leadership incorporated blog

December 11, 2011

Go Like a Puppy

A high school freshman I know is failing two of his classes. The level of work that he used to get away with in middle school is no longer working. In the past, he could slide on the directions and still get a decent grade. That work is no longer acceptable at the high school level. 9th grade is a different animal than middle school. New skills and levels of detail are required — as are new levels of relationship and responsibility.

This student sees his new situation as a loss. He sees himself in a hostile environment, a no-win situation.

Sound familiar? For the last several years the business world has largely been in a mindset of loss. The rules have changed here, too. You might say that we’ve moved from a more forgiving “middle school experience” into a tougher “high school” environment. We’ve been plucked out of our safe spaces and thrust into unfamiliar territory in which we are no longer sure what’s expected. The stakes are higher, the consequences tougher. More is being asked.

And, like my student, many business leaders are still committed to seeing their situation from a perspective of loss: of clients, income, resources, people, security.

But what if we didn’t see it as a loss?

What if we saw this as an opportunity for personal and professional and organizational development? It’s more obvious in the student’s case, but in all situations, challenging change is an invitation. To be different. To expand. To see things from new perspectives. To ask more of ourselves. To grow. To seize different opportunities. To build new relationships. To drop outdated practices and replace them with new approaches that will support continued growth.

Of course, our losses are real and I don’t want to deny or diminish them. But, the loss is not the point. What we gained through the experience is the point. The point is where we are now and where we are going next.

What happens to us when we focus on the loss? We get stuck. Our attention remains backward-focused. We develop stories of ourselves and our environments that are no longer true. By focusing on what was, we miss what is.

And is it true that anything was actually lost? Could it be more true that whatever was, had its life and was only ever meant to last the time it did? What if what we see as lost was actually meant to give us the tools to face whatever is coming next?

Things come to go. Change is the way of life on planet earth. Resisting the change only gets in our way.

As my dear friend Lee said upon being diagnosed with one of the biggest challenging changes there is: terminal cancer, “I’m going into it like a puppy.”

By which she meant: with curiosity, openness and enthusiasm.

She was onto a profound truth that applies to every aspect of life, especially creating business. You can’t lose in moving forward if you follow these 5 simple steps:

1. Appreciate where you’ve been

2. Learn from it

3. Look for the opportunity ahead

4. Go like a puppy

5. Repeat

 

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October 16, 2011

Want more downtime? You’ll have to make an appointment.

25 years ago, it wasn’t possible to work this hard.

Without fax, email, and Internet, you couldn’t connect to the information or people you needed “after hours.” Nothing left to do but go home and have a life.

All the blessings of technology have brought us the curse of the endless business day. We no longer have “normal business hours.” All hours are fair game. More and more business meetings happen at 7am and 11pm.

If we’re awake, we’re emailing.

I remember a client who used to say “if you don’t come in Saturday, don’t bother coming in Sunday.” At the time, it was funny and prideful to have these extreme work habits that separated them from the rest of their industry. Now we don’t even have to “come in” to work all weekend. We don’t even joke about it anymore. We barely even think it’s extreme.

And it keeps speeding up. The faster we can do things, the faster we demand things. The more time we can save, the less we have for ourselves.

We think we have so much on our plates that taking care of an email or a meeting in what used to be “our time” will mean we don’t have to take care of it during our already full day tomorrow. We think we have to get it “all” done.

We feel that this is temporary. Just for now. Just till business improves. Just till things calm down.

We believe that if we aren’t responsive around the clock, our clients or employers will replace us with someone who is.

So, how do we live with this? How do we “work to live” in this environment? How do we not work ourselves into heart attacks?

Here’s the deal: This is not temporary. It is not possible to get it all done. And we are not powerless.

We made an appointment to be here. And now we’re making an appointment for what our lives will be like half a year from now. Through our thoughts and actions we lay the groundwork for our future. Whatever we set up now, we’ll be doing harder and faster in 6 months. Whatever we’re doing now will continue to expand.

So if you want to work even longer and harder in 6 months, don’t set any boundaries and keep setting expectations (especially your own) that this is how you’ll continue to work.

The business world used to set our 9-5 appointment for work. The leadership opportunity here is to start making our own appointment for how we work in our future.

How do we do this? By being intentional. If you want more life in your life next year, if you want your work to grow in ways that are sustainable, take responsibility for setting that up now.

Schedule time. Workout time, family time, you time. Time to sleep. Time to work “on” and not just “in” your business.

And honor these appointments the same way you would your client meetings.Follow the same rules. Yes, there are times you’ll cancel with a client— and ways to do that. Follow these same rules for yourself. When you cancel on yourself, reschedule. It’s common courtesy, right?

If you want other people to value your time, you have to value it first.

Here’s the upside: If your best brain time is after dinner and you want to take afternoons off,  you may well be able to create that. You could work at the times that are best for you. And play at the times that are best for you. A blessing/curse of the 24/7 workday is flexibility. And that’s something else you couldn’t have done 25 years ago.

September 26, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: New Pecking Order

Simone L. just took over the leadership role in a mid-sized pharmaceutical contract manufacturing company. She had been with the organization for many years and was well-liked and respected by her peers. No one was surprised when she was chosen to succeed the retiring president.

Simone felt she had the support of her co-workers. So she was unprepared when those relationships changed as she assumed the presidency. All of a sudden people were talking behind her back. She got push back on changes that she thought everyone had wanted for some time. There was buzz that one of her co-workers was resentful, and thought he should have been selected for the position.

This isn’t unusual. Leadership both connects and separates you from those you lead. Change shifts the ground beneath your feet in relationships and increases uncertainty among those who used to be your peers. You may feel the same as ever, yet people see you as changed. Even as their respect may increase, so does the distance between you.

So what’s a new leader to do?

  1. Build confidence by having a clear vision and voicing that direction consistently so people know where the organization is heading.
  2. Build trust by always doing what you say you’ll do.
  3. Build certainty through structure. Structure is calming and safe.
  4. Build team by relying on people to do what they do best and making sure everyone understands their role in the big picture

Get used to being a little separated. Relationships will change. Expect it and stay calm and understanding. Above all, don’t take it personally. It goes with the territory.

September 12, 2011

Is an employee mindset getting in the way of leadership?

Meet Frank. He recently took on a leadership role in a small medical technology company and immediately became very frustrated. They were much more dysfunctional than he had expected. They are highly disorganized. Their processes are inefficient. Their goals are unrealistic. The personalities he has to deal with are beyond challenging. The obstacles are enormous.
So Frank has become discouraged and depressed. He is offended by their lack of professionalism. He sees them setting themselves up for big problems. He isn’t sure he wants to be associated with a company like this. And he is thinking of leaving.
Now Frank is certainly entitled to this analysis. He is well within his rights to decide that this position isn’t a fit.
However, Frank is coming from the mindset of an employee, not that of a leader. And if he doesn’t shift this, perhaps he should leave. Because what this organization needs is leadership.
What’s the difference? Well, Frank’s focus is on himself. His sensibilities. His happiness. His abilities. His comfort level. His reputation. He is measuring all of this against current conditions in the organization. He is experiencing himself as powerless and his focus is on the present.
Leadership perspective is a total paradigm shift.
Leadership sees the opportunity for change instead of buying into the present as permanent.
Leadership relishes the challenge.
Leadership is not about the leader but about the organization.
Leadership knows that its primary job is to provide a clear and focused picture of where the company can go and what it can become.
Leadership can’t afford to become discouraged or frustrated, knowing that others are looking to leaders for cues as to what to believe and how to behave.
Leadership is a creative process. It’s all about seeing what could be, speaking about it in increasing detail and providing the encouragement, direction, support, tools and coaching to get the team moving strongly in that direction.
And leadership doesn’t get too emotionally involved. It has to hold the dichotomy of complete commitment along with a good measure of detachment. As soon as a leader’s identity is too tied up with the success or failure of the business, it’s screwed. It is now making decisions from an emotional and fear-based place and this is the worst possible place from which to run an organization.
It takes strength of character to resist joining the frustrated crowd and to instead head down an uncharted path. It ain’t easy to be the single voice of hope taking on the cacophony of anger, disappointment, frustration, fear and resentment.
Tough times are the proving ground for and the opportunity to step into true leadership. It’s easy to lead in good times. Hard times and challenges are the true test.

August 14, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: Leading superstars (and others) behaving like idiots.

Ridiculously common leadership challenge:

That rising star you promoted into a management role, what a mistake! He’s throwing his weight around. She’s behaving unprofessionally. He’s demoralizing the staff. She’s creating conflict. He’s just not getting the job done.

So what do you do?

Traditionally, if we don’t ignore the situation or promote the person (which happens more often than you might think), we confront. We yell. We threaten. We paper the file. We discipline. We demote. We fire. We have that difficult conversation. That’s what accountability is, right?

Not necessarily.

Accountability is us taking responsibility. Us, being accountable.

Every day companies take people who are excellent at what they do and promote them into roles that require they do something more. They assume that people will naturally be as good at the new role as they were at the old one, without recognizing that the new job requires completely different skills and perspectives.

Bad management behavior is a sign of someone who’s drowning — and may not even know that swimming is required, much less how to do it.

As their supervision, their failure belongs to us. It is our job to lead even our leaders.

Should they know better? Maybe. But if they don’t, you are just fighting reality.

Is it understandable and even justified, to discipline these rogue managers? Maybe. It’s just not effective.

Let’s look at how traditional discipline works. We’ve all been there. How do you respond when you are slapped down? Do you push back? Become defensive? Resentful? Do you go underground? Does your confidence take the hit?

Even when people are open to feedback and want to do better, traditional discipline creates an extra layer of fear, defensiveness, and judgment that ultimately gets in the way of performance.

As leaders, what we had better want, even though we may lose touch with it in the moment, is for our people to truly succeed so that our organizations will succeed along with them.

Business is a team sport. If we want to grow, we need to develop and support our players.

Here’s a more effective approach to creating true and sustainable accountability in managers (and others) who disappoint:

1. Take responsibility. Don’t just push people into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim. Supervise and fine tune and guide and coach. Let them struggle — that’s how they learn — but don’t let them go under and certainly don’t let them drown anyone else to save themselves.

2. Align with the person you’re disappointed in. It’s counter-intuitive. We believe we need to confront. Yet, frontal attacks are always met with resistance. So instead of initiating a losing battle, create alignment.

This does not mean making unacceptable behavior okay. It simply means playing on the same team. Instead of standing in front of an employee and pushing them backwards; metaphorically, come around behind them and support their forward movement.

3. Direct their vision to the future. Speak to what is needed. Speak to what’s possible for this person in this role. Speak to their ability and your commitment their success. Be clear about what success looks like in this position in this organization, so they know what’s expected.

4. Build on what’s working. Focusing on what’s wrong keeps you stuck in what’s wrong. Cutting people down doesn’t build them up. Start from what is going well and focus on adding what’s needed. Ask them what support they need.

5. Do not do the work for them. If the support they request removes their responsibility or opportunity for learning, firmly decline and refocus. Empowering and facilitating is the shortest path to growing a stronger company.

6. Have them evaluate their own progress. You evaluate their evaluation. True accountability is helping a person hold him or herself accountable.

7. If you can’t do this, one of you needs to go. That’s right. If they can’t achieve the clear expectations with this kind of support, more often than not, they’ll leave on their own.

On the other hand if you can’t be this kind of leader, what hope is there for your organization?

Make the time. It’s worth it.


July 10, 2011

Managing Growth: Why financial goals undermine financial results

I met this week with a leader in a digital media publishing company that is poised for growth. They have a powerful and connected new board driving them to grow the business. They have a strong platform to build on. They have a devoted following who believes in what they have done in the past.

I began, as I usually do, by asking, “What’s your Point B? What will successful growth look like for you?”

His answer was all about the financials.

I hear this a lot. We are measured by our financial success (both internally and externally) so we start to see the financials as our objectives.

This is an enormous trap that snaps the legs off many businesses. And here’s why:

Your financials are the results of organizational strategy and execution. As organizational goals, financials are generally not actionable. Other than putting money into passive financial investments, there are no direct actions we can take to achieve financial goals. And if goals aren’t actionable, they are nothing more than wishes. Very distracting wishes.

As many business leaders have learned the hard way, we cannot directly control our financial results. Sure, we can influence them — but we are ineffective when we put our focus on trying to control them. Setting financial goals is an attempt to control what we can’t control and results in tremendous squandering of focus, energy, time, good will and much more.

So, if we can’t control the financial results, what can we control?  We can create the conditions that will produce the results we want to see. This may seem at first like semantics, but we all frequently see leaders who by focusing on trying to create the money overlook the very strategies and actions that would otherwise lead to the money.

No matter what your mission statement says, setting financial objectives makes money the purpose of your organization. The primary goals and objectives of any organization inform its decision-making, interactions and everything else. When your primary objectives are financial, your people can’t help but make decisions that communicate to customers and prospective customers that money is what you care about. As your customers are an important player in your growth, the effort to focus on money as a goal actually undermines its own achievement.

Making the bottom line your main purpose in this way robs you of the opportunity to capture the hearts, minds and energy of your customers, your staff, your vendors, and the public. Focusing on the money keeps you from having a higher purpose that people can really get behind, talk about, and want to work hard for.

Growth is not a one-sided event that is all on your company to create. Growth is always a collaboration between an organization and its customers, staff, vendors and others. Focusing on the money, which is only of interest to one party in the collaboration, actually denies and sabotages the existence of that crucial partnership.

So, what do I coach my clients to do instead?

  1. Develop a clear picture of the purpose of your organization. What business are you in? What is the meaning of your products and/or services to your various audiences?
  2. Know your desired financial results. Revenues are a critical guide and measure of organizational health and progress, but should never be your primary objective. Even (as in the case of banks, investment companies, etc.) when growing money is your product and service!
  3. Set objectives that create the conditions for the financial results you want to see. Set objectives based on actions, behaviors, or things your organization can create that support both your organizational purpose and your desired financial results. Use the results as a measure rather than as the objectives themselves.

The most successful companies already know this: Focus on creating the conditions that lead to the results you want to see and the results will take care of themselves.

June 19, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: None So Blind As Those Who Focus on Reality

A vice president in a health care organization sees the problems caused by upper management as unsolvable.

She thinks she is just being realistic. She feels powerless to make any changes and fears that she will lose her job if she speaks the truth. She is paralyzed and feels her only option is to tolerate or leave. She doesn’t even consider the potential opportunities that might become available to her in identifying and addressing these challenges head-on.

The president of a digital marketing company believes that “no one has money to spend right now.”  He can find plenty of evidence to support this reality, in the media and from his own personal experience in reaching out to companies for new business who have said “This is not the time.” This belief combined with his fear of rejection and failure is actually preventing him from being able to find and target companies who are growing and profitable and in need of her services.

The head of a PR agency focuses on the likelihood of losing a client if she asks for fair compensation in today’s recessed economy. Not wanting to fight reality, she charges less than she knows she needs and is struggling to make a living. She doesn’t see the potential of winning the client over by making a strong value proposition.

Every business (and life) situation has BOTH challenge and potential. When we focus exclusively on what’s lacking, what’s not working or what might go wrong, we miss the wealth of opportunities that surround us. When we focus too much on “reality” (meaning fear), we become blind to possibilities that could turn our situation around far faster than we could even imagine.

A critical leadership best practice is while remaining aware of the challenges,  keep your focus on the potential. Form a vision for a better way and let that guide your thinking, decisions and actions. Be a little (or a lot) unrealistic. Dare to believe that things could be much much better. And then put your focus on making it so.

Where are fear, frustration or lack keeping you from seeing the opportunities right in front of you?

Ask yourself if you’re being driven by wanting (it may feel like needing) control, safety, approval, separation or connection. Be brutally honest.

Get coaching support in shifting from reacting to these blinding wants to activating the creativity of what’s possible. Your success depends on it.

June 5, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: The Most Powerful Effectiveness Tool

This is the true (if oversimplified) story of two divisions in a manufacturing company.

There’s been powerful movement in the organization toward using statistical tools to increase accuracy and reliability.

Doubters dominate one division. They believe data can be manipulated and while they are following the requirements they continue to put their trust in past experience and knowledge, the way they’ve been doing it for over 30 years.

True believers lead the other division. They are committed to the process. They are engaged and energized. They talk about it, collaborate, problem solve. They are interested in the outcomes. They take pride in the results. They are open to learning, open to being wrong, open to making mistakes and corrections.

Both divisions are using the tools. However, the doubters use them superficially, simply going through the motions to meet the requirements. The true believers, on the other hand, are excited and in a constant process of discovery and amazement.

The doubting group spends much of its time trying to get a handle on the reasons behind all their field failures.

The true believers have no field failures.

Truly. None.

5 observations from this story that I want to share with you:

  1. Belief is the most powerful of effectiveness tools (and disbelief is the most powerful of underminers). People who believe in what they’re doing will do it more deeply, more thoroughly, more effectively.
  2. There is a huge difference between doing something just to check the box and having authentic energy for it. 
  3. There is no absolute and forever right way. Grow along with the body of knowledge or fall behind.
  4. Protecting your position is no protection at all.
  5. Open minds have more fun.

We are all in change/growth situations at all times, whether we know it or not. We all have places where we don’t see that we have become stuck or attached to doing things a certain way that no longer serves us. Some business and leadership coaching — check in with yourself.

  • Where are you going through the motions just to check off the boxes?
  • Where are you protecting obsolete ways of being?
  • Where might becoming a true believer make a real difference in meeting your objectives?
  • Where could you open up your mind and more possibilities?

Perhaps you see other valuable lessons here? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

May 22, 2011

Ever get frustrated that people aren’t following your instructions?

Here’s a story of frustration I’ve been hearing variations on lately:

“I told my (fill in the blank) ___________ employee/vendor (kids) how I wanted it done, but they just aren’t getting it!”Frustrated?

Can you relate? Have you ever felt that frustration when you keep telling someone what you want and they just can’t get there?

Which of the following is your go-to solution in these situations?

  1. Do it yourself. It’s the only way if you want it done right.
  2. Put it on hold, officially or unofficially. Plan to deal with it later.
  3. Give it up entirely.
  4. Fire or take the employee/vendor (kid) off the project and get someone else to do it. (And someone else. And someone else.)
  5. Yell a lot.

A better question: What would happen if instead of getting frustrated with your _______employee/vendor (kid), you took the responsibility for their not knowing how to meet your needs? What might you do differently?

Here’s the Leadership Incorporated approach: Get engaged in the process. Show them how you want it done. Let them do the work while you give supportive feedback. Coach them through it step by step.

My brilliant manufacturing client does just this. And while other divisions in his company are spending all their time trying to figure out why they have such high failure rates, his team is just getting the job done.

But won’t that take me more precious time than just doing it myself?

You already know how shortsighted that objection is! The logical answer is yes, it takes more time the first time, but it will save time in the long run. Right?

Wrong.

It actually doesn’t take more time at all. Because in truth your project isn’t moving forward, your needs aren’t getting met and it’s taking tons of time! Watch the trap of comparing the time it takes to lead-by-coaching with an idyllic fantasy of mind-reading vendors and staff (and kids) that by definition doesn’t currently exist.  It takes far less time to get into the solution than to stay in frustration and blame.

True leadership means taking full responsibility for producing the desired outcome. Keep in mind that your desired outcome is NOT that you do it all.

When you spend the time to be a true leader you’ll end up with people who know what you want and how to get there — and you’ll have greater confidence in their ability to deliver.

May 9, 2011

Why a Chief Inspiration Officer is smart business

When told they had to  shave $3.8M from their budget, one thing the University of Idaho felt was far too important to lose was their $112,500 part-time Chief Inspiration Officer. As you might imagine, they’re getting a lot of pushback on this. But the Provost says, it is “absolutely worth the money. She’s helping us reshape our culture.”

By “culture,” they don’t just mean happy people who like working together. They’re talking about a culture of purpose.

So what’s so important about that? Well, let’s look at just a few ways developing a culture of purpose directly impacts profitability.

BETTER HIRING A clear culture of purpose informs your hiring. You attract and recognize the right people. They are a good fit and improve your employee retention. Have you taken a look recently at the cost of replacing people????

INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY People work differently when they’re working for a purpose other than their paycheck. Given a choice: someone who only cares about doing their time and getting the check vs. someone who only cares about keeping their job vs. someone who cares deeply about making your organization excellent. Which would you choose?  People who work for organizations with a culture of purpose don’t just work longer and harder, they bring passion to it and care about what they do. You’ll see the difference in your bottom-line.

EFFECTIVE DECISION MAKING Creating a culture of purpose is actually all about planning. You know how much time and money planning saves. When you’ve planned out a culture of purpose, your decision-making process is clear and universal. Decisions are focused and consistent. You’ll save massive amounts of time by avoiding delays and explorations of choices that have nothing to do with your mission. Extrapolate this to every decision maker in your organization and multiply by what they’re paid. Huge impact.

QUALITY CLIENTS Think about your own product loyalties. Guaranteed, the companies you care about have a clear purpose. You count on them for excellent products and service. You don’t care about companies that don’t communicate and deliver on their caring about delivering something of value to you, and perhaps even something bigger. Why would you? Clients flock to organizations that stand for something bigger than lining their own pockets. When you stand for something meaningful, clients come to you, stay with you, refer you, talk about you, do a lot of your marketing for you, and pay more for what you offer. Any question this impacts your bottom line?

GROWTH it ain’t your father’s economy out there. Growth today will not overlook a lack of vision and purpose. There is too much competition out there ready and able to fill any gap you leave open. Growth and the ability to change are the core competencies of success. If you want to grow you need them. And if you don’t want to grow, you’ll be replaced by someone who does.

You need a Chief Inspiration Officer if:

  • There’s no sense of energy and purpose in your organization
  • Clients aren’t coming to you
  • Clients aren’t loyal
  • Staff won’t go the extra mile
  • You have a lot of turnover
  • Decisions take forever and take you down wrong paths

Someone in the leadership of your organization needs to hold, clarify and communicate your message. Keep everyone on track. Remind everyone of your purpose, holding your vision. Facilitate agreements on how you make decisions, how you hand-off to one-another, who you work with and who you don’t, what you do and what you don’t do.

But just having purpose isn’t enough. You need to communicate it. Cultivate it. Coach it. Design it in to each team member’s role and responsibilities.

This is not “HR’s Job.” Slotting this into HR means overwhelming your HR people and overlooking the place it’s needed most and where culture originates before rolling downhill: senior management.

You can call the role Chief Inspiration Officer, Chief Culture Officer Chief Purpose Officer. Call it whatever you want. But whatever you call it, get one.

There’s a reason the brands you know invest millions in developing culture and purpose. That’s how they got where they are. And the companies that don’t? You probably haven’t heard of ‘em.

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