Leading with Trust

Fail Your Way to Success – 4 Tips for Going from Zero to Hero

zero-to-heroFifty years ago this week, Jim Ryun failed his way to success when he became the first high school track athlete to run a sub-4 minute mile. Ryun decided to try running only after being cut by a church baseball team and his junior high basketball team. Ryun said, “I’m glad those failures were there because I didn’t linger in a sport that I couldn’t do anything in. I failed on to the next thing, until I found something. That was a gift from God to me.”

“I failed on to the next thing, until I found something.”

In reading about Ryun’s story this week, I was struck by his positive point of view about failure. It reminded me of key lessons I’ve learned over the years through my own experience (yeah, I’ve failed a lot!), as well as from John Maxwell’s excellent book on the subject, Failing Forward.

1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”

2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”

3. Persistence pays off — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”

4. Separate you from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction – a zero life. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it means to go from being a zero to a hero – learning to fail forward.

“Get Lost in the Game” – 6 Ways to Perform Your Best

“I told him to get lost in the game.”

That was Kentucky coach John Calipari’s advice to one of his star players, Julius Randle, during half-time of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game this past Monday night. Coming into the game, Randle had been averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds, yet entering half-time he had scored just 6 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and was clearly fazed by the pressure-packed environment of the championship contest. Calipari knew his player was out of rhythm, trying too hard to contribute and forcing the action, rather than relaxing and letting the game come to him. Calipari wanted Randle to get lost in the game, to be in the flow.

The flow is the metal state you’re in when you’re fully immersed in an activity that consumes your entire focus, energizes your attention, and produces a deep level of satisfaction and joy through the process. In the groovein the zonewiredin the momenton fire…and my personal favorite, beast mode, are all ways of expressing this condition. It’s when we do our best work and experience the most fulfillment in our activities. It’s also a rare and fleeting circumstance to be in the flow.

How can we be in the flow more often? How can we get “lost in the game?” First, we have to understand the conditions that lead to flow experiences. Second, we have to take steps to create the environment for us to get in the flow.

Conditions for Flow Experiences
There are three basic conditions you need for flow experiences:

  1. A clear goal – This is why you often hear athletes talk about being in the zone or having tunnel focus when it comes to their activities. Whether it’s trying to hit a pitched ball, complete a pass, score a goal, make a last second shot, or cross the finish line ahead of others, there is a clear goal that lends purpose, structure, and process to the task at hand. A lack of clear goals is why we often don’t experience the flow at work. Unclear goals make it difficult to narrow our focus and attention and leaves us feeling stuck or overwhelmed with the work in front of us.
  2. A balance between your skills and the challenge of the task – If you perceive you have the skills to meet the difficulty of the challenge ahead of you, it’s easier to get in the flow. If you believe you’re ill-equipped or don’t have the talent to accomplish the goal, anxiety and stress will prevent you from achieving a flow-state. Conversely, if you believe the goal is not challenging enough given your experience and skills, you’ll encounter boredom or apathy. You need the goal to be challenging enough to capture your attention, while simultaneously having enough skill to give you the confidence that you can tackle the situation.
  3. Real time feedback on your performance – You can feel when you’re in the flow. It’s those occasions where you lose track of time because you’re completely immersed in an activity and things just, well…flow. And when you’re not, you feel like you’re trudging up a muddy hill, taking one step up and sliding back two. Flow is sustained by receiving feedback on your performance. When you see you’re performing well, it increases your confidence and desire to stay in the flow. When you see you’re off course, you can make adjustments to get back on track and in the flow.

How to Increase Flow Experiences
We can take concrete steps to help increase flow experiences at work that will allow us to perform our best. Here are six suggestions:

  1. Connect your work to the bigger picture – Too many of us view our work with a microscope rather than a telescope. A microscope allows you to zoom in on the details of a particular object, ignoring the surrounding area. A telescope, on the other hand, allows you to see long distances away—the big picture. Rather than being uninspired by the small tasks you have to do, connect them to the importance of the big picture. Figure out how your work contributes to the betterment of the world. How does your work help improve the lives of people by meeting their needs or desires? All work has redeeming value and it’s up to us to discover it. Tapping into the bigger picture will add motivation and commitment to your work and help you achieve flow in your activities.
  2. Clarify and prioritize goals – If your goals aren’t clear, work on gaining clarity. Figure out specifically what you’re trying to accomplish, what the standards are, the deadlines to meet, or the deliverables being produced. If you’re challenged with too many goals, work on prioritization. If you have conflicting priorities from multiple stakeholders, you may have to involve your supervisor to help you. Get clear on what you need to accomplish and then apply laser-like focus to your activities.
  3. View work as a game – Games in general, and video games in particular, lend themselves to flow experiences because they are immersive in nature. We get wrapped up in figuring how to reach the new level, unlock the next treasure, or beat the “boss.” You can apply the same principles to your work. Engage your mind in thinking about how can you accomplish things faster, better, or easier. Are there other ways you can approach tasks or activities that may bring more fulfillment? Look at work as a game you’re trying to master and let your creativity run wild.
  4. Seek out bigger challenges and/or improve your skills – Complacency, boredom, and apathy are flow killers. If you find your work lacking in challenge, seek out new ones. Work with your supervisor to see if there are increased responsibilities you can take on, project teams you can join, or other ways to add more challenge in your work. On the flip side, worry, stress, and anxiety are also flow killers. If you find your work is too challenging, explore skill development opportunities. Go back to school, read books, get a mentor, or seek out additional training to boost your confidence and capability to meet the challenges you face.
  5. Find your sweet spot – Your sweet spot is where your skills are matched appropriately to the challenge, and when you find that place, you have the greatest chance of achieving states of flow. Finding your sweet spot might mean following point #4 above, or it might mean transforming how you do your work by changing/improving processes, delegating it to someone, or collaborating with others.
  6. Choose your motivation – Your supervisor is not responsible for motivating you. You, and only you, control your level of motivation. You can choose to be disinterested in your work or feel like others are imposing work on you, or you can choose to shift your motivational outlook by focusing on areas of your work where you can exhibit autonomy in your activities, mastery over how well you do your job, and satisfaction in the relationships you build with others.

Kentucky ended up losing the championship to UConn and Julius Randle never really got into the flow of the game, finishing with just 10 points and 6 rebounds. However, it doesn’t negate the wisdom of Coach Calipari’s advice. We do our best work when we get lost in the game.

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.

Are You Leading or Wandering? 3 Tips to Keep Your Leadership on Course

cowles-mountain3“It’s too overwhelming to look up the mountain and see how far we have to go” my wife said, as we were enjoying a Valentine’s Day hike this past Friday. “I’m just going to focus on the next step in front of me.”

She continued to lead the way up the hillside when about five minutes later she exclaimed, “Uh, oh. Where did the trail go?” Because she had been looking down at her feet, glancing ahead just one or two steps, she had missed a small directional sign indicating the trail turned to the left. She had started down a path that would have taken us off course. Fortunately we caught our mistake quickly and got back on the proper trail.

It’s easy to miss the directional signs along our leadership journey. We think we’re leading our team down the right trail, only to look up one day to find ourselves wandering aimlessly down the wrong path with no one following behind.

Here’s three tips to keep your leadership on course:

1. Know your destination – This tip seems like a no-brainer, but many leaders neglect to formulate a clear vision of where they want to go, either individually or with their teams. To keep your leadership journey on course, develop goals to guide your efforts. Personally, I like to have 3-5 key priorities for my team each year along with a “theme” or rallying call to focus our efforts. On a personal level, it’s critical to have a clearly defined leadership point of view (LPOV). Your LPOV describes who you are as a leader, identifies the key values that drive your decisions, and explains your beliefs about motivating and leading others.

2. Map your journey – Once you know your destination, you need to map your journey to get there. If we were taking a long car trip in the old days (like 15 years ago), we would have to pull out a map, examine the various roads, use a ruler to measure the distance and calculate our travel time before we even hit the road! Nowadays, our GPS or travel apps do all the work for us. Unfortunately, mapping our leadership journey is more like the old days; it takes work. Create a plan, schedule milestones, have quarterly review meetings…whatever it takes to keep you on track, do it. You don’t want to miss the directional signs along the way.

3. Make course corrections – There are few guarantees in life, but here’s one: change. The question is not if you’ll need to change, but when. You’re going to have to make course corrections to keep your leadership journey on course, and one of the best ways is to plan for it. Build in regular occurrences to review your leadership goals and make adjustments as needed.

Focusing only on the steps ahead, as my wife and I did while hiking, is an effective strategy for breaking down a large goal into smaller ones, and it keeps you from getting overwhelmed by the immensity of your task. However, if you don’t periodically look up from your journey to assess where you are in relation to your final destination, you run the risk of wandering off course.

Santa Reveals His 5 Secrets To Effective Delegation

santaSanta is a leader with world-class delegation skills. How else can you explain one jolly man being able to run a global enterprise from the remote reaches of the North Pole, produce billions of toys with just a small workforce of elves, and distribute them around the world in just a single night? Delegation, that’s how.

With just a few days until Christmas, I sat down with Santa for our yearly leadership interview. In years past Santa has talked about his secrets about motivating the elves and his leadership philosophy. This year, over a cup of Santa’s favorite hot cocoa, he talked about his techniques for effective delegation. Here’s a portion of our conversation:

Me: Hi, Santa! It’s great to see you again. How’s life at the North Pole?

Santa: Ho, ho, ho Randy! Life is great at the North Pole! We’re making final preparations for December 24th, our biggest night of the year. Everyone is working hard in their areas of focus and collaborating well with each other. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Me: This year I reached out to my Twitter friends to ask for input on what we should discuss, and Rich Villodas wants to know how you’re able to deliver all those gifts in one night. What’s your secret to delegation?

Santa: Years ago I learned that if I was going to accomplish everything that needed to be done, I’d have to learn how to delegate effectively. Not simply to reduce my own workload, which is purely a self-centered goal, but to develop the skills of my team and elevate our overall performance and productivity.

Me: You make a great point, Santa. Many leaders have a narrow focus when it comes to delegation. They view it as a way to get rid of work they don’t want to do, or as a way to reduce the amount of work on their plate. What tips would you give to leaders seeking to improve their skills at delegation?

Santa: The first key to effective delegation is to diagnose the competence and commitment of the person receiving the work. Not everyone has the skills or motivation to succeed at every project a leader needs to delegate, so it’s important to make sure you have a good match. If you delegate work to someone who isn’t able to handle it, you’re only setting that person up for frustration and failure.

Me: Makes sense Santa. What else would you suggest?

Santa: The second key to delegation is to make sure the outcome is well-defined. One of my leadership mentors, Ken Blanchard, likes to say that all good performance starts with clear goals, and he’s right. I make sure my elves know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how their performance will be measured. After the goals are established, the third key to delegation is to clarify the boundaries of responsibility—who has the authority to do what. Everyone knows their budget limits, decision-making authority, and the approval process for any exceptions. With so many toys to produce we have to run a pretty tight ship around here!

Me: Establishing boundaries of responsibility seems like something leaders can often overlook. I’m glad you specifically addressed that point. Once you do these first three things, does that mean you can fade out of the picture?

Santa: Ho, ho, ho, NO! That leads me to the fourth secret of effective delegation—Be available! Even though a leader delegates work, he or she still needs to be available to provide any direction or support the individual needs. I have regular one-on-one meetings with my Manager Elves to stay in touch with how their teams are performing. Each manager has regular one-on-one’s with the elves on the front lines, so we have a constant stream of communication up and down the line. Delegation without participation equals abdication, something every leader should avoid.

Me: Your wisdom never ceases to amaze me Santa. Are there any other secrets to effective delegation you’d like to share?

Santa: The fifth and final secret is to review performance on a regular basis. If the elves are on track and doing well, I make it a point to praise them. Catching my elves doing something right is one of my biggest joys! If performance is off-track, then I take the time to offer coaching and direction to get it back on track. Reviewing performance isn’t something we only do once a year. We make it a point to have regular meetings focused on our performance as it relates to our yearly goals. If I can keep a list of all the children who are being naughty or nice, it would be a travesty for me to not keep track of my own team’s performance!

Me: Well, Santa, you always have such great leadership insights to share each year. You have certainly mastered the art of delegation.

Santa: Thank you, Randy, but you give me too much credit. Delegation only works when you have a high level of trust with your team members and if you approach it with the right attitude. Delegation is a leadership technique to develop and empower your people, not to dump your unwanted work on them. When trust is present, delegation is a fantastic way to raise the performance of yourself and your team. Merry Christmas to all!

6 Conversations Every Leader Needs To Have

ConversationBetween email, text message, instant messaging, and social media, it’s never been easier to communicate with each other, yet the quality of our interactions seems to have become brief, fragmented, and altogether unfulfilling. That’s a big problem for leaders and the people they manage.

Productive and timely conversations are critically important to help people achieve their goals. Without a clear focus on goals and the proper direction and support to achieve them, individuals are cast adrift in the rough seas of the workplace, left alone to navigate their way to success. It’s the leaders’ responsibility to have the right conversations at the right time to help their people succeed. But what kind of conversations are we talking about?

There are six types of conversations leaders need to have with those they lead:

1. Alignment Conversations – All good performance starts with clear goals and an agreement on the type of leadership style the leader will provide the direct report. You’re probably familiar with the concept of setting goals that are SMART: Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. Many managers get bogged down trying to follow the SMART process when creating goals, so I suggest you switch up the letters and set STRAM goals. Start with making the goal specific and trackable, the two most important elements of SMART goals. Then make sure the goal is relevant to the person’s job and attainable with good effort. If those pieces are in place you can almost be assured the goal will be motivating to the individual.

2. Directive Conversations – Have you ever seen someone extremely excited to accomplish a new goal or project yet doesn’t have a clue where to start? Leaders need to have directive conversations with those individuals to build their competence and maintain their commitment and enthusiasm. They need their leader to explain the who, what, where, when, and why of the work they’re being asked to do, as well as being given the necessary training and resources needed to accomplish their goals. Directive conversations set a firm foundation for an individual’s future success.

3. Coaching Conversations – Individuals discouraged with their lack of progress or success in achieving a goal need coaching conversations with their leader. Coaching conversations blend high amounts of direction and support to pull individuals out of their disillusionment and help build their competence on the goal or task. The direction looks like continued training, instruction, and assistance in problem solving. Support from the leader includes listening, praise, and encouragement to help build the individual’s commitment and motivation.

4. Supportive Conversations – Leaders engage in supportive conversations with those individuals who have the skills and abilities to do the job but lack the confidence to take their work to the next level. Supportive conversations involve heavy doses of listening, asking open-ended questions that allow individuals to solve their own problems, and offering the praise and recognition they need to help boost their confidence.

5. Delegating Conversations – Leaders have delegating conversations with individuals who are high performing, self-reliant, motivated, and competent. These people need their leaders to affirm their competence and commitment by giving low amounts of direction and support. Leaders delegate the goal or task to these individuals and let them run with the ball, yet still being available on the sidelines to assist as needed.

6. One on One Conversations – These 15-30 minute conversations, occurring every 1-2 weeks, help leaders stay in touch with their employees’ goals and provides them the opportunity to ask for the direction and support they need from their leaders. One on Ones keep the lines of communication open between leaders and direct reports and allow for mid-course corrections if performance gets off-track.

The frequency and quality of conversations between leaders and direct reports will determine how successful individuals and teams will be in the workplace. Leaders need to be able to diagnose the competence and commitment of their people, use the leadership style that combines the right amounts of direction and support, and engage in the type of conversation that gives their people what they need to succeed on the job.

Forget Accountability – Follow These 5 Steps Instead

AccountabilityI don’t like the word accountability. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. I think it’s because it assumes the worst about people. When we talk about accountability, it always seems the assumption is a person is incapable of, or unlikely to, follow through on his/her commitments. So we spend a lot of time and energy creating systems, processes, or consequences to make the sure the person is held accountable.

I prefer the word responsibility. To me, responsibility has a positive connotation. It’s starting with the mindset that a person will be responsible if he/she is given the necessary tools and training. If a person is responsible, you don’t have to worry about him/her being accountable. Responsibility breeds accountability. Whereas focusing on accountability is only treating the symptoms of a performance issue, addressing responsibility is treating the root cause.

So how can leaders help their people develop an inherent sense of responsibility? Here’s five steps to get started:

1. Create a motivating work environment – You can’t motivate anyone. (What? Did he just say I can’t motivate anyone? Isn’t that one of my primary responsibilities as a leader?) Yes, I just said that. You can’t motivate anyone. Every person is responsible for his/her own motivational outlook. What you can do is create a work environment that allows your people to maximize their sense of autonomy, increase their level of relatedness with others, and develop competence in their work. Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are the variables that allow a person to be optimally motivated and it’s our jobs as leaders to foster an environment that brings out the best in our people.

2. Let your people take the lead in goal setting as much as possible – Think about your own experience. When have you felt the greatest sense of commitment to a goal? When you created it yourself (or had a hand in it), or when a goal was assigned to you? Most likely it was when you were involved in setting the goal because you had a sense of ownership. It was your goal, not someone else’s. Your people will exhibit more responsibility for accomplishing their goals if they are involved in setting them.

3. Be clear on expectations – If people are going to be responsible, they need to clearly understand the expectations of their commitment. Many times our frustrations with people not being accountable is due to a lack of clear expectations. Make sure people know why the goal is important, what the deadlines are, and what constitutes success. If the situation requires you to follow through with negative consequences, do so. Don’t make hollow threats.

4. Use the right leadership style – Your people have different levels of competence and commitment on each of their goals. It’s your job as a leader to flex your leadership style to provide the proper amount of direction and support your people need to accomplish their goals. If you don’t set your people up to be responsible and successful in achieving their goals, that’s on you, not them. (Hold yourself accountable…errr…responsible).

5. Let go – I’ve written previously about balancing control and responsibility. It’s easy to grab control from people when you see them underachieving or shirking their responsibilities. That doesn’t help your people develop responsibility and it only adds to your stress level and workload. If you’ve properly trained and equipped your people, you need to let go and let them succeed or fail on their own.

Starting with these five steps puts the onus on your people to live up to their responsibilities. It’s up to them to hold themselves accountable…to be responsible. The leadership mindset underpinning these steps is one of trust. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Trust your people to rise to the occasion, to be worthy of your trust. Odds are they will prove themselves to be responsible and you won’t have to worry about holding them accountable.

Most People Don’t Under-Perform, They’re Under-Led – 5 Ways Leaders Sabotage Performance

Slip on Banana PeelNot too many people get out of bed in the morning, head in to work, and say to themselves “I’m really looking forward to screwing up today!” Sure, there are always a few bad apples with horrible attitudes that seem to thrive on getting away with doing the least amount of work possible, but by and large most people want to succeed on the job. So why do we struggle with so many under-performers in the workplace?

“I think most people don’t want to under-perform,” Kathie McGrane, Course Manager/Management Analyst at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said to me in a recent conversation, “they’re just under-led.” Kathie’s insightful comment got me thinking about the ways leaders unknowingly sabotage the performance of their people. Here’s five common ways:

1. They don’t intentionally focus on building trust – Trust is the bedrock foundation of any successful relationship. There isn’t a business or leadership strategy around that will make up for a lack of trust between leaders and followers. Without trust your leadership effectiveness will always be limited. The problem is that most people think trust “just happens,” like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is that trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors, and if leaders don’t specifically focus on establishing healthy, high-trust relationships with their people, under-performance will be the norm.

2. Lack of clear goals and expectations – This past week I conducted a job interview and the candidate described the training she received at her previous job. She said “I was given a Sharpie pen, shown to my desk, and told to ‘figure it out.'” A CEO I’ve coached in the past was explaining his frustration about one of his VP’s not “stepping up” to lead like he expected him to. When I asked him if he had made those expectations clear to the individual he replied, “Well, now that you mention it, no, I haven’t.” And we wonder why people under-perform? Your people need to have clear goals and expectations so they know exactly what is required. Make sure they know what a good job looks like.

3. Leaders use the wrong leadership style – When it comes to leadership, one size does NOT fit all. Leaders commonly under or over-supervise people. Under-supervision is when the leader is too hands-off when an employee needs more direction and support on a goal or task. Over-supervision is when the leader micromanages too much when the employee is competent and committed to do the task on his/her own. Leaders need to understand that a person can be at different levels of development on different goals or tasks. Just because an employee may be a superstar in organizing and managing projects, doesn’t mean he/she is a pro at giving presentations to a group of executives. Leaders need to use a variety of leadership styles to give employees the right amount of direction and support they need on each of their job areas.

4. They don’t stay in touch with performance – Leaders not being aware of the performance trends of their employees is often a cause for under-performance. Leaders should have regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports every 1 to 2 weeks. The one-on-one meeting serves to keep the leader informed of how the employee is doing on his/her goals and tasks, and it allows the employee to ask for needed direction and support. Too often leaders fall prey to “seagull management” – They occasionally fly in, squawk and make a bunch of noise, crap all over the place, and then fly away. Don’t be a seagull manager. Stay in regular touch with your employees so you can give them the day-to-day coaching they need to succeed.

5. Fail to give helpful feedback – Many leaders fail to give any feedback, and when they do, it’s often not very helpful to the employee. One type of feedback is praise. When employees are doing a good job, let them know! A well-timed praising does wonders for developing trust in a relationship. Redirection is another type of feedback that leaders should use when an employee’s performance is off-track. Redirection is specific about what needs to be corrected, timely and relevant to the situation at hand, and about moving forward. Don’t gunny sack feedback and surprise the employee with it at the annual performance review.

When leaders find that employees are under-performing, the first action they need to take is to look in the mirror and examine what they’ve done (or not done) to set the employee up for success. There are certainly situations where leaders will find they’ve done everything possible to help an employee perform at an acceptable level and the best thing is to part ways. However, leaders will often find they’ve unknowingly sabotaged the performance of their people by neglecting some of these leadership fundamentals.

Building Trust in Performance Reviews – Four Ways to “Meet Expectations”

Performance ReviewWhen it comes to building trust through performance evaluations, do you “meet expectations?” The beginning of the year finds many leaders busy preparing and conducting annual performance reviews for their employees. I don’t know of many leaders who are overjoyed at the prospect of spending hours compiling data, completing forms, and writing evaluations for their team members. Most leaders I speak to look at performance reviews as a tedious and mandatory chore they’re obligated to complete and they can’t wait to have the review meeting, deliver the feedback quickly and painlessly, and get on with their “real” work.

With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder why performance reviews are a dreaded event, both from the supervisor’s and employee’s perspective! The reality is that performance reviews are one-of-a-kind opportunities for leaders to build trust and commitment with their followers. Having the right supporting processes and systems in place are helpful, but regardless of your organization’s approach to performance management, you can build trust with your team members by doing these four things:

1. Deliver candid feedback with care – One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is to sugarcoat your feedback to an employee. Your employees deserve honest and sincere feedback about how they’re performing so that they have the opportunity to improve, otherwise you are handicapping them and limiting the capabilities of your organization by accepting sub-par performance. Unfortunately, many employees don’t hear about their poor performance until the situation has become critical and they’re put on a performance improvement plan. A look back through their personnel file reveals a series of performance reviews where they’ve met standards and suddenly they’re surprised with this bad news. There shouldn’t be any surprises in a performance review. Through regular conversations during the year, the employee should have received regular feedback about how they’re performing relative to their goals and competencies of their role. I think most people know if they aren’t performing up to snuff. Your people will trust and respect you more if you’re honest with them about their performance.

2. Listen – Don’t do all the talking during the performance review. Yes, you have to review their performance and deliver feedback, but you should also take the time to ask your employees how they felt about their performance. Ask open-ended questions like: “What did you learn this year?” “What would you do differently?” “What did you feel were your biggest successes?” Soliciting the thoughts and opinions of your employees sends the message that you care about what they think and that you don’t assume you have all the answers. You’ll learn valuable insights about what makes your people tick and you can use that information to help plan their future performance. Lending a listening ear is a great way to build trust.

3. Focus on the future – Wait…aren’t performance reviews about reviewing the past? Yes, they are, but in my opinion the real bang for the buck is using that information to focus on growth and development opportunities for your people. Learning from the past is essential, but it’s only valuable if we apply it to the future. What training or education is needed? What are some new stretch goals that can be established? In what ways can the employee leverage his/her strengths with new opportunities? Demonstrating to your employees that you are committed to their career growth builds trust in your leadership and commitment to the organization. Don’t miss this valuable opportunity by solely focusing on the past!

4. Ask for feedback on your leadership – I’m not suggesting you shift the spotlight from your employees to yourself and hijack their review in order to feed your ego, but I am suggesting you ask them two simple questions: “Am I providing you the right amount of direction and support on your goals/tasks?” and “Is there anything I should do more or less of next year to help you succeed?” One of your primary goals as a leader is to accomplish work through others. Their performance is a reflection of your skill as a leader so it’s only appropriate that you use this time to recalibrate the leadership style(s) you’ve been using. It may come as a surprise, but have you thought that the reason why your people aren’t achieving their goals is because you’re not leading them properly? Make sure that’s not the case and get feedback on how you’re doing. Asking for (and graciously receiving) feedback from others is a trust-boosting behavior.

Performance reviews don’t have to be a painful, tedious, mundane task. If you approach them with the right mindset, they can be prime opportunities to build trust with your followers which in turn will help them, and you, to not only meet expectations but exceed them!

LOS v.2013 – Three Steps to Upgrade Your Leadership Operating System

LOS v2013With 2013 just one day away, it’s time to consider upgrading your LOS—Leadership Operating System. Your LOS is a collection of the leadership traits, styles, techniques, and strategies you use to lead and manage people, and it’s imperative to make sure your LOS is up to date if you want to maximize your effectiveness. Failing to upgrade your LOS may result in your leadership not only becoming outdated and sluggish, you run a higher risk of suffering a fatal system crash.

I recommend you follow these three steps to upgrade your LOS for 2013:

1. Do a backup of 2012 — Before you begin any system update, it’s a good practice to back up your existing data. Backing up your LOS involves taking stock of your leadership experiences this past year. What worked well for you in 2012? Where did you do your best work? Give yourself a pat on the back for your successes and don’t be shy about tactfully sharing them with your boss, especially if he/she isn’t one to naturally recognize your efforts. Conversely, a good LOS backup also involves cataloguing where you fell short and reflecting on the lessons you learned from those experiences.

2. Determine the new LOS programs you want to install — What new things do you need to learn in 2013 in order to be a better leader? Where do you need to improve? The best leaders are continuous learners, always seeking new ways to improve their craft. Examining the areas for improvement you identified in your backup is a good place to start. Another helpful strategy is to ask for feedback, especially from those you lead. It takes some courage and willingness to be vulnerable to ask other people how you can improve, but the uncomfortableness will pale in comparison to the insights you’ll gain.

3. Reboot — It’s time to Ctrl-Alt-Delete your leadership from 2012. Installing an updated LOS means you need to have a fresh start before you can move forward and there’s no better time than the new year to reboot your system. You may have accomplished some amazing things in 2012, and likewise, you may have had some epic failures. But you know what? Your success doesn’t last forever and your failure isn’t fatal. Honor and learn from what 2012 brought you but leave it there in the past. The new year beckons and there is much work to be done.

No one likes following a leader who runs an outdated Leadership Operating System. Running an old LOS may allow you to accomplish the basic tasks of leadership, but if you really want to perform at your best AND get the best out of your followers, take the time to upgrade your LOS to v.2013. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year!

Earning a License to Lead – Could You Pass These 5 Areas?

If you had to take a test to earn a license to lead, would you pass? When it comes to leadership, do you know the rules of the road, what all the traffic signs mean, and how to lead in inclement weather? Sadly enough, we probably require more training and knowledge for someone to drive a car than we do for them to lead people!

Now, just as getting a driver’s license doesn’t automatically make you an excellent driver, passing some imaginary leadership exam wouldn’t qualify you as an outstanding leader. However, it would at least signify that you have a basic level of knowledge to lead safely and not harm others (I see a Dilbert cartoon in here somewhere…). Here’s five critical areas where I think people need to have a basic level of competency in order to earn a license to lead:

1. Building Trust — If you know me or have read anything on this blog, you know that I’m a trust activist (a phrase recently coined by my friend Jon Mertz), and I believe that learning to build high-trust relationships is the defining competency of successful leaders in the 21st century. Being a person of integrity, competence, compassion, and reliability are all crucial elements of being trustworthy. Establishing trust in relationships is the ticket of admission for being a leader, it allows you to get in the game. Once you’re in the game you have the potential to make some great plays if you can do the other things in this list, which by the way, continually build and sustain trust in your leadership.

2. Setting clear goals — Whether it’s communicating a clear vision on the macro-level, or establishing specific goals and actions on a micro-level, good leaders understand that their people need a clear idea of the direction they’re heading and what they’re supposed to do. You’d be surprised at the number of leaders I speak with that express frustration over their people not performing up to expectations and readily admit that they haven’t established or communicated those expectations in the first place!

3. Flexing leadership style to the situation — One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to leadership. Depending on an employee’s level of competence and commitment on a given task or goal, leaders need to use a style that matches the needs of the employee. There will be times where leaders need to be more directive in their style when employees need specific instruction, and other times leaders need to use a more supportive style when the employee knows what to do but just needs a little reassurance. Treating everyone the same in all circumstances is not being “fair,” it’s being one-dimensional.

4. Listening — Just as a good driver pays attention to conditions of the road, pedestrians, and other drivers, top leaders pay attention to how their employees are doing by being a good listener. It’s amazing what you can learn about people by simply listening to them, but being a good listener takes effort. You have to learn to concentrate on what’s being said (or not said), being present in the moment and not letting your mind drift, checking your understanding by asking questions or paraphrasing, and listening to understand and be influenced rather than just waiting to make a counterpoint.

5. Giving feedback — Ken Blanchard likes to say that “Feedback is the breakfast of champions!” For leaders to develop their people into champions, they have to be comfortable in giving both positive and negative feedback. Generally speaking, it’s a whole lot easier (and fun) to deliver positive feedback. Everyone likes delivering good news! It’s a completely different story when it comes to delivering negative feedback. Most of us fall prey to sugar-coating negative feedback or being overly general and vague when discussing it with an employee. I’ve learned in my leadership journey that I do a disservice to the employee, and myself, when I sugar coat feedback. People often don’t pick up on the subtle clues we use when discussing tough situations so it’s better to deliver the feedback with candor and care so the employee knows exactly what they’re doing wrong and how they can improve.

These may be the “Big Five” when it comes to understanding the basics of leadership and earning a license to lead other people, but I know there are many other competencies that deserve to be on the test. What else would you test for before granting someone a license to lead? Feel free to join the discussion by leaving a comment.

Three Priorities for Leaders Now That Summer is Over

Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer in the United States. Family vacations, picnics, and days at the beach give way to kids returning to school, cheering on your favorite football teams, and settling into the rhythms of the fall season. Depending on what business you’re in, the summer may have been a slow time that allowed you to disengage from work for a while and recharge your batteries. For some organizations, summer is the busiest time of year and you may be eagerly awaiting the fall season so that you can catch your breath. Regardless, heading into the autumn months is an excellent time for leaders to focus on three key priorities that will help them finish the year strong.

1. Review your team’s progress YTD and clarify your focus for the remainder of the year. When is the last time you looked at your strategic plan for the year? (You do have a plan, don’t you?!) If you haven’t reviewed it lately, now is a good time. With four months left in the year you still have time to make an impact. Over the summer it’s easy to lose track of your key priorities. The exuberance of the new year drifted into the promise of spring which eventually evolved into the dog days of summer and you find that you haven’t accomplished quite as much by this time as you had hoped for. Use this time to reevaluate your plan for the remainder of the year and put your energies and resources into the goals that will help improve your business today as well as set you up for a strong start for the next year.

2. Bring your team together to reconnect, reenergize, and refocus. Over the summer it’s common for your team to start to feel disconnected. People are in and out for vacations, team members are backing each other up, and it can seem like the “normal” routine of business gets thrown out the window. This is a great time of year to focus on team building. People have returned from vacation and are ready to settle into the familiar routine that the fall season brings, so take advantage of the change in seasons to hold a team lunch, have a potluck or cookout, and allow people to reconnect. It’s also the perfect opportunity for you to share with your team the top priorities for the rest of the year so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet.

3. Get back in the routine. Routines can provide security, stability, and efficiency…if they’re good ones! Some routines are just old habits that are a waste of time, so those are the ones you want to ditch and you want to focus on the ones that will help you achieve your goals for the year. Routines help your team know what to expect from you as a leader and what you expect of them as team members. Use this time to evaluate the routines you have in your organization and intentionally leverage the good ones to get your team focused on the key goals and priorities.

Each season of the year has its own vibe and autumn is one where we turn our attention to getting back to work and finishing the year strong. Set yourself up for a successful end of the year by reviewing your team’s progress, clarifying your goals for Q4, nurturing team relationships, and providing the structure and routine your team needs to finish strong.

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