leadership incorporated blog

February 11, 2013

How smart leaders unintentionally murder successful outcomes

In the mid-1990s, the murder rate in Minneapolis was higher than New York’s. Things were so bad, people referred to the city as “Murderapolis.”

Today, that rate has dropped by 60%. How did they do this?

They gave high-risk teens an A.

I’m referring to the concept of “Giving an A” described by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander in The Art of Possibility (Penguin Books, 2002).

The idea is to assume that everyone is an “A student,” — even violent teens in Minnesota. You can see it in the core goals of Minneapolis’ program:

  • Every young person was supported by at least one trusted adult,
  • Intervention at the first sign of risk,
  • Focus on getting kids back on track rather than giving up on them,
  • Recognition that violence is learned; that there is a larger system at work.

This program assumed that every kid was deserving of support, intervention, training, trust and belief.  And it produced a dramatic result.

This same concept can make a big difference in the growth and effectiveness of your organization.

When we approach poor or underperformance from a stance of judgment and blame (the equivalent of assuming people are F students), what happens?

  • We become blind to root causes
  • We repeat the same patterns of poor performance over and over
  • We send discouraging messages to individuals that undermine their ability to recover
  • We send the team a message that blame is an organizational strategy, setting the stage for increasing blame in the place of problem solving
  • We increase costly drama and politics

When take the opportunity to assume that everyone is an “A student” it generally leads to the opposite actions:

  • Looking for root causes and creating more lasting solutions
  • Sending a message of support and expectation to the person that tends to increase effort and commitment
  • Establishing an organizational culture focused on attacking problems and not people, which increases trust, safety and retention
  • Reducing costly drama and politics

Meet Gordon, the VP of R&D in an information technology company.

Gordon lived in a constant state of fury brought on by Joan, one of his project directors. He had no patience for hearing that yet another of Joan’s deadlines had been missed and the raft of excuses that would follow. Their relationship had deteriorated to the point where they were barely communicating. He was ready to issue her a Performance Improvement Plan that would allow him to finally let her go at the end of 60 days.

He was giving Joan an F.

When I was brought in to coach Gordon, the conflict with Joan surfaced as one of his biggest challenges. When I asked Gordon how he would approach the situation if Joan were an “A student,” he realized that in his quickness to assess Joan as a underperformer, he had not once had a straight conversation with her about the challenges she faced.

Gordon uncovered that the issue was not with Joan but with another department Joan’s group was dependent upon for data.

By giving the other department an A in his negotiations with them, Gordon was able to work out realistic deadlines and help them in resolving a bottleneck that was consistently keeping them behind schedule.

Do you want to be right or do you want to be productive?

When I present this concept, I’m often asked, “When can I give someone an ‘F’?”

This question asks, “When can I blame?” My response is “Never!”

Blame never leads to the best possible outcome.

This does not mean you won’t give people honest and constructive feedback. It also doesn’t mean that you won’t hold people to the highest standards. Or even sometimes let an employee go.

You may take the very same actions when giving a person an A as you would have when giving them an F. Yet, the quality of the experience of those actions will be completely different for all concerned — in ways that support rather than undermine growth and success.

The concept of assuming people are “A-students” actually makes it easier for you to effectively hold someone accountable, as well as to support them in creating the outcomes your business needs.

One more distinction: you may be tempted to reframe this as “giving someone the benefit of the doubt.” This takes you halfway there, but still begins with doubt.

Giving someone an “A” begins with trust. And trust leads your organization down a very different and much more productive path.

January 13, 2013

Where are your assumptions blocking the right solutions?

I’m rebranding. And it’s time for a new website.

Oh, what an odyssey!

When I started Leadership Incorporated in 2005, I had enough skill (from my 25 years in the ad biz) to put together a passably professional site on my own. Now my business has grown and evolved, I need a solution beyond my ability or time to produce.

So I set out to find a web designer to get the job done.

Spoiler alert: first mistake.

As your jammed spam folder can assure you, there is no shortage of web designers poised to redesign your site. Of course, I didn’t use the spammers. I reached out to the excellent web design professionals in my network, trying to find the right combination of design sophistication, programming ability and price.

I spent literally months in conversations with professional design companies. My gut told me we were talking about more work, time, complication and cost than I actually needed. But I didn’t have another solution.

I was ready to write the check and get moving when my business partner from my advertising past (who I should have asked to begin with, second mistake!) pointed out to me that WordPress has all kinds of new templates that don’t look like “templates.” A few looked almost exactly like what I had envisioned.

So I asked the project manager, “Couldn’t we save some time and money by using one of these WordPress templates instead of reinventing the wheel?”

His response: “Sure. But then you wouldn’t be talking to us, you’d go to a Themer.”

That was a slap-on-the-head-I-could’ve-had-a-V-8-moment! And my third mistake.

I’d never even heard of a Themer before! Turns out, there is a whole profession of graphic artists who aren’t web designers or programmers, yet work magic with WordPress themes. For a fraction of the cost! In a fraction of the time!

Big learning here with much broader application.

My mistakes: assumptions, assumptions, assumptions!

  1. I assumed that web design was basically the same as when I left the ad business almost 10 years ago. I forgot  that industries don’t just improve, they evolve. (Even someone who facilitates companies in evolving can make this mistake! Irony!)
  2. I assumed I was doing thorough research, and I was — in the area of web design. Only my earlier assumption kept me from looking into a perfect solution that I didn’t know existed.
  3. I assumed I had the right language. Go to a web designer and ask for design and that’s what they will quote and provide. It’s not their fault. My outdated language set me up to waste their time (I feel terrible about that) as well as my own.

Where might your assumptions have you pursuing the wrong tools and skill sets?

Here some effectiveness coaching tips to take from my mistakes:

  1. Become an absolute beginner. Put aside everything you think you know.
  2. Look for the total paradigm shift of a way to do the job (only better, faster and more cost effectively.) If you’re going to assume something, assume the world has changed fundamentally since you last used a similar tool. (Guaranteed it has!)
  3. Reach out to people more likely  up-to-speed than you are!
  4. Ask prospective vendors other paths you might take to get the same results. And hope you’ve got vendors who will tell you the truth!
  5. Listen to your gut. When you truly need a web designer go to a web designer. But when your gut is telling you that you don’t have the right solution yet, listen and explore other avenues. (Extrapolate to other solution providers as needed!)

One of Don Miguel Ruiz’ brilliant Four Agreements code for life is “Never Assume Anything.” Good advice.

December 17, 2012

Leaders: Are You Using The Activation Phenomenon To Succeed Bigger?

A 2001 study at Johns Hopkins showed that when nurses met the medical team by name and asked about their concerns early on, they were more likely to note problems and offer solutions than nurses who were not treated as valued team members. Getting people personally involved activated their participation, their sense of responsibility and their willingness to speak up.

The researchers called this the “Activation Phenomenon.”

Think about your own experience in workplaces where you were (are) activated and challenged to be at your best. Weren’t you more interested in your work? Did you look forward to getting to work and not want to stop? Did you have moments in which time stood still while you worked your magic? Didn’t you find yourself caring deeply about the work, the results, your clients, co-workers, and vendors?

On the other hand, most of us have experienced not being encouraged to use our smarts and skills and can-do spirit. We’ve felt frustrated, bored, undervalued. We’ve questioned our own worth. We’ve done our time without caring about the results, because, really, what was the point of caring?

Companies that produce the best results over time more often make people feel the first way. Organizations that create the second set of feelings, generally have to spend a lot of their time and capital on people problems, efficiency problems, quality problems, turnover problems…yes, all kinds of problems. And that gets in the way of creating sustainable success.

Do some of the engagement issues come from the people themselves? Of course, yet no problem is one-sided. And your business is either doing things to activate engagement on the part of its people, its clients, and its vendors or it is doing things to deactivate them.

So, it’s a good idea to periodically take an unflinching look at some of the conditions business leaders create that either activate or de-activate even themselves:

  • Create A Strong Sense Of Purpose: When we feel connected to the “why” behind our jobs, we work longer, harder, smarter and with greater passion. When disconnected from the end results of our work, our roles become abstract and we become disengaged.
  • Offer A Good Meaty Challenge: Stretching people just slightly out of their comfort zones is highly engaging. On the other hand, asking too little keeps us feeling bored and insignificant. However, asking the impossible breeds resentment and lack of respect.
  • Build A Connected Team Feeling:  Personal connections, being part of something bigger than ourselves, knowing others depend on us and that our delivery has an impact on their ability to perform is a powerful and energizing motivator. When work is impersonal and disconnected from others, it’s much harder to care.
  • Treat People With Respect: Virtually everyone does their best work when approached consistently as valuable human beings and team members. Conversely, being talked down to, blamed, ignored, yelled at, dismissed, and so on, almost always results in mutual disrespect.
  • Provide Constructive Feedback: Study after study shows that people work harder when we know how we are doing, whether the feedback indicates we are exceeding, meeting, or failing to meet expectations. One critical warning: make sure feedback is actionable and focused on the work, not the person. Blame, judgment, and feedback that does not suggest a course of action will demotivate.
  • Give The Authority To Make Decisions That Impact Outcomes: When people are able to create and carry out actions that produce results, we feel empowered and take ownership of the process. When we’re held responsible for conditions over which we have no control, we become passive and resentful, feeling that we’ve been set up to lose and that it doesn’t matter what we do.
  • Allow Permission To Make mistakes: In environments that encourage mistakes (and learning) we feel freer to think out of the box, to come up with new and better ways and speak up when we see the potential for problems ahead. When mistakes happen, we don’t hesitate to surface them and get to immediate resolution. On the other hand, when we fear “getting in trouble,” we risk less and cover-up more. Which do you think is of greater benefit to any organization?

See anything here that your organization might do better on? What conversations can you have in the next few weeks to activate yourself and the people your business depends on to hit the ground running in 2013?

Wishing you a happy holiday season and some highly activated growth in the new year.

November 4, 2012

When fear and anger interferes with business growth

My husband has attempted to have a substantive political dialogue with a few colleagues on the opposite side in Tuesday’s election.

The problem is that their positions are consistently based on unsubstantiated stories that predict massive disasters for those with their views.

They use epithets like “snake,” “anti-Israel,” “like Christians rooting for the lions,” “America haters,” “apologists” and other language that seeks to cast both the opposing candidate AND my husband as malicious, evil, ignorant and hostile to the US.

It’s clear that they are very afraid which makes them angry which makes them more fearful and which in turn makes them still angrier. They aren’t interested in facts or reasonable alternative viewpoints and this has made mutual understanding and meaningful dialogue impossible.

A few weeks ago, one of the group invited us to a “debate” intended to showcase each party’s views. She neglected to tell us that the organization putting on the event was strongly affiliated with “her side.” They cheered for their representative  and when the opposing debater spoke (even though he was a highly respected member of the clergy) the crowd began to boo and hiss. Even when admonished repeatedly by the moderator and host to be respectful, they still couldn’t or wouldn’t contain their disrespectful behavior.

The language being used by the debater on their side was full of extremes and violence. He described his opponents as “beating up on our values,” “throwing us under the bus,” “dangerous,” “shoving ideas down our throats,” and so on.

Meanwhile, as his opponent tried to respond with factual and reasoned arguments, the crowd increasingly shouted him down.

As the evening progressed, the angry energy in the room became more and more intense. As it became clear to those around us that we weren’t participating in the heckling, we started to feel hostile glares. Each of us had moments of wondering if we were physically safe.

It struck me that the stories being told and the language being used were intended to incite fear, anger and intense emotion. And that the more fearful and angry the people became, the less able they were to listen, think independently, or to make a rational decision.

One of the biggest problems with using fear and anger as a political tool is that after the dust settles, you’re left with people who’ve been pushed into extreme territory that is a huge challenge to address or control and that can take on a life of its own.

This experience increased my awareness of the emotional and fear-based decisions we all find ourselves faced with, not only in this election, but in our businesses and lives.

A decision made from fear is always the wrong decision. ~ Tony Robbins

We’ve seen a lot of leaders make bad business decisions in the atmosphere of fear that has dominated the past several years:

The manufacturer who stopped all marketing efforts in a panic thinking they could save their way out of financial challenges, and whose rapidly declining market share is making it clear this was an extremely costly mistake from which they may not recover.

The marketing firm that cut several star performers in the early days of the recession and who are now finding that not only have they been unable to replace them, they have to compete against them.

The medical center that for the first time in its history experienced a loss and cut off funding to key departments, creating conditions that guaranteed underperformance, which has compounded their financial problems with decreasing customer satisfaction, bad press, morale issues and turnover that will take much greater investment and time to turnaround.

But what are leaders supposed to do to manage change in these turbulent and scary times?

  1. Notice the emotional stories. Be vigilant! Resist the urge to get swept up in the drama. Be aware of language that triggers fear, anger and other strong emotions — whether it’s coming out of someone else’s mouth, or rattling around in your own mind!
  2. If you do find yourself faced with an emotional or fear-based decision, do the hard work of remaining open. Stay calm. Fact-check. Choose reality. Make sure your sources are reliable. Be curious to see if the opposite story could be just as true.
  3. Create a clear, specific, inclusive and positive vision for what would be better.
  4. Share your vision. Get excited. Get others onboard. You can’t do it alone! Give them an opportunity to get involved; to play a part in creating a better future.
  5. Get into action. Nothing allays fear or anger like positive forward movement.

 The best thing for us all in politics, business or life, regardless of whether you lean toward conservative, independent or liberal views, is to reject fear-based thinking (which can come from either side) get the facts and make the best decisions we can, based on our values. One of the great things about our amazing United States is the built-in respect for competing views, which provides checks and balances that over time keep us moving forward on sane middle ground.

Let’s never forget that. And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!

October 15, 2012

How to ask questions that increase business effectiveness

Last weekend while visiting our son at St. John’s College in Santa Fe NM, A lecture on Socratic method by author and tutor Richard McCombs challenged me to think even more deeply on one of my favorite topics — questions! The gist of what he said:

  • Questions make us receptive to some courses of thought and action — and unreceptive to others
  • Therefore, we must make sure we are asking the right questions
  • It’s critical that we ask questions in the right order
  • All objections are really questions in disguise
  • Without questions, learning is incomplete and superficial
  • If we want to take charge of learning, we must master questions

Wow. Could this be any more relevant to my clients’ businesses? Or to my own? Not to mention to the political conversation swirling around us in this election season!

When businesses get stuck in stressful situations, it’s virtually always because:

  • We stopped asking questions
  • We didn’t recognize the essential unasked question
  • We asked the wrong question or asked questions in the wrong order

For example…

An architecture firm in the Pacific Northwest landed a big new client in 2010. Did I say big? This one client has brought nearly 12 times the workload they had been handling. By Q2 of this year, the company had more than quintupled in size. There is a new level of pressure and stress, as well as greatly increased complexity. Yet, there was still an expectation that they should be able to run as nimbly as ever.

It’s probably obvious to you that this is impossible.

But they are so much in just-get-it-done mode they can’t see it. Meanwhile, tempers are short. Internal and external conflicts are escalating. Demands and complaints are increasing. They are pushing harder and harder, but they weren’t asking any powerful questions.

Their problems are actually questions in disguise. See if you agree that the following questions are implied by their challenges:

  • What expectations are reasonable?
  • How could we better manage client expectations?
  • How could we better manage internal expectations?
  • When should we say no?
  • Do we have the right people in the right places?
  • Who needs to have our process clarified?
  • What role should leadership play?
  • What kind of culture would be most productive and how do we create it?

Can you imagine what new possibilities might surface, what changes might be implemented if leadership were asking — and encouraging — these kinds of questions?

If we want to take charge of the growth of our businesses, we must master questions. If we want to take charge of our profitability, of our productivity, of staff, of clients, and yes, even of our  families and our lives, we must become masters at asking the right questions.

Here’s my edited version of what McComb recommends:

  1. Make a deliberate effort to ask many questions.
  2. Question your questions. Ask whether you are asking the right questions or good questions or what other kinds of questions you might ask.
  3. Think of your efforts to learn as not just trying to answer questions, but trying to discover and understand better questions.
  4. Talk to people in a way that invites them to ask you questions.
  5. Imagine what questions other people, real or fictitious, might ask you.
  6. Try to figure out what questions you are asking without realizing it. What questions are other people in similar situations asking themselves? What questions are organizing the world around you?

Start by asking yourself: What questions do I need to ask now?

 

September 23, 2012

The Re-entry Phenomenon: Coming Back Strong After A Crisis

It’s been one tough summer.

In the last several months, my family has supported both my force-of-nature mother-in-law and incredibly strong father-in-law (and our dear family cat) through intense illnesses and facilitated them in passing on in the most positive, loving, supportive environment possible.

In the middle of all this, we also moved our eldest off to college and have facilitated him through a series of life-rocking transitions. And I had some surgery to solve a neck/shoulder problem.

Now, after several months of immersion in family life, it seems that the crises have passed, the fog is lifting and we are surveying the damage and realizing that it’s time to come back to our lives in progress.

Maybe you’ve been here before. Sometimes events beyond our control pull us away from life and work as we know them and immerse us in another reality. Then —often suddenly — the emergent circumstances wrap up and we find ourselves changed, contemplating a new normal and trying to figure out how to integrate ourselves into it.

My wonderful husband, Michael Leventhal (of MC Squared Law & Consulting, a digital media law & business consulting firm) and I have talked a lot about what’s changed, the challenges facing us now, and how to approach our comeback. We realized that this “re-entry phenomenon” in its broadest strokes also applies in other situations:

  • Having a baby
  • A significant illness or injury
  • The loss of a client
  • The loss of a job
  • The loss of a business partner
  • The end of a project

Can you relate?

A few of the biggest, most common challenges:

  1. You’ve formed new habits that aren’t compatible with normal life. For example, our sleeping and waking patterns have shifted in ways that are inconsistent with normal working hours.
  2. Residual feelings flow over you in unpredictable waves. Seemingly unrelated comments or images trigger powerful memories. Sadness, loss, guilt, stress can take you by surprise and leave you feeling exhausted and in need of a nap. Not exactly a great recipe for productivity.
  3. You have fear stories and other thoughts that get in the way of getting back to work and life. You may worry that people have felt underserved or needed to move on without you. You may believe that you have lost your momentum and don’t know how to get it back. These stories can shake your confidence, and paralyze you from taking even baby steps that lead back to life.

The power of ritual. In the Jewish tradition, there is a three-phase process prescribed for mourners. First, you immerse yourself in mourning for a week. Over the next month you begin to incorporate normal activities at a reduced pace while refraining from certain aspects of life.  For the rest of the year that follows, the balance shifts again: more normal life, yet you keep some practices that create a structure that enables you to make a gradual and supported return.

Whether or not you believe in the religious or spiritual, this is brilliant from business leadership and coaching perspectives.

We need to process. Those who don’t have religious traditions may find themselves pressured by the world to skip some necessary steps that help us to honor what needs honoring, clear what needs clearing and rejoin our lives in a gradual way that allows for predictable discomforts and challenges and makes them acceptable and natural…thereby supporting us in our return.

How many of us force ourselves to come back from a profound break too soon and too abruptly? What is the cost to our well-being? What is the cost to our effectiveness upon our return?

In strategizing our returns, Michael and I sketched out a few practical rituals (spirituality optional) that I thought might be useful to you someday. Here they are:

Process, process, process: Talk, write, think, read, explore and otherwise immerse yourself in what you have just been through for a focused and limited time, say a week. These thoughts and feelings need to be exposed to the light. Grow with them. Don’t stuff them.

Connect and Reconnect: Your relationships are the most powerful path back into your life. Reach out to people. You don’t have to talk about what you’ve been through with everyone, perhaps only a select few. More importantly, find out what’s been happening with them.

Be of service: Shift your focus from self and family to others. How can you assist clients, colleagues, staff, friends? Rediscover your purpose and value to others.

Create with words: Get back into the language of what you do. Make a plan. Use words to talk and write about what you want to do next.

Replace habits one at a time. Prioritize the habits that will make the biggest difference, but don’t try to change them all at once. Gently, yet firmly, go one at a time. Remember it takes about 21 days to create a new habit. Be sure to reward yourself in healthy ways for success.

Reassess. This is a great time to look at what’s working, get rid of what isn’t and refocus yourself on what really matters. Create new opportunities. Nothing is as re-energizing as what you really care about.

Work the dichotomy of patience and encouragement: Allow yourself extra time and be understanding and gentle with yourself if you aren’t adapting as fast as you thought. At the same time, strongly encourage yourself to get back on your game. Most of us tend to do one or the other. Finding the balance between these two makes for the smoothest possible re-entry.

Ask for what you need. If you share, you’ll probably find that people relate. The most surprising people have stories just like yours. And if they don’t yet, they will. That’s life.

My request: I want to reconnect with you. How are you? What have you been doing while I’ve been gone? Please let me hear from you.

August 12, 2012

Leaders, what are the major anxieties of your people in your time?

No matter how excellent things are, we each have something that eats at us.

Something we worry about. Something we lose sleep over. Something that challenges us, Some occasion that we aren’t sure we’ll be able to rise to.

It’s human nature.

Don’t think you have anything to worry about? Chances are good you’re in denial!

Many leaders minimize the impacts of problems they don’t want to deal with — seemingly small problems — hoping they will just go away.

And sometimes they do take care of themselves quickly. (Ask me sometime about my amazing 15 minute rule!)

But when a guppy of an issue doesn’t resolve itself in short order, more often than not, it is feeding and growing unseen and one day a Loch Ness Monster of a problem may surface.

Anxiety is a gift. It is your body’s deeper wisdom telling you that there is something that needs your attention. Think of it as an early warning system! Often our bodies are far more tapped in to the truth than our defensive minds.

The more we increase our awareness of our internal signals that a problem is lurking, the more intentional and effective we can be in managing it appropriately.

You manage the problem…or the problem will manage you!

Lately I’m hearing a lot of people ignoring their anxieties. Putting off dealing with issues that have the potential to grow into much bigger, much scarier problems.
Here are a few themes:

  • Overwhelmed, yet not with the right kind of business
  • Things that continue to not get done
  • Unresolved people problems
  • Negative perceptions of your business in the marketplace, due to factors beyond your control
  • Concerns about health, self-care

What is your greatest anxiety right now?

What is the greatest anxiety of your clients?

What is the greatest anxiety of the people you work with?

Let me hear from you. If you’re willing to play with me, let’s confront some of these anxieties together. Be as specific as you can.  I’ll keep your identity confidential, and explore in Inspired to Succeed the monsters keeping this particular group of leaders up at night right now.

Until next time…

July 22, 2012

Where am I?

Open quoteHere is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.Close quote
— Richard Bach 

I’m going through a time when family is calling for my full attention. 

Over the last several months my husband and I have supported our family through a challenging time that culminated in the death of my mother-in-law this past Tuesday at age 88.

Times like these are full of lessons. Wanted to share with you a few things that my mother-in-law’s profound life — and death — have taught me. I hope these have value for you, as well:

1. People underestimate their impact. As I sat down to write some words to share at the service, I discovered that the most difficult parts of my relationship with my mother-in-law had led to some profound shifts in my life for which I am incredibly grateful. Upon reflection I find this is true of the difficult relationships I’ve experienced in business, as well.

2. Tough times and tough people make us stronger. The challenges we face force us to get clear about who we are and what we believe in. People who push us in both positive and negative ways are our teachers. They give us the opportunity to stand firmly in our beliefs and learn to have a relationship even when we disagree.

3. Everything comes to go. Nothing lasts forever and although painful, that’s exactly as it should be. Impermanence is the way of life and in many ways what gives everything its value. Whether in family or business, expecting and embracing and trusting change makes for a completely different experience of life than fighting, hating and resisting it.

4. Honor the process. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom out there from people who have trodden these paths before us. We can learn so much from other’s experience and from spiritual practices that relate to loss and mourning and returning to life, whether we are talking about the tremendous loss of a loved one or the more mundane yet still impactful losses we experience daily in business and life. Sometimes the best thing we can do is look for guidance and go with the flow.

I hope you’ll let someone know the impact they’ve had on you, take a moment to appreciate what you’ve got, and make the most of the next couple of weeks until we connect again.

 

 

June 10, 2012

What Every CEO Should Learn From Dave’s Excellent Tomatoes

Have you ever had a tomato that was so far beyond anything you’d ever tasted, it changed your life?

A year ago, my husband and I were invited to dinner at a friend’s house. Dave served vegetables from his garden that looked more or less like tomatoes and arugula and zucchini. But they didn’t feel, smell or taste like anything I’d ever experienced. They awakened my body’s awareness of and hunger for quality taste and nutrition. They opened a door that showed me that something was possible that I didn’t even know existed.

We decided to grow our own tomatoes. We bought special soil at Home Depot and selected baby heirloom tomato plants from the nursery. We knew enough to keep them watered and use stakes to keep them off the ground. The day our first rosy tangerine tomato ripened, our mouths watered in anticipation. I held it up to breathe in the aroma, and…nothing. And the flavor: weak, watery, slightly bitter. Blah. All that work for nothing.

What did Dave know that we didn’t? Well, it turns out Dave spends 6 hours every Saturday in master gardening class. He works in his garden several hours a day. He knew A LOT we didn’t. Not just about varieties and soil but also gardening practices, the environment and adapting to changing conditions. He knew that excellence takes a commitment to continuous development.

So it turns out that an excellent tomato is not just about the starter plant and soil, it’s about the gardener. Dave had to grow himself before he could grow those amazing vegetables.

My lack of knowledge, skill, habit, attention, commitment, perspective, and mindset will keep me from ever producing tomatoes at the level that I experienced at Dave’s table. I’m simply not willing to do the work.

However, I am willing to pay for the experience…at a premium…on a regular basis.

Isn’t this what we leaders need to create through our businesses?

By developing ourselves and our people well beyond the norm we become able to create an increasingly excellent experience for our clients. An experience for which they may not be willing to invest the time to become experts themselves, but are willing to invest the money to have excellent results.

If it takes continuous development to produce excellence in something as simple as a tomato, it certainly takes continuous development for something as complex as a business.

Continuous development is the secret sauce of excellent products and services. Leaders of businesses that are committed to excellence and growth need to recognize that the foundation needed at the next level is fundamentally different than the foundation at our current level of production.

Just like Dave, we need to continuously work on developing excellence.

So although excellent tomatoes aren’t enough of a priority for me to make this kind of investment, excellence in my business is. I have worked with three coaches over the past 7 years. I carefully select and regularly attend classes and put the learning into practice immediately to stay at the top of my field. I seek out people whose work I admire as models and counsel for my business. I’m willing to do whatever personal work is necessary to let go of habits and mindsets that could limit my ability to provide my clients with a transformative experience.

How about you? Do you have a vision of excellence that is worth this kind of effort. If so, you need to grow yourself and your people first.

Point A people won’t take you to point B without support and development.

Is it ok to stay at point A? Sure. You can always find someone who will be willing to do the development you’re not willing to do…and charge you a premium.

I encourage you to become that someone who is willing to invest what it takes to become the master gardener in your field. Not investing in development is actually a commitment to the path of future obsolescence and will cost you the success and satisfaction that comes from providing your clientele with a transformative tomato.

How wisdom from your prior job can kill your company

Meet Joan.

12 years ago, she landed a job as account executive in a regional office of a rapidly growing national ad agency. Joan intuitively understands how to build strong relationships with clients. She was a rising star and was promoted every 2-3 years first to account supervisor, then account director, followed by VP Account Management and just over three years ago she took over leadership of the office.

Joan’s biggest struggle had always been dealing with the creative department.  She never understood why creatives consistently don’t meet deadlines, why they regularly propose ideas that are outside of the budget, and why their concepts are so often off strategy.

Joan hit the ground running in her new role with a plan to improve agency performance on deadlines, budgets and strategy. Within 3 months, the long-time Creative Director left the agency to take a job with a competitor. At first, Joan was elated. Now she could really change things. But since then she has gone through 2 other CDs, and there might as well be a revolving door in the creative and production departments. Those clients she had great relationships with before are now dissatisfied with the creative product and she’s lost two significant accounts. Growth has effectively stalled. Joan realizes that her job is on the line. In hindsight, she is starting to see the value that the creative director brought to the table.

She estimates the hard costs to the agency of the turnover in this critical position at around $2.5 million and climbing. In terms of reputation of the office, impact on morale and missed opportunities the costs are inestimable and clearly significantly larger.

Can you identify the problem here?

Much as Joan originally wanted to lay the blame on difficult creatives, this is a leadership problem. As the head of the organization, maintaining a strong sense of alignment with one department over others was a huge limitation to her ability to succeed. This over-alignment kept her perspective too narrow. It turns out that what’s best for the account team isn’t necessarily what’s best for the business. It cost her an invaluable employee, several clients and the foundational integrity of the organization.

Joan failed to comprehend that she needed to be a leader not for the account team but for the entire agency. 

She brought her pre-existing struggles and preconceived alliances and prejudices to the role, when what is required in a senior leadership position is always a shift to an expanded and more inclusive perspective.

By relying almost exclusively on counsel from her former account team buddies and making decisions that favored her prior department, position and sensibility, she failed to develop trust with the rest of her management team, with other departments and many individuals. And that compromised the trust with the clients.

Trust is essential to business growth and success.

Trust is no luxury. It is critical. Lack of trust in organizations cripples performance, ignites conflict, guarantees inefficient use of resources, forces duplication of effort, ensures communication breakdowns, and pushes the best people and clients out the door. When lack of trust originates at the top of an organization it has a powerful ripple effect that will travel throughout the organization and can be very challenging to undo.

Take an honest look at yourself.

It’s only natural to identify and align with those who share our perspectives and experience. Yet, this is exactly the opposite of what we need to do to lead growth in our businesses.

Where might you be blinded by your prior experience and alignments?

How might you expand your counsel and open your mind?

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.