Leading with Trust

Try This One Simple Method to Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

goalLet me go out on a limb here. You’re probably reading this article because you’re contemplating resolutions you’re going to set for the New Year, right? You don’t have much confidence in keeping your resolutions because you’ve failed repeatedly in the past (surveys show only 8% of people keep their resolutions), so you’re looking for some game-changing advice.

Or maybe you’re thinking about the goals you’ve set for your team or organization and you’re stressed out about how you’re going to actually achieve them. If your experience is similar to mine, you’ve set goals for the year only to look back twelve months later to realize what you accomplished bears little resemblance to what you set out to do. For most of us the challenge is not in setting goals. I mean, we’ve got a ton of projects and priorities on our plates. We’ve got goals aplenty! The difficulty lies in prioritizing goals and staying on track to get them accomplished.

There’s a better way to work toward achieving your goals and it’s called the Six by Six Plan – the six most important priorities you need to accomplish over the next six weeks. It’s a method of goal prioritization and execution I learned from Bill Hybels.

It starts with asking yourself one critically important and fundamental question: What is the greatest contribution I can make to my team/organization in the next six weeks?

In answering that question, consider the decisions, initiatives, or activities for which only you can provide the energy and direction. You will likely generate dozens of items on your list that will need to be whittled down to the six that require you to take the lead in order to deliver the most impact.

There is nothing magical in having six priorities over six weeks. What’s important is having a manageable number of goals to accomplish over a relatively short time period. It needs to be a few goals that allow you to keep your energy high and a short enough time period that creates a sense of urgency. Setting big, broad goals for the year is like running a marathon. It’s too tempting to get overwhelmed, distracted, or lose energy on goals that seem so distant. It’s much easier to run a series of sprints by focusing on just a few key priorities for a short amount of time.

I think it’s important to emphasize the 6×6 method is a helpful tool for goal prioritization and execution. It’s not a way to set goals, which is an art and science unto itself. Check out this YouTube video of Bill Hybels describing the Six by Six Plan. Hopefully you’ll find it as helpful as I did.

(I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Characteristics of All-Star Leaders and Managers

ASG 2016 Logo2Many of the world’s greatest baseball players will put their talent on display in America’s Finest City on Tuesday, July 12th, as my hometown San Diego hosts Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. There are common traits and characteristics of the game’s best players. In baseball we call them “five-tool” players. That means they can hit for average, hit for power, run, play great defense, and have a great throwing arm. But having those tools alone doesn’t qualify someone to be an All-Star. They have to earn it through their performance on the field.

All-Star leaders and managers share common characteristics too. And just like baseball players, they have to earn their All-Star status through their performance at work over an extended period of time. Here are the “five tools” of All-Star leaders and managers:

1. They listen to learn and with the intent to be influenced — A common activity we do in our training classes is called the “Best Boss” exercise. We ask participants to write down the characteristics of the best boss they’ve ever had. Being a good listener is always near the top of the list. All-Star managers listen to learn and they have an open mind and a willingness to be influenced by others. Listening deeply and intently to others builds trust. It shows you value them and their opinion, and in that moment of time, you’re placing their needs and interests ahead of your own. Developing your listening skills is one of the quickest ways to move from being a so-so leader to an All-Star caliber leader.

2. They praise good performance — In training sessions I’ve conducted over the years I’ve asked hundreds upon hundreds of people this question: Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of all the praise your boss gives you. No one ever raises a hand. Why is that? Is there some unwritten code that says managers shouldn’t praise people because they might get too comfortable and stop performing? For whatever reason, many managers are as stingy with praises as they are with the last dollar in their wallet. Your people need to know that you notice and appreciate their efforts. They are seeking approval and acknowledgment for their achievements in the workplace, and if you can’t, or more accurately, won’t give it to them, they’ll eventually seek it out from another manager or organization.

3. They expect the best out their people — All-Star leaders expect the best out of themselves, and because they hold themselves to high-standards, it allows them to hold their people to them as well. The sequence is important, so don’t miss it. The leader goes first, sets the example, and then others follow. A leader who demands the best from his/her people yet doesn’t live up to those same standards is a fraud. Hold yourself to high standards and expect the same of your people. More often than not they will reward your faith in them.

4. They celebrate success — Leaders of winning teams know the importance of celebrating success, both on an individual level and team basis. Winning is so much more fun than losing, yet some leaders lose sight of that basic truth. They constantly push their team toward the next objective, never taking time to recognize accomplishments along the way. That style may work for achieving results in the short-term, but over the long-term it will burn people out and turn them away from you. Everyone has a need to have their accomplishments recognized and doing it periodically helps replenish their mental, emotional, and physical energy needed for their work.

5. They treat mistakes as learning opportunities — Even professional baseball players make mistakes. Have you seen how the vast majority of managers react when a player makes a mistake? Many times they don’t do anything. They know the player knows he made a mistake and there is little profit in reminding him of the fact. Sometimes the manager will discreetly sidle up to the player and have a quiet conversation about the play, and when they do, it’s almost always talking about what the player learned from the experience and what they’ll do differently in a similar situation in the future. You’ll rarely see a manager publicly chew out a player. So why do so many leaders in organizations think it’s OK to rant and rave at their people at work? You may think it allows you to look tough and display your authority. It doesn’t. It makes you look immature and unable to control your emotions. It also makes you a bully. No one arrives at work and says to himself “I think I’ll be a total failure today!” Mistakes happen. It’s part of being human. All-Star managers know their people are usually trying their best and they use mistakes as an opportunity to teach and grow their people; not as an opportunity to humiliate them.

Just like All-Star baseball players share common traits, so do All-Star managers and leaders at work. Listening with the intent to learn, praising good performance, holding their people to high standards, celebrating success, and treating mistakes as learning opportunities are all characteristics of All-Star leaders. How do you shape up? Would you qualify as an All-Star?

Elevate Your Leadership Focus and Enjoy These 4 Benefits

Manhattan SkylineSeveral years ago I was in a season of my leadership journey where I was consumed with addressing and solving day-to-day operational issues. Each day seemed to bring another problem to solve, a challenge to work through, or a fire to fight. The days became weeks and the weeks became months. My stress level kept rising, I kept working harder, and yet it seemed like I was running in place. After telling my sob story to my manager she made a simple, yet profound observation that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “It sounds like you’re spending all of your time working in the business and not on the business.”

What she was encouraging me to do was to take a helicopter ride. Speaking metaphorically, I was spending all of my time furiously driving up and down the highways and byways of our business trying to get stuff done, but it caused me to spend a lot of time in traffic jams and the progress was slow. What I needed to do was periodically rise above the daily chaos and take a helicopter ride to gain a different perspective of our work.

Taking time to work on the business…taking a helicopter ride…has several key benefits that will accelerate your productivity and passion for your job.

  1. It provides perspective — A few years ago I was painting several rooms in our house and I noticed a trend. The quality of workmanship of the trim at the top of the walls was less than stellar, but I hadn’t noticed it before because I rarely look up. That tends to happen when you live life at eye level. Spending all of your time working in the business can lead to tunnel vision and you run the risk of losing sight of the end goal. We can easily get distracted with fire fighting and stop paying attention to higher level priorities and metrics that drive the success of our organization. An occasional helicopter ride snaps you out of the day-to-day routine and forces you to view your business at a macro-level.
  2. It relieves stress — Each of us has a different level for stress tolerance but we all have one thing in common—we will eventually crash and burn when our tank reaches empty. The daily grind of work can be stressful and it takes its toll. Studies have shown that workplace stress is far and away the number one stressor we face in life. It’s imperative for your health to find productive ways to relieve stress and taking the metaphorical helicopter ride is an excellent way to accomplish that goal. Regardless of how you do it – devoting an hour a week to strategic planning, one day a month, or having a periodic retreat with your leadership team – the important thing is you do it. Helicopter rides allow you to clear your mind of pressing priorities and helps you re-calibrate your approach to work.
  3. It sparks creativity and problem solving — Many of my best ideas come to me when I’m away from the office. Whether I’m in the shower or cycling in the back country, the ideas flow when I’m relaxed and letting my mind wander. Helicopter rides afford you the opportunity to think in a different way, unencumbered by the routines and demands of the office. Constantly working in the business keeps your mind focused on the immediate and urgent problems, whereas working on the business allows you to creatively brainstorm new approaches to your challenges.
  4. It nourishes your soul — Leaders set the tempo for their teams. If you want a team that is engaged, energized, and committed to their work, then you need to model that behavior. That means you’re constantly pouring yourself out for others. If you aren’t replenishing your own energy you won’t have any left to give others. Sometimes helicopter rides mean getting away from work entirely by taking a vacation. Work can wear us down to the point where we develop an attitude of cynicism or a defeatist mentality. If you notice yourself going down that road then it’s a clear warning sign your soul needs some nourishment.

As leaders we are often motivated to always be on the go…get things done…make stuff happen. There’s a time and place for all that activity, but there is also a time and place for rising above the day-to-day and taking a helicopter ride to look at your business, and your leadership practices, in a new and fresh way.

Feel free to leave a comment about your own strategies for taking helicopter rides.

I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org under the title Leaders Should Take a Helicopter Ride Once in a While.

Leadership Development Carnival – June 2016

leadership_carnival logoIt’s my pleasure to host the June 2016 edition of the Leadership Development Carnival. This month’s collection of articles is a treasure trove of wisdom from many of the world’s premier leadership, management, and coaching thought leaders and practitioners. Enjoy!

Do Your Motivations Undermine Your Ability to Lead? by MarySchaefer — Certain leaders are disconnected from the motivations of the human beings who happen to be employees. Successful leaders are aware that when you make decisions that affect their lives, employees need to know you understand what keeps them engaged, or you risk compromising their trust.

The Power of Almost Perfect Practice by Jennifer V. Miller — Jennifer’s preteen daughter is learning to play the trumpet and that’s providing opportunity for how to encourage someone who’s learning a new skill. Read Jennifer’s thoughts on how to catch someone doing something (almost) right.

May The Force Be With You: An InPower Guide to Real Superpowers by Dana Theus — The reason media superheroes are so popular is because we all yearn to unlock our secret inner talents, the ones we instinctively know we have by virtue of being human. For most of us, navigating the trials and tribulations of a day at the office, a light saber seems like overkill. But the ability to steer someone’s thinking or read their true intent? Now that would come in handy!

Feel Unappreciated? Improve Your Working Relationships by Joel Garfinkle — I just don’t get it! I know I’m doing good work, but nobody seems to notice. I put in the hours, I bring in the clients, I get the job done. If you feel unappreciated, apply these three action steps to improve your working relationships.

How’s Cubicle Life Going for You? by Jim Taggart — In this post Jim looks at how the modern cubicle was initially created and its evolution in the ensuing years, noting the effects on people.

Bubbily Boo’ by Bill Treasurer — While on an epic vacation to Spain a few summers ago, Bill learned a valuable leadership lesson from his kids.It was the first time he realized that Dad Dad and Business Dad were two different people.

Tactical To-Dos for First-Time Leaders by Jon Mertz — Given the opportunity, how would you help someone prepare for their first leadership position? Jon Mertz shares five slices of advice to provide a solid foundation for anyone walking into a new leadership role.

Why You Need to Learn to Coach People by Mary Jo Asmus — There are lots of things that are called coaching, but aren’t. Real coaching uses a special type of two-way conversation that can help leaders to help others. This article describes what coaching isn’t and why it’s important for leaders to (really) coach others.

Give ‘Em Some Space (for Possibilities) by Julie Winkle Giuloni — There’s one  thing that best-in-class coaches do that frequently goes unnoticed to the casual observer. It’s invisible but perhaps the most invaluable contribution a coach can make: Exceptional coaches hold the space for possibilities.

The Problem With Motivating People by David M. Dye — A recent audience member asked David: When it comes to motivating people, are the carrot and stick dead? David suggests that they’re not dead, but they rarely get you what you want.

Deliver on the Promise of Servant Leadership by Chris Edmonds — Two friends – in completely different industries – were excited to join a vibrant boss & company. Within months the bubble burst – their great boss left due to values conflicts and worse. How can we help leaders serve others – not themselves? This post explains how.

3 Practices to Protect Your People from Toxic Stress and Burnout by Michael Stallard — Burnout is on the rise in healthcare and is taking its toll on healthcare workers. Michael Lee Stallard explains steps that leaders can take to protect their people from toxic stress and burnout.

Leading Employees Who Struggle with Self Doubt by Art Petty — The biggest barrier to remarkable achievements in our workplaces is not a lack of resources or a shortage of great ideas. Rather, it is a distinct shortage of a very personal attribute: self-confidence. This article offers six ideas to help you strengthen your support of these individuals on your team.

6 Tips for Becoming a Compelling Conversationalist by Willy Steiner — Willy shares why a good conversation is like playing catch and 6 things that a great conversationalist will do to make the dialogue good for both sides.

Make Communication Personal To Establish Greater Connection by Paul LaRue — With all a of our electronic communication – emails, texts, and even social media – we still have opportunities to connect and build personal engagement.

Talent Management Strategy Lessons Learned from T-Ball by Mary Ila Ward — If you have ever had a son or daughter play t-ball there is only one word that can describe it…chaos. In this guest post from Dave, Mary’s husband, he shares that a couple of weeks into the season he realized he would be utilizing many of the management skills he uses at work.

Managers and Musicians: Leading by Being Present by Marcella Bremer — Marcella says, “I attended a music workshop that helps leaders discover the ‘note you cannot hear’. What stood out for me is that action speaks louder than words, or better phrased: presence speaks louder than words.” Check out Marcella’s article to learn more.

Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family by Paula Kiger — This post is a review of the book by the same title. The book encourages leaders (as well as employees throughout all layers of corporate hierarchy) to recognize and nurture “the power of everybody.”

Acting Without Theory Often Results in Wasted Effort by John Hunter — If you don’t understand why you take action you will find yourself wasting effort. You must have a theory that you can test in order to test what is working and what changes actually lead to improvement and learning.

Turn Relentless Focus into Attentiveness by Jill Malleck — As leaders take on more responsibility they sometimes become adept at compartmentalizing to avoid distraction. This relentless focus may be seen by others as rigidity or disinterest. Here’s how to ensure an ability to focus remains a strength.

Developing Your Own Management Career Plan by Lexie Martin — Lexie says, “Proactively motivating and managing yourself, including your career development, is part of your responsibility as a manager.” This easy-to-follow guide provides simple steps to help you take control of your development, from identifying where you what to head as a leader to planning the actions you need to take to get there.

It’s Time to Take a Stand for a #TrueLeaderCreed by Jesse Lyn Stoner — Jesse’s post features the True Leader Creed, created by by Aspen BakerEileen McDargh, and Charlotte Ashlock as a vehicle to take a stand for positive leadership. Read the post and sign the creed!

Are You Giving The Right Message With Your Leadership? by Tanveer Naseer — When it comes to praise, it’s not just how often leaders give it, but also what kind. Discover how this difference can help to empower your employees.

Don’t Worry About Being Humble, Just Do It by Wally Bock — Humility is a virtue. You acquire it be acting humble. Here’s how to start.

Creativity’s Role in High-Performance Organizations by Neal Burgis — Being creative helps high-performance organizations stay ahead of the competition by doing things differently and they do it better. Most organizations don’t realize how to thrive, but here are some ways they can move forward.

Avoiding the Big Mistake New Leaders Make by Robyn McLeod — Robyn shares essential steps for avoiding the deadly traps organizations fall into when bringing in an external hire for a leadership role.

What to Do (and Not to Do!) to Get Your Presentation Off on the Right Foot by David Grossman — It’s not uncommon to hear leaders say they need to tell a joke to get the audience’s attention, but what many don’t know is it’s not a helpful strategy for the majority of us. It’s risky. Read on to get proven tips to ensure your presentation gets off to a strong start.

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