Leading with Trust

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

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

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

Ready to Opt Out of the Rat Race?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forget Work-Life Balance and Focus on These 5 Things Instead

Work-life balance is a fallacy.

The very term is an oxymoron. Is “work” something you do apart from your “life?” Does your “life” not consist of your “work?” And think about the definition of the word balance – “a state of equilibrium or equal distribution of weight or amount.” We have bought into the idea that having fulfillment in our personal and professional lives means we must give them equal weight and priority. It sets up a false dichotomy between the two choices and leads to perpetual feelings of guilt and remorse because we never feel like we’re giving 100% in either area.

Instead, we need to seek work-life harmony. Consider the definition of harmony – “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.” Work-life harmony is rooted in an integrated and holistic approach to life where work and play blend together in combinations unique to each individual. I can’t define what harmony looks like for you, but I can share five ways to help you discover it for yourself.

  1. Be clear about your purpose in life—First of all, you need to know that you matter. You are not here by accident. You were created for a purpose in life and there is no one else like you on this planet. Second, clarifying your purpose provides focus, direction, and energy to every area of your life. My life purpose is to use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and ambassador of God’s grace and truth.It’s the unifying force that energizes how I live, determines my priorities, illumines what’s truly valuable in life, and provides perspective and purpose to all I do. If you need help writing a personal mission/purpose statement, check out this five-step process from my friend and colleague Jesse Stoner.
  2. Seek contentment, not happinessOur society is good at selling the lie that you can have it all. We buy into the myth and then wonder why we’re discontent and unhappy when we discover it’s not possible to be the brilliant CEO, perfect parent, super coach of the sports team, and committed community volunteer. “Happiness” is the pop-psychology topic du-jour and there’s no shortage of literature and experts telling us that achieving happiness should be our primary goal in life. Happiness is dependent on your circumstances, whereas contentment comes from a deep-seated joy and satisfaction of living out your life purpose. Happiness is fine, but true work-life harmony comes when you find contentment. Happiness comes and goes; contentment sticks. 
  1. Understand the seasons of life—Life is defined by seasons, just as we see in nature as Spring leads to Summer, which turns to Fall, which gives way to Winter. In different seasons of our lives we will have different priorities. Whether it’s completing our education as young adults and getting established in our careers, to raising a family, to increasing our influence and impact in the work we do as seasoned veterans, or ushering in a new generation of leadership, our focus areas will ebb and flow. When driven by our sense of purpose, they all fit harmoniously together at the right time in the right way. 
  1. Establish reasonable boundaries—When you are clear on your life’s purpose, core values, and beliefs, you can make wise decisions about the use of your time, talent, and treasure. You can support work-life harmony by setting up systems and structures that keep you focused on the most important priorities in your life. The banks of a river provide the boundaries that support the direction and flow of the water. Without those boundaries, the river becomes nothing more than a large puddle. Setup healthy boundaries that keep you focused in the right direction. 
  1. Be present—Because we operate from a mindset of work-life balance instead of harmony, we tend to engage in a constant mental battle of worrying about how much time we’re devoting to one area of our life. It creates stress, tension, and guilt, because we always feel we’re out of balance, spending too much energy on one aspect of our lives at the expense of another. The result is we’re never fully present and invested in all areas of our life. When we’re at work we’re mentally consumed with what we should be doing at home. When we’re home we’re not engaged with our families because we’re preoccupied with what we need to do at work. Enough already! Being present and focused in the moment increases our joy and satisfaction tremendously which benefits us in all areas of our life.

Achieving work-life harmony isn’t easy. It involves trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t. There is constant assessment and re-calibration of how you’re investing your time and energy, but the payoff is less stress, peace of mind, and increased devotion and passion toward all you do in life.

Failing to Take These 10 Actions Will Sink You As a Leader

Enjoy this guest post from Scott Mautz:

As a leader, you don’t want to be defined by the things you didn’t do.

It’s hard enough to get right what you are acting on, let alone worry about what you’ve missed. But there’s no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacks who will take pot shots at you for the plays you didn’t run.

So, here’s the rest of the playbook.

Take action on these painful omissions:

  1. Failure to decide—Indecision can paralyze an organization. It can create doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment. Multiple options linger, sapping an organization’s energy and killing a sense of completion. Timelines stretch while costs skyrocket. And as we vacillate competition can eat our lunch. Choosing not to decide is a choice, with consequences.
  2. Failure to resolve conflict in a timely fashion—Debate is a healthy and necessary component of everyday business. Sometimes debate can grow uncomfortable, which is OK if respect is maintained, and transparency is prevalent. It’s when the leader allows the debate to devolve to lingering conflict that trouble arises. Ill will can quickly build, reality can be distorted as both sides spiral into an “us vs. them” mentality, and inefficiency and stress surges. So, cut off disrespectful behavior. Deflate, not elevate, overly emotional behavior and channel unproductive passion into high-energy, team-oriented solutions. Asking the troops to “work it out” is a cop out; sometimes you’ve got to dig in and mediate.
  3. Failure to reward and recognize—A missed opportunity to recognize is a missed opportunity to energize. The bottom line is that failure to reward and recognize creates doubts in employee’s minds. They wonder, “Am I working on the right things?”, “Does my leader notice my efforts and accomplishments, or even care?”, “Are my efforts not up to his/her standards?” It can manifest itself as a plain ol’ fashion lack of feeling appreciated. And all of this leads to a lack of feeling motivated.
  4. Failure to inform—It’s difficult enough to gain competitive intelligence, why would we withhold our own? And it happens far too often. How many times have you been on a team, found out something too late, and thought, “It would have been nice to know that a month ago”? As leaders, when we withhold information or don’t make the time investment to openly share critical information, we handicap our organizations.
  5. Failure to proactively manage change—If left to their own devices, employees often make the worst of change. Organizational psychologists have discovered that if employees can’t make a link between change and their own personal goals and values, intrinsic motivation to embrace that change will be absent. So, have a plan to manage change, including enrolling the affected in the change, equipping them for it, and making a clear case for change in the first place.
  6. Failure to take accountability—Nothing is more un-leader-like then when a leader misses the opportunity to stand up and take accountability, or worse yet, openly deflects it. There’s no recovery from this. The troops expect it from you. And even when you’re not accountable by personal involvement, you are by position power. Own it.
  7. Failure to address under-performers—Rotten apples can spoil the orchard. Nothing may be more frustrating for employees, especially high-performers, then when the dead-weight is allowed to continually burden the organization without retribution. Such individuals grow like a cancer and take with them the morale and sense of fairness in the group. Get after it.
  8. Failure to see around corners—The best leaders spend substantive time seeing around corners, proactively anticipating and addressing problems. They do this by understanding their industry, understanding competitors, asking “What if?” Having such a mindset forces them out of day-to-day operations that others can do much better (and want to be left alone to do much better).
  9. Failure to react quickly enough in crisis—Complacency has no place in great leadership. Be productively paranoid. At the first sign of a crisis, gather your core team of thinkers/problems solvers and ninja team of executors. Communicate quickly and frequently.  Mostly, act, don’t ignore.
  10. Failure to make an effort to connect—I once had a boss who said, “The door is always open.” The problem was the lower half was shut, like a bank teller counter, preventing me from ever really getting close enough to connect. People can read a lack of compassion and warmth a mile away, and they’ll stay a mile away when they sense it. So make the effort – it will make a difference.

Think of this post as a call to action to avoid damaging inaction.

About Scott Mautz

Scott Mautz is the CEO of Profound Performance and a veteran of Procter & Gamble. Scott is also the author of Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration and Make Work Exciting Again and Make it Matter: How Managers Can Motivate by Creating Meaning.

Who Do You Choose To Be In 2018? 6 Areas to Examine

Here we are, one week into the new year. Many people are emerging from their holiday cocoons to re-engage with the real world, now that it’s time to head back to work, school, and the routine of life. But before you hop back on that hamster wheel, why not take some time to consider who you want to be in 2018?

I recently read an article by Margaret Wheatley, published in the Summer 2017 issue of Leader to Leader Magazine, in which she poses several insightful questions to help us think about how we want to influence others through our leadership. We live in a crazy and chaotic world that only seems to grow more so by the day. It’s hard not to become pessimistic about the state of our world and our ability to create positive change. However, the one area we have the most control over is our own sphere of influence. We can choose the kind of leaders we want to be. We can choose how we want to show up each day. We can choose how we treat people under our care. But first, we have to be clear on the kind of leaders we want to be. Use these questions to think about the kind of leader you want to be in 2018:

Quality of Relationships: How are you relating to those around you? Is trust increasing or decreasing? Are you investing more or less time in developing strong relationships? Are people more or less self-protective and what can you do to increase a sense of safety in your group? Are you willing to go the extra mile or not? What is the evidence for your answers?

Fear versus Love: Examine your relationships and see if there are patterns that illustrate the growth of fear or love. In your leadership, what role does fear play? Are you using fear as a lever to ensure compliance? Do you believe there is a place for love in leadership? Would the people in your sphere of influence say you lead with love or fear?

Quality of Thinking: How difficult is it to find time to think, personally and with others? Do you consider “busyness” a badge of honor (it isn’t!)? Are you in control of your calendar or does your calendar control you? How would you assess the level of learning in your organization? Are you applying what you’ve learned? Is long-term thinking still happening in conversations, decision-making, or planning?

Willingness to Contribute: What invitations to contribute have you extended and why? How have people responded? Ongoing, what are your expectations for people being willing to step forward? Are those higher or lower than a few years ago?

The Role of Money: How big an influence, as a percentage of other criteria, do financial issues have on decisions? Has money become a motivator for you? For staff? Has selfishness replaced service? What’s your evidence?

Crisis Management: What do you do when something goes wrong? Do leaders retreat or gather people together? How well do you communicate during crises? Are you prone to share information or withhold it? Do you use challenges as an opportunity to build trust and resilience? Are your values evident in the decisions you make in the heat of the moment?

Margaret and I share the same view that leadership is a noble calling. Leaders are entrusted to care for those under their charge and to help them develop to their full potential. We can’t fulfill that noble purpose if our head is constantly down and our eyes focused just on today’s to-do list. We need to lift our eyes up, gaze into the future, and thoughtfully consider how we want to grow as leaders. These categories of questions offer an excellent starting point for somber introspection. So before you rush off into 2018, getting busy with all of your plans and goals, pause for a bit to consider who you actually want to be in the year ahead.

Here’s to a great 2018!

A Question From Simon Sinek: Are You Playing a Finite or Infinite Game?

In January 1968, the North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns in the Vietnam War. In every single battle, the American-led forces and the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam defeated their enemies, leading to heavy casualties for the North. In the ensuing months there were several “Mini Tet” offensives launched, and each one ended the same way—defeat. The North lost over 100,000 soldiers during the January to August time-frame.

In the Vietnam War, the United States won every single battle but lost the war. Why?

North Vietnam was playing the infinite game. Their goal was to outlast the enemy, not defeat them.

Finite games have winners and losers. The rules of the game are known to both sides, the boundaries of the playing field are well-defined, the scoreboard keeps track of the game’s activity, and at the end of a prescribed period of time, a winner is declared. It’s neat. It’s clean. Someone wins, someone loses.

Infinite games have no winners or losers. Rules often don’t exist, and if they do, they are fuzzy and open to interpretation. The playing field is undefined and progress is hard to measure. Opponents change frequently, as does the game itself. There are no clear winners or losers in the infinite game. Competitors drop out of the infinite game when they lose the will or resources to stop playing. The goal is to outlast your competition.

Simon Sinek introduced this concept in his keynote address at our recent Blanchard Summit. In the VUCA  (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world in which we live, the most successful leaders and organization are learning to play the infinite game, not the finite one. The “game” of leadership and business is an infinite game where the rules change frequently, competitors come and go, and there is no end point to the game. You are either ahead or behind. There is no ultimate winner or loser. The infinite game continues indefinitely until someone loses the will or resources to keep playing.

Resources are well understood. Money, intellectual property, people, technology, etc. We have to have the capital we need to run a business. But what about will? Sinek shared five must-have components of will if we are to succeed in the infinite game:

1. Just cause—More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do. Your just cause is what powers you to outlast your competitors. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and empowers you to persevere when you feel like giving up.

2. Courageous leadership—Playing the infinite game requires leaders to prioritize the just cause above anything else. They are willing to stand up to the pressures of the Board, Wall Street, or popular sentiment, and stay true to their cause. This struggle is often too great for a single person to tackle alone, so it requires all the leaders of the organization to band together and act in alignment.

3. Vulnerable team—Sinek says being a vulnerable team doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for everyone to walk around crying. It means you’ve invested the time and energy to build a culture in your organization where people feel safe to be themselves. They can admit they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. They can take appropriate risks without fear of retribution or retaliation. If you’re people don’t feel safe, that is your fault, not theirs.

4. Worthy adversary—In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately we are competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our just cause. Our adversaries may push us to improve our products, services, marketing, etc., but in the infinite game we are constantly striving to become a better version of ourselves in order to fulfill our just cause.

5. Open playbook—Too many organizations pursue a variable cause with a fixed strategy, Sinek theorizes, rather than pursuing a fixed cause with a variable strategy. Having an open playbook means leaders and organizations are willing to have flexible strategies and plans that change as needed to pursue their just cause. An open playbook also means you are transparent with your strategies, so all members of the team can literally be on the same page. Leaders resist being too transparent with information because they fear losing control. They distrust how people will use that information so they hold it close to the vest. That only results in people making sub-optimal decisions because they don’t know all the plays in the playbook.

You can win every battle but still lose the war. The goal is not to beat your competition; the goal is to outlast them.

So what does it mean to play the infinite game as a leader? It means you leave something behind that outlasts your finite presence or contributions. An infinite leader builds a culture so strong, that when the leader is no longer there, the culture lives on. Infinite leaders commit to their just cause. The work produced by striving for that just cause has the indelible fingerprints of the leader, and lasts far beyond the time of the leader’s tenure.

So ask yourself: Are you playing the finite or infinite game?

6 Ways to Become a Badass Leader

The Most Interesting Man in the WorldI’m a fan of the Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials (the original ones, not the cheesy new ones). Some of my favorite sayings about The Most Interesting Man in the World include:

  • His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.
  • Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number.
  • People hang on his every word, even the prepositions.
  • He can disarm you with his looks or his hands, either way.
  • He can speak French in Russian.
  • He once taught canaries the art of falconry.

That guy is a real badass, isn’t he? Imagine him in a leadership role…badassery at it’s best! You can be a badass leader too, although it’s probably not what you think.

What does a badass leader look like?

He confidently marches to the beat of his own drum, not swayed by popular opinion or the need to please others. He doesn’t put on airs, pretending to be something he isn’t, but stays true to his principles and values in all that he does. He doesn’t have to talk about being a badass (that’s a poser) because he knows he is a badass. A badass leader isn’t an uncooperative jerk, indiscriminately ticking people off. A badass leader knows his limits and takes pride in working with others to achieve the goals of the team. Understated, purposeful, and pursuing excellence in all he does. That’s a badass.

Examples of well-known badasses:

  • Abraham Lincoln – Presidential Badass
  • Condoleezza Rice – Diplomat Badass
  • Derek Jeter – Baseball Badass
  • Leonardo da Vinci – Renaissance Badass
  • Mother Teresa – Spiritual Badass
  • Albert Einstein – Intellectual Badass
  • Aristotle – Philosophical Badass
  • John Wayne – Western Movie Actor Badass

Get the idea? So how do you become a leadership badass? Here’s six ways:

1. Develop your competence – Competence breeds confidence, no two ways about it. If you want to be more secure in your leadership abilities then you need to keep learning and growing. Read books, take classes, get a mentor, and learn from others. Badass leaders aren’t content with the status quo. They are always striving to improve their craft.

2. Be vulnerable – Huh? Isn’t that the opposite of being a badass? No! Leaders that display vulnerability show they don’t have anything to hide. Posers are those who lead with a false sense of confidence, trying to hide their weaknesses from others. Badass leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something. People crave authentic leadership and badasses are nothing if not authentic.

3. Focus on building trust – Trust is the foundation of badassery. You have to earn people’s trust before they will follow you and give their all. Badass leaders focus on building trust by being good at what they do, acting with integrity, caring for others, and following through on their commitments.

4. Build up other people – Badass leaders don’t feel the need to build themselves up by tearing down others. Secure enough in their self-worth, badass leaders take pride in the accomplishments of their team members and do everything they can to set them up for success. Badass leaders know that their success comes from the success of their people.

5. Get stuff done – Badass leaders don’t make excuses, they make things happen. They remove obstacles for their people, find the tools and resources they need, and provide the right amounts of direction and support they need to achieve their goals. Badass leaders are about doing, not talking. Badass leaders get stuff done.

6. Go against the grain – Doing what’s right is not always the popular choice, but badass leaders aren’t afraid to go against the grain when it’s the right thing to do. Badass leaders know they can’t base their self-worth on the applause of others and they aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers on occasion.

Every leader has the ability to be a badass. It’s an attitude, a belief, a way of being. Don’t lead scared, letting fear drive your behavior, but tap into your inner badassness and lead with confidence and assurance. Before you know it, people will look at you and say, “Now that’s a badass leader!”

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts on what it means to lead like a badass.

4 Ways to Move From Vendor to Partner in Client Relationships

“We’re re-evaluating all of our vendor relationships.” Oomph! It felt like a punch to the gut when our client uttered those words, especially the “v” word. For several years this organization had been one of our top 5 clients, and now this new client contact was replacing our previous partner with whom we had a trusted and successful relationship. He clearly had a new strategy that didn’t involve us and was looking to move his business elsewhere. Despite our best efforts, over the course of the next 18 months our business with this client evaporated.

How did we move so quickly from being viewed as a trusted partner with this client to a vendor who could easily be replaced? It had nothing to do with the quality of our products and services, our price, or our capabilities as an organization. It had everything to do with the level of trust in the relationship with our new client contact.

We had developed an extremely high level of trust with our original sponsor. She viewed us as a trusted advisor who looked out for her best interests. She knew that our primary aim was to help her succeed, not just to sell products and services. We collaborated on projects together, learned from each other, and were vested in creating win-win solutions.

This level of commitment was reflected in the language we used when speaking about each other. She was our client – a person who uses the professional advice of another – and we were her partner – a person in a relationship where each has equal status. Our new client contact clearly viewed us as a vendor– a person who sells something.

So how you do create a relationship with your clients that transforms them from thinking of you as a vendor to one of a partner? I believe you have to build a solid foundation of trust and you do that by being:

  • Able – Competence in your role is a prerequisite for building trust with clients. Do you know the details of your products and services inside and out? Do you know the business challenges your client faces and how your organization can help them be more successful? Clients value and trust the advice of competent professionals who have a track record of success and have taken the time to thoroughly understand their needs.
  • Believable – Are you a person of integrity? Do you admit mistakes and take ownership, or do you make excuses and shift blame? Clients want partners that act ethically, responsibly, and place their needs ahead of your own. Sometimes being a person of integrity means telling the client “no.” Trusted partners are willing to be honest with their clients and advise them when they can’t provide the best solution the client needs. Trusted partners look for creative ways to help the client address their issues and find solutions to problems that may or may not involve their own products and services.
  • Connected – No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent professional around, but if you don’t establish a personal connection with your clients, your efforts at building trust will be limited. Trusted partners know their clients as people, not just business associates. Get to know your clients by being genuine, authentic, and demonstrating care and concern.
  • Dependable – Simply following through on your commitments to clients goes a long way in building a trusted partnership. Maintaining reliability with clients involves having an organized approach to your work, only making promises you can keep, and doing what you say you will do. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with clients is to over-promise and under-deliver.

Trust is the key ingredient that allows you to move your client relationships from one of being a vendor to that of a trusted partner, and it starts with learning the ABCD’s of trust: Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable.

7 Barnacles Creating Drag On Your Leadership Effectiveness

As a natural process of a ship being in the water for extended periods of time, barnacles and other marine life grow and attach themselves to the ship’s hull. If left unattended, the barnacles can increase drag up to 60%. This can decrease speed by 10% and result in the ship using 40% more fuel. In essence, the ship works harder, spends more energy, and performs worse over time.

The same principle applies in our leadership journey. Over the course of time we accumulate habits and practices that increase drag on our performance. Everything seems to take more time and energy than it should require. It builds up almost imperceptibly until one day we wake up and feel like we’re burned out. Just like ships are periodically removed from the water to have their hulls cleaned, leaders need to regularly remove the barnacles that are holding them back from performing at their best. Here are seven common barnacles that weigh you down over time:

1. Meetings — Let’s face it, even though meetings are the bane of our existence, they serve a vital purpose in organizational life. It’s a primary way information is shared, relationships built, and work is accomplished. However, we too often let meetings run us instead of us running meetings. Review your calendar and examine each of your regular meetings. Are they still serving the purpose for which they were created? Do the meetings have specific agendas with desired outcomes identified? Are the right people involved to make decisions? Are there alternative ways to accomplish the goal of the meeting without bringing everyone together? Those are all valuable questions to ask. If the meetings aren’t providing the return on investment that makes them worth your time, cancel them or reshape them to be more productive.

2. Policies, Procedures, Processes — We institute policies, procedures, or processes to handle new activities that arise over the course of time. When money, staffing, and time isn’t an issue, we don’t give much thought to adding new work into the system. But when resources become scarce, it can prove very difficult to reduce or eliminate activities or services that have become the norm. It can be helpful to apply the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, to your leadership practices. What are the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of your results? Focus on the 20% and remove the 80% that are barnacles.

3. Committees — Collaboration is an important and valuable practice but sometimes we take it a bit too far by trying to do everything by committee. It slows down the process and frustrates everyone involved. If a committee is truly needed, make sure it has a clear purpose, goals, and clear decision-making authority. If you’re a member of a committee that doesn’t have a clear purpose and goals, reevaluate your membership. Maybe it’s time to remove this barnacle.

4. No-No People — Every organization has naysayers; it’s a fact of life. However, there is a big difference between people who express doubts or ask questions in a genuine effort to understand the proposed change and make the best decision possible, versus those who are No-No’s—their answer will always be “no,” no matter what. No-No’s are huge barnacles that cause tremendous drag on your leadership. They require enormous amounts of emotional and mental energy that distract you from more important priorities. Removing this barnacle will dramatically increase your productivity and personal satisfaction of being a leader.

5. No Vision or Goals — In a paradoxical sort of way, the lack of something, in this case vision and goals, can actually be something that weighs you down. A clear vision and specific goals help to focus your energy and streamline your efforts. When you know what you’re striving for, you can pare away all the non-essentials that get in your way. Without a clear vision or goals, your leadership energies are widely dispersed and less effective. If you feel like your days are consumed with fighting fires and you go to bed at night exhausted from chasing every squirrel that crosses your path, then chances are you don’t have a clear vision or goals driving your actions.

6. Seeking the Approval of Others — You will always be unfulfilled as a leader (or person) if your self-worth is determined by the approval of others. Striving to please all people in all circumstances is a barnacle that will slow you down to a crawl. Leaders sometimes have to make decisions that benefit one group of people over another and that inevitably leads to conflict. The best thing you can do as a leader to remove this barnacle is to act with integrity in all circumstances. Not every decision you make will be a popular one, but as long as you consistently live your values you will earn the respect and trust of your colleagues.

7. Lack of Self-Care — Imagine your leadership capacity as a large pitcher of water. The water represents your time, energy, and abilities as a leader to influence others. If all you do is pour yourself into others, without periodically refilling your own reserves, you’ll eventually run dry. To maintain your leadership effectiveness, it’s important to nurture yourself through reading, sharing experiences with other leaders, and having mentors or coaches who stretch you and cause you to grow in your own leadership journey.

The buildup of these different leadership barnacles is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be final. Perform a regular cleansing to remove the barnacles and restore your leadership performance to its full potential.

These 3 Actions Will Make You Everyone’s Favorite Boss

I remember the rude awakening my oldest son received when he moved into a management position with a national pizza chain. He learned what it was like to carry a greater level of responsibility, deal with unreliable employees, and train new team members. One morning he walked into the kitchen, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, and vented to me about having to pull the closing shift the previous night for another store whose manager quit on the spot. To top it off, he had to turn around that same morning to open up his own store. Welcome to management, kid.

Being a good manager isn’t easy. It can seem like a million things compete for your attention and some days it feels as though you aren’t up for the task. Don’t worry, we all feel that way sometimes. The good news is there are some easy, straight-forward ways to become the manager that everyone loves.

Show Empathy — People love to work for managers who value and appreciate them as individuals, and not just as faceless workers showing up to do a job. Being empathetic means putting yourself in other people’s shoes and looking at life from their vantage point. You do this by asking open-ended questions about how they’re feeling and listening to their responses (yes, that means you actually have to have a conversation). You can also demonstrate empathy by being understanding when your employees experience difficult circumstances. Whether it’s taking time off work to deal with a sick child or elderly parent, or just listening to them vent a little bit about their rough day at work, people appreciate their boss responding with an attitude of “how can I help?” rather than “keep your personal problems at home.” You can be the most knowledgeable, technically proficient boss in the world, but if you don’t give your people a little bit of your heart they won’t you give you theirs.

Have Their Back — Great managers assume best intentions about their team members. They operate on the assumption that everyone is trying their best and no one is intentionally trying to make a mistake. If a mistake happens, use the occasion as a learning opportunity to help your team member grow. Don’t play the blame game or throw your team member under the bus for goofing up. Another way to have the back of your employees is to advocate for their needs. Being a manager means sometimes having to defend your people from unreasonable expectations or demands from other people or parts of the organization. It’s a challenge to strike the right balance between protecting your people and advocating for their needs versus doing what’s best for the organization, even if it has a negative impact on your team. But your people will love you and be supportive of your leadership if they consistently see you stick up for them when appropriate.

Make Work Fun — We spend too much of our lives at work to have it be drudgery or uninspiring. Managers can be tremendously influential in making work a little bit more fun and it doesn’t take much planning or effort to pull it off. You’d be amazed at how much mileage you can get from doing simple things like calling an afternoon break and serving popsicles, letting people go home from work 30 minutes early on a Friday afternoon, having a potluck lunch, or creating fun awards or rituals for your team. A few managers on my team recently created a humorous award involving the recipient wearing a unicorn-themed ski cap. Unicorns are an inside joke for the team and wearing the cap is slightly embarrassing, but everyone secretly wants to win the award because it’s positive recognition of their work. Managers who make the workplace a fun and rewarding place to be will develop loyal and hard-working team members.

Management is a tough gig but you can make it easier by following a few commonsense principles. Developing empathy in your relationships, standing up for your people when needed, and making work fun will put you on track toward becoming everyone’s favorite boss.

2 Key Steps Self Leaders Take In Moving From College To Career

Since graduation, I’m finding post-college life to be a bit lonely … a bit scary too. After walking across the big stage and grabbing my degree in early June, I returned, jobless, to my home in San Diego to seek a meaningful career. Graduation was the last big “milestone,” the last item to check off my pre-adulthood list. Now I’ve been turned loose to blaze my own path, and I’m finding the job market to be ruthless and the competition fierce. After so many dead ends and rejected applications, it’s quite easy to feel lost or discouraged.    

In transitional times like these, when bosses, teachers, and other sources of mentorship are in short supply, younger people should consider looking inward — they should consider self leadership. Self leadership is when an individual takes it upon themselves to find the motivation, knowledge, skills, and help they need to thrive personally and professionally. To do that, a self leader must be proactive. They must strive to create change instead of responding to it.

I want to talk about proactivity in two contexts: its presence in one’s personal life, and its importance for those who are reluctant to seek help. I’ve struggled in both areas, but I’ve learned and grown because of it. I’d like to share my experiences with you here.

A semblance of structure goes a long way.

When I was in school, I always had responsibilities to attend to, like class or one of my two campus jobs. They kept me productive and gave me a little bit of predictability. Once I graduated and went back home, I had no class. I had no campus jobs. There was no particular reason to wake up early in the morning; I was free to do anything, free to allocate my time however I chose. It seemed nice on the surface, but I could see the long-term danger it presented.

Settling into a routine is often looked down upon because it precedes one’s fall into the ever-treacherous “rut.” But living without anything to define your day can erode your motivation, opportunities, and potential. Preventing this erosion doesn’t require a militaristic regimen, though. You just have to be proactive and set some sort of structure. In the month since I’ve graduated, I’ve made an effort to get up each morning before 9:00 a.m. and workout (usually an hour spent lifting weights, doing some cardio, or working on my jump shot). Physical activity clears the mind of morning blurriness. It relieves stress and leaves you ready to learn.

After exercise and following breakfast, I’ll put aside five or so hours to do something productive: job apps, LinkedIn/resume updates, or writing articles like this one. It is often painfully boring, specifically the career-related stuff. You can only change up resumes so many times, and bragging about yourself in each iteration of a cover letter can make you feel phony. But when I envision the future I want — good money, fulfillment through my craft, health — I realize five hours a day isn’t the worst thing in the world. I commit myself to those five hours as if it were my career.    

Self leaders don’t sit in front of the TV all day. They are proactive about doing what is required to succeed, and success often requires things that are boring, tedious, or difficult. It’s up to the self leader to push themselves through the gauntlet. Value must be found in positive visions of the future and in the work that forms that future.     

Asking for help is not admitting failure.

Sometimes, success means soliciting assistance, feedback, and support from others. This can be difficult for those who take particular pride in their perceived talents. I was (and to a certain extent, still am) one of those people. Asking others for help seemed like a desperate act to me. I mean, if I was really worth my salt as a writer, editor, or “young professional,” I could do it all alone. Survival of the fittest, right? Getting a job, getting my work published, improving my craft … that was all on me, and I didn’t think there was much else others could provide. I was confident in my ability to learn, adapt, and improve, and that was good from a self leadership standpoint. But this overconfidence also blinded me to the fact that I’m not all that — not the best writer, not the smartest, not the most qualified … and not the most mature either. I thought others would hold me back, but they were actually what would propel me forward.

This realization came at a time of creative frustration. Graduation was near and I was exhausted. Barren of ideas and of any confidence in my ability, I questioned — for the millionth time — whether I had it in me to do any of this. Instead of wondering, I sought advice and feedback from friends. For the first time, I invited others into my editorial process. I gave them rough drafts of what I was working on, and they returned them with comments that were at times harsh. That hurt (a lot), but it humbled me and revealed errors in my work that I wouldn’t and couldn’t have noticed before.

The job search functions in a similar way. I’ve learned that established professionals are willing to help if you ask, but you have to ask. Very rarely will recruiters or higher-ups come to you out of the blue. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re talentless. It isn’t a last resort. It shows that you value progress, and it shows that you’re adept at diagnosing and addressing your weaknesses. Making it on your own without help is admirable if you were forced into that situation, but it’s neither admirable nor noble to purposefully limit yourself. That’s the antithesis of self leadership: self sabotage.

Young or old, what role does proactivity play in your life? Are you doing something to work toward that future you want? It’s good to go with the flow when you can, but some things require a more active approach. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts, ideas, or feedback.

About Zach Morgan

Zach Morgan is a writer, editor, and recent grad living in San Diego, CA. He’s looking to use his talents to make an awesome company even better.

10 Signs You’re Suffering From Rear-view Mirror Leadership

rear-view-mirrorI was high on endorphins yesterday morning after I completed my usual Saturday bike ride. I had retreated to the San Diego coast to escape the heat of where I live inland, and I was feeling great after knocking off a crisp 40-mile ride.

As I drove home, the freeway transitioned into a city road and I eased up behind a gentleman in a black Mercedes. He immediately slowed down significantly below the speed limit in a not so subtle attempt to tell me he didn’t want me following too close behind. I slowed down, all the while observing him eyeballing me through his rear-view mirror. Still not satisfied with the distance between our cars, he continued to pump his brakes and slowed down even more, to the point of holding up traffic several cars deep. Continuing to drive significantly below the speed limit, the grumpy Mercedes driver kept his attention focused on the rear-view mirror instead of watching the road up ahead. I switched lanes to pass Mr. Grumpy Pants and watched him as I drove by. He never took his eyes off the rear-view mirror as he proceeded to do the same thing to the next driver who moved up behind him.

The grumpy Mercedes driver got me thinking about how easy it is to lead by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield. What I mean by that is we can get so focused on what’s happened behind us that we forget to look forward to the opportunities ahead of us. Here are 10 signs you may be suffering from rear-view mirror leadership:

1. Your natural response to change is “That’s not how we do it around here.” Change brings out interesting behaviors in people. I’ve found most people don’t mind change as long as it’s their idea, they’re in control of it, and it benefits them in some way. But most of the time, though, change is thrust upon us in one way or another and we have to deal with it. Rear-view mirror leaders usually fixate on what they’re going to lose as a result of a change and they expend all their effort in trying to prevent or minimize the impact. Forward-looking leaders search for the opportunities of growth and improvement that will result from change. It’s our choice as to how we respond.

2. Things are never as good as “back in the day.” I’m a nostalgic person by nature and am susceptible to this attitude or line of thinking. However, I’ve learned by experience that the past is a fun place to visit but it’s a bad place to live. Nothing new ever happens in the past. There’s no growth, improvement, or change. Our jobs, organizations, and industries are not the same as they were 20 years ago. We have to stay relevant with the times, personally and organizationally, or risk becoming relics of the past.

3. You’re pessimistic about the future. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic about the future, especially in today’s day and age. If your outlook on the future is dependent upon the performance of the stock market or the headline news, then you’re in trouble. The best leaders are dealers of hope. They maintain an optimistic view of the future, keeping focused on their purpose and core values, and putting forth a vision that encourages and energizes their team.

4. You’re focused on maintaining status quo. I’m not one to make a big stink about the difference between leadership and management. Leaders have to manage and managers have to lead. But there is one key difference that I think is worth noting—leaders initiate change whereas managers focus on maintaining or improving the status quo. Status quo leadership is often about looking in the rear-view mirror, making sure everything occurred exactly as planned. Forward-looking leadership involves surveying the open road and charting a course to move the team to its next destination. There will be occasional wrong turns, rerouting the course, and asking for directions. It will get messy and chaotic at times. But it will never be status quo.

5. You micromanage. Micro-managers tend to not trust people. Since trust involves risk, micro-managers default to using controlling behaviors to minimize their dependency on others. They want to maintain power so they hoard information, don’t involve others, and make all decisions of any consequence. Micro-managers tend to believe they know what’s best and will act in ways to keep themselves in the center of any conversation, meeting, or activities in order to exert their influence.

6. You spend more time assigning blame and making excuses than focusing on what you can control. Rear-view leaders are consumed with what others are doing or not doing, and almost always believe their lack of success is a result of factors outside their control. “If only Marketing would have provided us with the right kind of collateral that appealed to our clients…,” or “If Operations hadn’t delayed in getting that order into production…,” and “Customer Service does a horrible job at client retention…” are the kinds of blaming statements or excuses you often hear from rear-view leaders. Proactive leaders understand there will always be factors outside their control, so they spend their energy focusing on what they can influence and trust their colleagues to do the same.

7. You wait for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Failure to take initiative is a symptom of rear-view mirror leadership. Because rear-view mirror leaders are focused on the past, what others are doing or not doing, or focused on maintaining the status-quo, they are often caught watching from the sidelines when they should be actively involved in the game. Do you find yourself surprised by decisions that get made? Find yourself out of the information loop about what’s happening around you? If so, you might be sitting around waiting for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Find a need, meet a need. See a problem, fix a problem. That’s what forward-thinking leaders do.

8. You have a graveyard of relationships that are “dead to you.” It’s easy to run over people when you’re not looking where you’re going. Precisely because they’ve been leading by looking in the rear-view mirror, these kinds of leaders have often neglected to invest in relationships across the organization. They have “written off” people for one reason or another, usually in an attempt to exert power and influence to preserve their position and authority.

9. A lack of possibility thinking. If your first response to new ideas is to find all the ways it won’t work, you’re a rear-view mirror leader. Critical thinking and risk mitigation is necessary when considering a new concept, but if the ideas that come your way never make it past the initial sniff test, then you may be shutting yourself off to new possibilities. Instead of shooting holes in the ideas your team brings to you, try responding with this question: “How could we make this work?” You may be surprised at how much energy and passion it unleashes in your team.

10. You have an “us vs. them” mentality. Do you say “we” or “they” when referring to your organization and its leadership? Whether it’s done consciously or subconsciously, rear-view mirror leaders tend to disassociate themselves from the decisions and actions of their fellow leaders. Being a leader, particularly a senior or high-level one, means you represent the entire organization, not just your particular team. You should own the decisions and strategies of your organization by phrasing statements like “We have decided…” rather than “They have decided…” because it shows your team that you are personally invested and committed to your organization’s plans.

The grumpy Mercedes driver couldn’t see he had a wide-open road ahead of him to enjoy because he was too focused on what others were doing behind him. Don’t make the same mistake as a leader. If any of these ten signs ring true, you may be spending more time leading by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield.

4 Ways to Get Your Followers to Know You as a REAL Person

keep it realIf you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.

This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:

  1. They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
  2. Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
  3. People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
  4. Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.

To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.

  • Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
  • Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
  • Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
  • Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.

Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.

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