leadership incorporated blog

March 21, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: What business leaders can learn from a girl’s volleyball team.

I’m writing this while watching the third match in my daughter’s Club Volleyball tournament. The team came out of the box slowly. It took them a little while to get communicating and start working as a team. They lost match 1 but it was close. In match 2 they found their focus. They killed and actually started to have some fun. But now in match 3, they’ve lost it again. They’re not talking to each other. They’re not working well together. They’re making mistakes. Blaming each other. And they’re certainly not having fun.

This same thing happens to businesses trying to grow. They can fumble around trying to find their direction and ways to communicate and best work together as a team. Then their efforts pay off and they experience some progress, some success. They get excited, start having fun. But often what they’ve created isn’t sustainable because they aren’t really paying attention to what’s working and what isn’t. They forget they’re in the middle of a process with no end. They stop communicating collaboratively. And they feel the same panicky, pressure that the volleyballers felt as they watched their success slipping away.

How to turn it around:

1. Realize that growth is a process. As you move from point A to point B, all kinds of things change and to be successful, you need to continue to adapt. Don’t get cocky with your first success and think you’re done with the work!

2. Analyze your progress. Look at what’s working and what isn’t. Look at what’s changed. Look at what is now possible that wasn’t before. Work smart.

3. Communicate. Blame only accelerates the loss. Start talking it up. Get team members input. Let them know what you’re doing and what you need from them. Keep everyone focused on getting to point B together.

4. Focus on the fundamentals. John Wooden (sorry for mixing sports metaphors) never had any team focus on winning. Instead he had them work and work on passing, shooting, driving down the lane. Do the same with whatever the fundamentals are in your business. Usually quality, customer service, and teamwork top the list.

5. Have fun. My daughter’s team started having fun when they started winning. What they didn’t realize is that you can accelerate your success by having fun first. Figure out how to make the process fun for everyone on your team and quality will improve, customer service will improve and the results will follow. Making it fun is one of the most powerful secrets to winning at business. Most companies don’t get this one right.

6. Celebrate. This is one thing the girl’s volleyball team has down. They celebrate after every play. When they ace the serve, it’s “Aaaahh, ace! Woop! Woop! “ On a good block, it’s “Access Denied!” And when they lose the point, they slap hands just as if they were congratulating each other. And in every way, they are moving forward, even when they lose the point. If they’re smart they’re learning from it.

This week, one of my clients shared with me that a $300,000 lesson they were regretting a few years ago turned into something they are immensely grateful for today. That lesson more than paid for itself over time.

I like the idea of celebrating this. In fact, I think I’ll start to celebrate all my progress, too. I invite you to join me.

Ace, Ace, Baby!

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March 6, 2011

When leaders don’t know they don’t know.

One evening (about 15 years ago), my infant son who’d been playing quietly with building blocks suddenly began to scream. I looked up to see that he had grabbed a handful of his own hair and was pulling as hard as he could. The harder he pulled the louder he screamed. He couldn’t see the connection between what he was doing and the pain he was feeling.

I see this in business all the time.

This week, I coached the leader of an organization who thinks everyone around him is stabbing him in the back. He is suing one client. He has just terminated another. He’s fired one employee and thinks the rest of the staff are taking advantage. He recently stormed out of a professional association because he felt ripped off.

I see him entering new relationships already angry and expecting the worst. As a result, he doesn’t communicate well. He is so worried that he is not going to get his fair share, that he ensures he doesn’t get what he needs. At the first hint things aren’t going his way, he blows a gasket. He feels he’s given and given and he isn’t going to give anymore.

The best clients experience him as angry and demanding and back away from doing business with him. Retention of clients and staff is a problem.

He goes through his life and work screaming and screaming — not realizing that he has the power to change what he’s doing and get different results.

Before we judge him too harshly, let’s be honest. We’ve all had times when we’ve had a metaphorical fistful of our own hair in hand and haven’t made the connection that we are causing our own pain.

We are particularly vulnerable to this in stressful times, during change and even growth — when we are overwhelmed, exhausted, scared, frustrated, depleted, and low on resources.

Here are a bunch of TO DOs — and a few TO DON’Ts — that can turn it around:

TO DON’T: Ask “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?” This question tends to keep us stuck and feeling and acting like victims.

TO DO: Ask “What might I be doing to cause this?” And “What could I do differently to produce a different result?” It might seem subtle, but there is a huge difference!

TO DON’T: Blame others or yourself, even if wrongs have been done. Blame doesn’t get us anywhere.

TO DO: Take responsibility for creating the results you want and need to see.

TO DON’T: Give in to the urge to hyperbolize. Even though it may feel like it, it’s just not true that NOTHING is going right. Or that EVERYONE is against us.

TO DO: Turn your focus to what is working. See how you can leverage that.

TO DO: Remind yourself of your vision and purpose

TO DO: Prioritize

TO DO: Get your focus off yourself and onto being of service to others

TO DO: Find the opportunity in the crisis.

TO DO: Control what you can, let go of what you can’t.

TO DO: Laugh. At yourself. At the situation. Find the humor. Trust me, it’s always there. And finding it makes a real difference.

TO DO: Go outside, take a walk and clear your mind

TO DO: Remember what’s really important

TO DO: Breathe

TO DO: Delegate

TO DO: Ask for help

Finally, here’s an exercise that can help you to spot where you may be part of the problem. Simply answer the following questions:

  1. Identify the undesired results you are currently experiencing. Be specific.
  2. Do you truly want to change the results you are getting in this area?
  3. Are you willing to be completely honest with yourself?
  4. Flip it:  Imagine you WANT TO create these results, how would you go about it? Make a list. Go for volume. Have a sense of humor. Ask others.Brainstorm every possible way you could create the results you are currently getting.
  5. Now look to see what on this list you may be doing — intentionally or unintentionally.
  6. Now that you see your situation in a fresh way, turn it around and brainstorm ways to create the successful results you actually want.

Feel free to let me know how it goes.

Wishing you an inspired week.

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