Leading with Trust

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?

3 Types of People, Projects, and Tasks Every Leader Needs to Eliminate

Pruning-roses-with-shearsAt this very moment, you have people, projects, or tasks you need to eliminate from your life. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a troubling employee situation for months, or even years, and despite your best efforts you don’t see any hope for improvement. Or maybe it’s a project that got off track months ago, but no one, particularly you, wants to admit it’s a failure and a new strategy is needed. Perhaps it’s a particular task or process you’ve maintained for years because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” but you have an inkling that if you stopped doing it tomorrow, no one would notice or care.

If this resonates with you, then it’s time for some pruning.. The core definition of pruning is to remove anything considered superfluous or undesirable. As Dr. Henry Cloud points out in his book, Necessary Endings, the areas of business and life that require your limited resources—your time, energy, talent, emotions, money—but aren’t achieving the vision you have for them, should be regularly pruned in order to reach their full potential.

Consider the cultivation of a prized rosebush to understand the purpose of pruning. The gardener removes branches or buds that fall into any of three categories:

  1. Healthy buds or branches that are not the best ones,
  2. Sick branches that are not going to get well, and
  3. Dead branches that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive.

These three categories of pruning apply to the types of people, projects, and tasks you are dealing with right now.

Type 1 – The Good Detracting from the Great

The rosebush produces more growth than the plant can optimally sustain. The plant has only so much life and energy to power its development, so the gardener trims what may be healthy, yet average blooms, so the plant can direct its resources to the best producing roses. The good roses, if left alone, will suck life away from the great roses. The result? A rosebush with average blooms performing below its potential.

What people, projects, or tasks are you involved with that, although good in and of themselves, are taking time and resources away from achieving greatness with your team or organization? There is no shortage of things demanding your attention, so the key is to prune your priorities down to the most essential ones that fuel the majority of your success.

Type 2 – The Sick That Can’t be Cured

Some branches in a rosebush become diseased and have to be removed to protect the health of the entire plant. When the caretaker notices a sick branch, he will spend some time trying to nurse it back to health. At some point in time the caretaker will reach a decision to prune the branch because he realizes that no amount of water, fertilizer, or care is going to heal the branch. Sick branches take energy from the rosebush, and pruning these sick branches allows the bush to direct more energy to the healthy ones.

You have people, projects, and tasks that are diseased and need to be removed. You have fertilized them, watered them, nurtured them, and done everything in your power to help cure them. For whatever reason, they aren’t getting better and they’re only taking time and energy away from the healthy things you need to focus on. This can be one of the toughest decisions a leader has to face. It might mean confronting the difficult truth that a key company initiative isn’t working as intended, or a long-term employee isn’t able to improve his performance to meet the needs of the organization. On the plus side, it is liberating to admit things aren’t working and changes need to be made because it frees up time, energy, and resources to focus on areas of new growth.

Type 3 – The Dead Preventing Growth of the Living

The third type of pruning is removing dead branches in order to make more room for the living branches to grow. If the dead branches aren’t removed, the path of the living branches will be obstructed and limited. The living branches need room to spread in order to reach their full potential and the dead branches impede that growth.

You have dead branches in your business and personal life that need to be removed if you want to reach your full potential. It might be misguided organizational strategies that served your company well ten years ago but are no longer relevant. Or maybe it’s processes, systems, or meetings you engage in but don’t add any value to the purpose you’re trying to achieve. If it’s dead and just taking up space, get rid of it. It’s time to cut that branch.

Prune with a Purpose

The gardener doesn’t prune willy-nilly, just clipping branches and blooms here and there without discretion. The gardener has a purpose. He knows what a healthy rosebush should look like and he prunes toward that standard. It illustrates the importance of having clear goals and expectations for your organization, your people, and yourself. Without clear goals and standards, you don’t have an objective measure by which to prune and you handicap yourself from reaching your full potential.

Five Benefits of Losing Your Star Players

Top PerformersMy team is undergoing a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players are moving on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team has remained relatively stable but now we’re entering a new phase of growth, which is both scary and exciting. It seems like each day I’m having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we try to sort out who’s going, who’s staying, and how we’re getting 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’m energized and looking 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 a little 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!

Decide, Learn, Adapt – A Mantra for Avoiding Analysis Paralysis

Decide Learn AdaptAnalysis Paralysis (AP) has been stalking me the last few weeks. Like an obsessed, crazy ex-girlfriend, AP has been hounding me at every turn. She’s been encouraging me to delay decisions, seek out additional data, and gather input from more people, all in an effort to rekindle a relationship I’d rather forget.

It’s no coincidence that AP has re-entered my life. She often shows up when work is busy and I’m having to manage through significant periods of change. She beckons me to take comfort in delaying decisions for just one more day. It’s safer that way, she says. You’ll have more information tomorrow…you’ll think more clearly in the morning…it’s no big deal, people can wait another day. These are all things AP says to me, and I have to admit, they sound pretty darn good.

But I don’t want to be in relationship with AP. I’ve been there, done that, and have the t-shirt to prove it. So I came up with a new mantra this week to keep AP at arm’s length. When it comes to navigating through the murky waters of change, I’m going to decide, learn, and adapt.

Decide – I’ve learned that I will rarely have all the information and data I would like in order to make the perfect decision. In today’s environment of rapid-fire change, perfect decisions don’t exist. I’ve committed to making the best decision possible given what I know at the present time. Will it be 100% correct the first time? Probably not. But at least I’ll be doing something to move forward rather than hanging out with AP and doing nothing.

Learn – AP has tried to convince me in the past that spending time with her is the smart thing to do because it will allow me to make better decisions and avoid costly mistakes. Well, I’ve learned that making mistakes is actually one of the best ways to learn and improve. I’m going to decide on a course of action, pursue it, and see what I learn from the experience.

Adapt – Learning is great, but if you don’t do anything with the new-found knowledge, it doesn’t have much value. Adapting is putting learning into practice and it’s much more attractive to me that being in relationship with AP. She likes to tell me that I have to get things 100% right the first time and it’s not OK to change course after I’ve made a decision. That’s just another one of her manipulative lies.

Decide, learn, adapt. Decide, learn, adapt. Decide, learn, adapt. It’s an iterative cycle of managing change by making the best decision possible given the information available, learning from the successes and failures of the experience, and adapting to the new reality based on what has been learned.

Best of all, it keeps me away from Analysis Paralysis. That girl is bad news.

Seven Lessons Yard Work Has Taught Me About Leadership

Doing yard work has taught me valuable lessons about leadership. As I’ve mowed the grass, trimmed trees, pulled weeds, fixed sprinklers, tended plants, and performed numerous other chores in the yard over the years, I’ve been surprised at the number of parallels yard work has provided to my journey as a leader.

Here are seven lessons about leadership I’ve learned from working in the yard:

1. The view from the street may look good, but close inspection tells the real story — I learned this first lesson shortly after planting grass seed in the front yard. Soon after purchasing our house, I worked for weeks remodeling the front yard. I dug up the old lawn, roto-tilled the soil, raked out the old grass and weeds, fertilized, mixed in fresh soil, rolled the ground, planted seed, and watered it religiously on schedule. After a period of weeks I was rewarded with the lush growth of a new lawn that had tremendous curb appeal. From a distance it looked great, but when you got up close, you could see areas of sparse growth and patches of weeds that had sprung up.

I realized that others viewing my leadership probably had a similar view. From a distance it may look like I had everything together, but closer examination would certainly reveal flaws and areas that need improvement. As the caretaker of my personal leadership garden, I’ve learned that I have to be more concerned about the view up close and not worry about what others may think. If I’m taking care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.

2. Don’t let the weeds get out of control — It takes constant diligence to keep your yard looking nice. If you don’t keep a regular maintenance schedule, your yard is soon overgrown and the weeds get a foothold that is hard to erase. I’ve learned that being an effective leader requires constant learning and growth. I have to be diligent in taking time to invest in my ongoing development as a leader. If I remain complacent, then my capabilities begin to wither and I’m not able to perform up to my potential.

3. Less is more — If you plant too many varieties of vegetation, you run the risk of having plants that are incompatible with each other. The combination of the type of soil and amount of water and sunlight determine whether a plant will survive, thrive, or eventually wither and die. I’ve learned it’s better to have a few species of plants that have similar needs rather than having some plants that do great and some that end up being an eyesore. As a leader, I’ve found I’m more effective if I focus on doing a few things really well rather than doing a mediocre job at a lot of things. Finding that sweet spot as a leader where you can leverage your strengths is key to being a success.

4. Regular overhauls are needed — Every once in a while you have to schedule a work day to do a yard overhaul. Even when you’re able to keep up with the regular maintenance, there’s a few times each year where you’ve got to carve out some time to remove dead plants, plant new ones, fix your irrigation system, or even rake all the Fall leaves. Leaders need to schedule their own overhaul times throughout the year. I’ve found it helpful to take a day or two away from the office and take personal stock of how I’m doing and where I want to go in the future. It’s also helpful to periodically review your activities and see what needs to stay and what can go. Do you really need to be attending that weekly meeting or would no one miss you if you didn’t? Do you still need to generate that regular report or does the need for it no longer exist?

5. The long view — Patience is required when taking care of your yard. It takes time for it to reach its potential and no matter what you do you can’t rush Mother Nature. There aren’t any quick fixes in developing a nice yard and neither are there when it comes to being a good leader. Developing as a leader requires that you learn from your everyday experiences. You have to be patient with yourself, knowing that the leader you are today is not what you will be five years from now. Keep creating the conditions that will allow you to grow as a leader and the growth will come in due time.

6. Using the right tools makes all the difference — Doing yard work became much more enjoyable (and easier!) the day I discovered the oscillating hoe. Instead of pulling weeds by hand or using a hand-spade to dig them up, I now run my oscillating hoe back and forth over the ground and it pulls the weeds right up. My leadership has also benefited from using the right tools. Whether it’s obtaining more formal education, working with a leadership coach, connecting with mentors, attending training workshops, or even being smart with technology, I’ve learned to keep adding tools to my toolbox so that I have the right tool for the right kind of job.

7. Sometimes you need to call in a pro — There’s been a few times where I’ve gotten in over my head with a project in my yard. After spending too much time spinning my wheels and getting frustrated over my lack of progress, I finally decided to call in a professional to help me with the job. My life would have been so much less stressful if I had done that in the first place. Sometimes it’s necessary to call in a professional in our lives as leaders. A leadership coach can provide a non-biased view of whatever issue you’re facing and having that outside perspective can lead you to new areas of growth and insight that you’d never receive on your own.

Yard work can be dirty, tiring, and downright frustrating…much like leadership! Yet at the end of the day it’s rewarding to look back at the tangible results you’ve achieved and the difference you’ve made in your surroundings.

Have you experienced any leadership epiphanies doing yard work or any other “mundane” activities? If so, share your story by leaving a comment.

Three Steps to a Better You in 2012

I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions, probably because I’ve got a crummy track record in keeping them for more than a week or two. Maybe I’m the only one who has struggled with this, but I’m guessing you can probably relate to what I’m saying.

During a recent hike I spent some time in solitude reflecting on what I want to do differently in 2012 and the phrase that kept coming to mind was “be a better you.” So in an effort to avoid repeating history by not keeping specific resolutions, I’ve chosen to focus on a few principles that I think will shape the path for me to be a better version of myself. Perhaps they can help you as you consider what the new year has in store for you.

1. Lift up my eyes – Over the holiday break I’ve been painting several rooms in our house and I’ve noticed a trend. The quality of workmanship of the trim at the top of the walls was less than stellar, but I hadn’t noticed it because I rarely look up. That tends to happen when you live life at eye level.

In 2012 I want to look up more. I want to elevate my perspective about my job, the people I lead, the way I serve others. I believe there is a higher calling inside each of us and I want to be more in tune with that voice this new year.

2. Connect with the core – A necessary companion to elevating my perspective is making sure that my goals for 2012 connect to my core values. Our behavior demonstrates our beliefs. If I say that I value health and well-being, yet continue to eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast and neglect to exercise regularly, then my behavior shows that I really don’t value my health.

So one of two things needs to happen. I need to examine, test, and confirm what I say my values are and align my behavior accordingly, or I need to drop the charade and choose some different values.

3. Get emotional – In order to sustain commitment to my goals I have to make sure they stoke my emotional fire. In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath refer to this as “motivating the elephant,” which is the emotional, instinctive part of our personality. Willpower lasts only so long and our “elephant” is very patient, strong, persistent, and will eventually win the battle.

If I’m going to be successful in creating a better version of me in 2012, I have to devise strategies that will direct the energy of my elephant toward achieving my goals rather than working against me.

Whether or not you’ve made specific resolutions for 2012, or simply want to join me on a journey to becoming a better “you,” here’s to a new year of elevating our perspective on life, living out our core values, and tapping into the emotional power within each of us.

Happy New Year!

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