team members is a great time to address broader changes in your business. You have new people who aren’t conditioned to existing work processes, systems, or ways of running your business. They aren’t yet infected with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here” virus that tends to infiltrate groups that stay together for a long time. It’s a time to capitalize on the strengths and ideas of new team members to help you take your business to new heights.

Losing high-performers is never easy but it doesn’t have to be devastating. I’m grateful to have worked with star players that are moving on to other challenges and I’m excited about developing a new wave of top performers that will lead us in the years ahead. It’s time for change…Bring it!

Focus On The 7 Minutes, Not The 2 Seconds – 3 Leadership Lessons From Skydiving

skydiverBarbara was coming up on a milestone birthday and decided she wanted to do something adventurous and out of the norm to celebrate the occasion. So why not go skydiving? That certainly fits the bill. Her daughter Courtney, a manager on my team, went along and the two had a fantastic experience.

I knew from previous conversations with Courtney that she was unafraid of jumping out of a perfectly fine airplane. She doesn’t have much of a sense of fear. So when I had the chance recently to speak to Barbara, I was curious to learn her perspective. I asked her if she was afraid or nervous leading up to her skydiving adventure. Barbara said the only time she started to feel anxious was when she thought about actually jumping from the plane. Then she added what I thought was a profound insight: “So instead of focusing on the two seconds of fear of leaving the plane, I chose to focus on how fantastic it would feel to fly through the air for seven minutes.”

Thinking about Barbara’s insights has caused me to draw a few interesting parallels to leading in challenging or fearful circumstances.

1. Your focus determines your reality—Barbara intentionally kept her focus on the seven minutes of fun and joy she would experience as she floated to earth under a safe parachute rather than the fear and panic that arose inside of her when thinking about jumping from the airplane. The principle is the same for leaders facing situations that conjure up feelings of fear. We can choose where to place our focus: on what causes us fear or on what the benefits will be if we act with courage. When facing challenging situations, focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t. Focusing on what you can’t control only leads to worry, anxiety, and fear, whereas focusing on what you can control makes you feel empowered and purposeful.

2. Acknowledge your fear but don’t let it rule you—Fear is a normal response. Sometimes it’s a helpful warning sign that assists us in making decisions to protect ourselves. Many times, however, we experience fear in anticipation of a particular situation or outcome and it causes us to stop dead in our tracks before we even get started. If Barbara had let the fear of jumping from the plane hold her back, she never would have experienced the thrill of skydiving. The next time you feel fear rearing its ugly head, step back and try to view it dispassionately. Step outside of yourself and acknowledge what you’re feeling but also look at it logically. Understand what needs to be learned from your fear but don’t give it more credit than what is due. Be prudent, be smart, think things through…but don’t let fear rule your life.

3. Approach challenges with openness and positivity—There are many factors that shape how we typically respond to challenges in life. Some of these factors are largely out of our control: personality, temperament, and early childhood experiences, just to name a few. However, there is one factor completely under our control: our attitude. We can choose what kind of attitude we have in the face of challenges. We can choose to be fearful and resistant, or we can choose to be open and positive. Approaching challenges with openness and positivity opens the door to learning and growth, both essential characteristics of successful leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a burning desire to jump out of an airplane and parachute back to earth. However, after talking with Barbara, I have a better picture of how I could get beyond my fear of skydiving if that was ever a challenge I wanted to tackle. But there are plenty of other challenges I face as a leader and I’ll be relying on these three principles to help me approach them in a more positive, empowering, and healthy way.

Do these principles ring true to you? Feel free to leave a comment and share your perspective.

The Single Biggest Difference Between Leaders and Managers

leaders-vs-managersI’m not dogmatic when it comes to distinguishing the difference between leadership and management. In fact, I think the difference between leadership and management is often over-exaggerated. I’m sure you’re familiar with the common refrains:

  • Leaders do the right thing; managers do things right
  • Leaders lead people; managers manage work
  • Leaders establish the vision; managers implement it
  • Leaders are originals; managers are copies
  • Leaders have a long-range perspective; managers have a short-term view
  • Leaders inspire and motivate; managers plan, organize, and coordinate

I could list a dozen more but you get the picture. Yes, there is a kernel of truth in these statements. There are certain activities that are more germane to one function or the other, but by and large, the practice of leadership and management overlap significantly. Leaders have to manage and managers have to lead. We have to learn to do them both well because they are much more similar than they are different.

Having said that, I do believe there is one key mindset that distinguishes someone as a leader versus a manager. Notice I personalized it—being a leader versus a manager. Regardless of whether your formal position or job title classifies you as a leader or manager, it’s your mindset, and the resulting behaviors, that identify you as one or the other.

So what is the key mindset that distinguishes someone as a leader instead of a manager? It’s this:

Leaders proactively initiate change to improve the organization, whereas managers deal with change on a reactive basis.

Leaders display a desire to consistently make things better. They aren’t content to maintain the status quo just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here.” Leaders frequently question the way their business operates, with an eye toward making things simpler, better, easier, or more efficient. When was the last time you asked questions like:

  • Why are we doing it that way?
  • What would happen if we stopped doing that?
  • How can we reduce this process by ___? (fill in the blank…number of steps, people, amount of time, etc.)

Let’s face it, having this leadership mindset can be tough for many people (which is why there are many more managers than leaders). Change can be threatening, especially when it calls into question activities or functions your team may handle. It raises fears that you may have to disrupt your well-oiled machine, learn new ways of doing your work, or may even eliminate some roles or responsibilities for you group. Adopting this leadership mindset means you have to be more concerned about the organization’s performance than the comfort of your own team.

Although I think the distinctions between leadership and management often get blown out of proportion, I do believe there are a few key behaviors that distinguish someone as a leader versus a manager. Chief among them is proactively initiating change to make your organization better. In this regard, are you being a leader or a manager?

Fire an Employee or Give Him Another Chance? Consider These 9 Factors

You're FiredAny leader who has let an employee go knows how excruciating it can be to make that decision. It’s one of the most difficult decisions a leader must make. Given the gravity of the decision, it’s not surprising that most leaders put it off to the bitter end. We like to hold out hope that with a little more discussion, time, or effort the employee can turn things around.

Sometimes our hope isn’t based in reality. It’s based in our desire of what we hope will happen, says Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Necessary Endings. Cloud points out leaders need to have objective reasons to hold out hope that the future performance of an employee is going to be better than the past. No matter how many times the employee says “I’ll do better next time,” or “I’m sorry,” or “I am committed this time,” hard evidence is needed to suggest something will change in his performance. Cloud encourages leaders to have a “reason to believe” an employee can or will improve and he offers the nine objective reasons listed below. I found them extremely helpful and think you will too:

  1. Verifiable Involvement in a Proven Change Process – If the employee is willing to commit to coaching, mentoring, or some other proven process that could help change his behavior, then there is reason to hope his performance has a chance of improving. Many times all it takes is an objective third-party to help a poor performer see what he can’t see for himself.
  2. Additional Structure – By and large, Cloud says, people don’t change without some sort of structure. It’s hard to rewrite old patterns in our brain and we need a detailed structure to help us create new brain patterns. What new structure would you put in place to ensure the employee’s behavior or performance changes?
  3. Monitoring Systems – You know the old saying: “What gets measured gets managed.” To have objective hope that someone is going to improve, it’s necessary to have a monitoring system in place to evaluate their progress over time.
  4. New Experiences and Skills – Sometimes a person’s performance is suffering because he lacks the skills necessary to succeed in the role. The leader needs to determine if the employee is capable of learning the new skills, and if so, give the employee the chance to improve. If the employee has been given all the training necessary and still isn’t performing, then it would be foolish to expect more is going to help.
  5. Self-sustaining Motivation – In case you haven’t yet learned, you really can’t motivate anyone. You can work to create an environment where a person’s motivation can flourish, but at the end of the day, the person has to be self-motivated. Cloud suggests leaders look at how much they have to drive the process. If you’re doing all the work to get the employee to improve and he’s just along for the ride, then it’s clear who has the problem. It’s not the employee; it’s you.
  6. Admission of Need – When you address performance problems with the employee, does he recognize and admit the need for improvement, or is there always an excuse or someone to blame? It’s virtually impossible to help someone improve his performance if he doesn’t recognize the need.
  7. The Presence of Support – It’s essential that a person is given support during a change process. A person who is committed to working on improving his performance would benefit from being surrounded by other high performers who model the behavior the struggling employee is desiring to achieve.
  8. Skilled Help – For there to be real hope for the future, Cloud points out there must be someone in the circle of help who knows what he is doing. Coaching, mentoring, or peer-to-peer help can be great, but the people providing the help need to be qualified and have a solid track record of success.
  9. Some Success – Change takes time and leaders need to have patience while the employee works to improve his performance. But there also has to be movement forward. The leader needs to see the employee making positive strides in the right direction. Only the leader can determine the right amount of time to give a person to show signs of success, but there should be some sort of definitive timeline to the development plan.

It’s hard for leaders to give up hope an employee can improve. But if our hope isn’t based on the reality of the employee’s performance, we end up doing ourselves and the employee a disservice by not addressing the truth. These nine factors provide an objective way for leaders to decide whether they need to let a poor performer go or if there is hope for improvement.

6 Myths and 1 Must-Have Ingredient for Leading Organizational Change

changeLeading organizational change efforts is often a messy, challenging, time-consuming, and emotionally draining process for leaders that end in failure up to 70% of the time. We often blame the usual culprits for failed change efforts: too much change too fast, the top leaders didn’t support it, or not everyone in the organization understood the change and bought into it. However, the reasons we commonly think change efforts fail may be more fiction than fact. More myth than reality.

Accenture Strategy recently released a report that shared six common myths about implementing change efforts in business. Their research covered 250 major change initiatives in more than 150 organizations with data collected from over 850,000 employees in the last 15 years.

Myth #1: Too Much Change Too Fast Is Destructive

Accenture found that the highest performing organizations accepted change as a cultural norm. Rather than getting stymied by change efforts, these organizations actually thrived because the tempo of regular change and growth was expected. The research showed that the top performing organizations implemented change at rates up to 30%-50% more than their lower performing counterparts.

Myth #2: Change Causes Organizations To Go Off-Track

Change initiatives don’t usually fail as a result of the change itself. They typically fail because of underlying leadership, culture, or process issues that are already present. Many of these pre-existing conditions are only brought to light when the change effort gets underway. Accenture’s research indicated that 85% of organizations run into trouble because of these underlying issues, but in organizations where there is a solid foundation of trust and confidence in leadership at all levels, change efforts are much less likely to go off-track.

Myth #3: Performance Will Dip During The Early Stages Of Change

Most traditional models of change dictate that performance will decline while people overcome the initial resistance to the change effort. In high performing organizations, performance around cost management, customer service, and effectiveness actually rises consistently from the start of the change through the end.

Myth #4: People Need To Understand Changes Before Committing To Them

This is true…for low performing organizations. But for high performing organizations the reverse is actually true. Because trust is so high in leadership, people are willing to jump on board the change effort in faith without fully knowing where it’s headed. They will invest emotionally and will be happy to figure out the destination as they move forward. The high trust bestowed on these leaders allows them to begin implementing and accelerating change efforts without having to spend inordinate amount of time educating people about the change.

Myth #5: Change Is Usually Top-Down And Meets Resistance From Managers

Effective change usually radiates out from the middle of the organization rather than coming down from the top. According to this research, it’s the managers below the unit leaders who play the biggest part in successfully implementing change. It’s the “heart of the house,” that middle layer of management, that carries the most weight and influence throughout the organization.

Myth #6: Emotions Don’t Matter

Emotions have a tremendous impact on the success of change efforts. This study found that high levels of fear and frustration can negatively reduce business outcomes by 20%, while positive emotions like passion, drive, and trust can boost them by up to 50%.

The Must-Have Ingredient For Successful Organizational Change

I’ve been involved in a fair amount of organizational change efforts during my career. I can identify with these myths, having chalked up the failure of more than one failed change effort to some or all of them. As I read through this report and reflected on my own experience, it’s clear to me that trust is the one must-have ingredient for a successful change effort. Leaders who have the trust of their people can implement change faster, work through resistance easier, build stronger commitment to the change, and drive organizational results. High trust won’t necessarily guarantee the success of a change effort, but you can bet that low trust will almost certainly derail even the best change initiatives.

3 Warning Signs You’re Leading on Autopilot

AutopilotI often find myself driving my car on auto-pilot. No, my car doesn’t actually have autopilot (although Tesla is testing one that does!), but I’ll find myself mentally on autopilot. Since the vast majority of time when I drive I’m traveling the familiar journey to and from work, I’ll sometimes mindlessly start driving the same route even when I’m intending to go somewhere else!

Over the course of my leadership journey there have been times when I’ve found myself leading on autopilot. Using autopilot is a helpful and necessary tool for airplane pilots, but it’s deadly for leaders. Leading on autopilot is equivalent to “mailing it in” – you physically show up to do the job but your heart and mind are elsewhere.

Here are three warning signs you may be leading on autopilot:

1. Your to-do list is filled with low-impact tactical items – I’m not one to make a big difference between leadership and management, but one of the clear differentiators in my mind is that leaders initiate change and managers react to it. If you find your to-do list is filled with low-impact, tactical items that contribute more to the daily operations of the business, then you may be running on autopilot. Your to-do list should be focused on big picture, strategic items that could make significant improvements in your operations.

There is nothing wrong with having tactical items on your to-do list. Every leadership job has a certain element of administrative or operational tasks that must be handled. The key is the amount of time and energy you devote to the tactical versus strategic parts of your role. You can dedicate more time for strategic items by intentionally planning strategic thinking time on your calendar. Block out chunks of time on a regular basis to think and plan for the long-term needs of your business. Spend time talking to your customers, stakeholders, and other leaders in the organization to help you get a broad view of the landscape of your business. Do your best to take control of your calendar and don’t get trapped in firefighting all the urgent issues that cross your desk.

2. You find yourself in reactive mode all the time – Building on the previous point, leaders who run on autopilot often find themselves surprised by changing business conditions. The autopilot leader easily becomes oblivious to changes occurring around him until the nature of the situation reaches a crises point, forcing the leader to snap back to reality. This happens because the leader was content to react to change rather than initiate it. Leaders have the responsibility to survey the landscape and proactively make changes to position their teams to take advantage of changing conditions, not be waylaid by them. If you find that you are constantly reacting to issues raised by customers, other organizational leaders, or even your team members, then you’re probably being too passive as a leader and letting circumstances dictate your actions. Instead, focus on being proactive and trying to shape those situations to your advantage.

3. You get upset when your routine is disturbed – Routine has the potential to be quite good. It can create powerful habits that lead to effectiveness over a long period of time. However, routine equally has the power to be bad. Taken to extreme, routine becomes complacency. Most people prefer some sort of routine, whether minimal or quite elaborate. We’re creatures of habit and it’s a normal part of our makeup. However, we have a problem when we’re more emotionally and mentally invested in preserving our routine at the expense of adapting our leadership methods to accomplish the goals of our organization. One of the most important competencies for leaders in the 21st century is adaptability. The pace of change continues to accelerate year after year and only adaptable leaders will survive while complacent leaders will be left behind. If you find yourself getting perturbed or exasperated because your routine is being messed with, you may have been running on autopilot too long.

Running on autopilot is great if you’re a pilot, but it’s a bad idea if you’re a leader. Instead, find yourself copilots who can shoulder the burden with you. Leadership doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, an individual sport. Today’s business landscape and organizations are too fast-moving and complex for one person to lead by him/herself. Surround yourself with capable leaders and team members who can fly the plane with you and you’ll find you won’t have any need for leading on autopilot.

Leaders Must Identify the Place, Clear the Path, and Set the Pace

bigstock_Sunrise_4172670If you think you’re leading and no one is following,
then you’re only taking a walk.

Leadership is about going somewhere. It’s about getting a group of people to mesh their talents, work together, and move from point A to point B. In order to do that, leaders need to identify the place, clear the path, and set the pace.

Identify the Place – Leaders need to identify where the team is headed. It may be a specific destination, a particular goal, an ideal to strive for, or a vision of the future state the team or organization is trying to achieve. Regardless of what the “place” is, your team needs to know it and you need to identify it. If the leader doesn’t identify the place, the team will wander aimlessly wasting time, energy, and resources on misguided activities. There is a scene from Alice in Wonderland that captures the danger of not having the “place” identified. On her journey Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat and asks him, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Clear the Path – Once the place has been identified, leaders need to clear the path. The path is the “how” – the strategies, tactics, and goals the team is going to employ to reach its destination. A common leadership pitfall is thinking that identifying the place and declaring the grand vision of the future automatically means people will know how to get there. Identifying the place is the easy part; clearing the path is where the hard work takes place. Leaders need to get their hands dirty by working alongside their team members to develop project plans, chart milestones, clarify roles and responsibilities, and monitor progress along the way. Clearing the path is easier when more people are involved so engage your team in developing the battle plan. Those who plan the battle are less likely to battle the plan.

Set the Pace – Leaders set the pace for the team. How fast or slow the team moves will largely be up to the tempo the leader sets from the front. But setting the right pace takes good judgment and discernment. Move too fast and you burn people out. Move too slow and your efforts fail from lack of momentum. Leaders need to make sure team members know the pace of the race. Is it a sprint, a marathon, or something in between? One of the primary reasons organizational change initiatives fail is leaders try to move too fast. Leaders, by their very nature, are often moving faster than the average team member, and they assume that everyone moves (or at least should move) at the same speed. Make sure you set the right pace so your team can keep up and finish the race strong.

The place, path, and pace. Identify it, clear it, and set it.

6 Strategies for Helping Your Team Manage Change

Change Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds, Sun Rays and Sky.You remember the old saying about the only two certainties in life, right? Death and taxes. Well, I think we should add a third: change. Life, by its very nature, requires change. All living things change over the course of their existence; there’s no getting around it.

Today, our organizations – businesses, churches, governments, schools, community organizations – experience change more rapidly than at any time in history. Technology has simultaneously shrunk the size of our world and sped up our interactions. Communication that 20 years ago would have taken several days to complete can now be handled in seconds or minutes. Our world is changing fast and leaders need to be effective change managers if they want their teams and organizations to thrive.

Here are six strategies for helping your team embrace and manage change:

1. Help them understand the need for change – Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, it’s amazing how many leaders launch change initiatives without their teams understanding why the change is necessary. One way to help your team understand the need for change is to share information openly. Leader’s are often afraid to share information if they haven’t figured everything out ahead of time. You need to be discerning in what you share and how you share it, but sharing information about the need for change will help your team understand the necessity for doing something different. If you help your team see what you see, know what you know, and understand what you understand, they will probably reach the same decision as you regarding the need to change.

2. Engage your team in planning the change – I love this quote: “Those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” Rather than going it alone and planning the change all by yourself, or limiting participation to just your closest confidants, pursue a high involvement strategy by getting more people engaged in the planning process. Involving your team creates a sense of ownership in the outcome of the plan, resulting in a higher level of engagement and commitment to the success of the plan.

3. Address the concerns of your team members – When faced with a change, people experience a series of concerns in a predictable and sequential process. The first stage is information concerns. Your people need to know what the change is and why it’s needed. The second stage is personal concerns. Team members want to know how the change will impact them individually. Will I win or lose? What’s in it for me? Will there be new expectations of me? The third stage is implementation concerns. What do I do first? Second? Will the organization provide the necessary resources? Will I have enough time? Will there be new training involved? It’s critical for leaders to address these stages of concerns to alleviate fear and anxiety so their team can embrace the change effort.

4. Give the team autonomy and permission to make changes – Undoubtedly your team will uncover details you didn’t consider. Make it clear upfront that you give team members permission and the autonomy to make minor adjustments along the way to better implement the change initiative. Of course there will be certain nonnegotiables that can’t or shouldn’t be changed, but give the team clear boundaries for what they can change so they feel more in control of the change process.

5. Create emotional moments to help the team “feel it” – This past week the Wall Street Journal published an article about basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski using “moments” to help his team of volunteer, highly paid NBA professionals develop a sense of pride, patriotism, and commitment for playing for Team USA during their professional off-season. Do the same for your team to build commitment for the change initiative. It might be a ceremony of burning an old policy manual that is being replaced by a new process, cutting a ceremonial ribbon for the new computer system being installed, or holding a party to celebrate the birth of a new team or department.

6. Be open to feedback and changing course – It’s impossible to think of every contingency when implementing a change initiative. You can be guaranteed that your plan will encounter bumps in the road and you will catch some heat for it. Be open to feedback and changing course if needed. Responding to feedback defensively by digging in your heels and refusing to listen to others will only cause your team to lose commitment and actually work against the success of the plan rather than working for it.

If you’re interested in additional strategies for making change stick, I encourage you to download this free white paper. Feel free to leave a comment and share your own strategies for managing change.

Performance Anxiety – Not Just a Problem in the Bedroom

Performance Anxiety 2Performance Anxiety…words often reserved to describe a person’s worrisome beliefs or fears regarding their sexual performance in the bedroom is now being used to describe the same debilitating effects on performance in the workplace. That’s the message from a recent publication by Vadim Liberman of The Conference Board, detailing the “performance anxiety” that has gripped many in corporate America. Years of corporate restructuring, shuffling people between positions, adding, deleting, and modifying roles, departments, and jobs has taken its toll on people. The mantra of “doing more with less” has become the norm as business continues a slow recovery from the economic recession of the last several years. Employees who once feared losing their jobs are now feeling insecure about keeping their jobs.

Liberman’s basic point is that people are having trouble keeping up with the amount of tasks added to their plates and the pace of change occurring in their organizations. Recession-driven layoffs, restructures, and job modifications have forced people to take on extra work, new job duties, or assume different roles and it’s taking a toll. As job scope increases, people feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to accomplish, and it leads even the most engaged employees to gravitate toward focusing on the least complex, simple tasks they can control, rather than focusing on the most important and complex issues that need to be addressed.

According to Liberman, much of the fault lies at the feet of senior leaders. Whether it’s pursuing the latest management fad, reorganizing on a whim, or doing a poor job of managing change, senior leaders can be prone to lay the blame of organizational failure at the feet of employees who aren’t performing up to snuff, not taking into account those same employees are still trying to come to grips with the previous round of changes. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli says, “Today, work demands are through the roof. Not just the amount of work but challenges that employees do not know how to meet, in part because they may not be achievable.” Workplace frustration leads to insecurity which leads to a lack of trust and confidence in leadership.

I can identify with these conditions. The team I lead has experienced increased job scope and responsibilities over the years as our business has grown more complex and demanding in today’s global economy. “Task saturation” is a word we’ve used to describe this condition and the insecure, frustrated state of mind it induces. Here are six strategies I’ve found helpful to deal with this “performance anxiety” in the workplace:

1. Create a safe and trusting environment—The number one job of a leader is to build trust with his/her followers. Fostering a culture of safety is essential for trust to not only survive, but thrive. People need to know they can count on their leaders to look out for their best interests, protect them when necessary (even from themselves sometimes), and to genuinely care about them as people and not just worker drones showing up to do a job. Simon Sinek speaks to this truth in his insightful TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe.

2. Ask people for their opinions—One of the most tangible ways leaders can combat frustration and insecurity in the workplace is to ask people for their opinions. But asking is just the first step; you have to do something with what they tell you. The higher up a leader rises in the organization, the easier it is to lose touch with the daily frustrations and battles your employees face. It’s easy to oversimplify the problems and solutions our people face and dismiss their expressions of frustration as whining or griping. Listen with the intent of being influenced and be willing to take action on what you learn.

3. Start, stop, continue—As you consider your next round of corporate restructuring, job modification, or process improvements, ask yourself these three questions: What do we need to start doing? What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to continue doing? I’ve found it’s easy to keep adding new tasks while continuing to do the old tasks. It’s much, much harder to identify those things we should stop doing. We can’t continue to pile more and more work on people and expect them to perform at consistently high levels. There is only so much time to accomplish the work at hand. As an addition to the start, stop, continue strategy, I’m seriously considering adopting a strategy from the simplicity movement: for every new task I add for my team, we have to eliminate one task. Enough of task saturation!

4. Manage change, don’t just announce it—Managing a change initiative involves more than just announcing a new strategy. That’s the easy part! The hard part is actually implementing and managing the change well. People go through specific stages of concern when faced with a major change and leaders need to be equipped to address those concerns throughout the process. By addressing the information, personal, and implementation concerns of employees, leaders can be much more successful in helping their people adapt and endorse the change initiative.

5. Focus on development of boss/employee relationship—One of the primary factors in an employee’s success, satisfaction, and engagement on the job is the quality of the relationship with their boss. Intentional effort needs to be placed on cultivating high-quality boss/employee relationships founded on trust and mutual respect. Frequent and quality conversations need to occur regularly between the boss and employee so the boss is aware of the daily challenges faced by the employee and can work to remove obstacles.

6. Foster empowerment, control, and autonomy—People don’t resist change; they resist being controlled. Much of today’s workplace frustrations are caused by workers having a lack of empowerment in their role, little control over what effects them at work, and scant autonomy in how they perform their tasks. Leaders can build engagement by focusing on the development of these three qualities in the work people do.

Performance anxiety in the workplace is like organizational high blood pressure—it’s a silent killer. This silent killer is not always evident through outward symptoms, but it’s always lurking underneath causing damage day after day. We have a choice…will we do anything about it?

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