Archives For Leadership

I’m a casual poker player.

Say what you will about poker, the game itself can be a very useful allegory for life in the business world. When you play a game like poker, you have a set of cards that are dealt to you. Every move in the game is about evaluating and measuring risk. In fact, on the card table, gambling can be seen as an investment in your available resources and the longevity they may have against the other potential hands at the table. As you weigh the strength of your hand, you will inevitably (or should inevitably) reach a point where a hand you’ve been dealt is incapable of competing, and you will have to fold your hand.

The same dynamic can be true for leaders. At some point, every leader has to face the reality of an underperforming facet of the organization, and sometimes after weighing the risks and the benefits, a cut is necessary. There’s a very good reason why we call it “cutting your losses”: it’s painful. It can feel personal. It’s never easy.

Knowing when to cut your losses is the real challenge. Whether it’s an unsuccessful product launch, an obsolete department within your organization, or even an otherwise productive employee who has developed a toxic attitude – often, we will “stay the course” assuming that if we keep our hand to the plow, we’ll be able to navigate through the situation. As we consider the investment we’ve put into these things, it seems better to push through rather than to take a loss. This could be your downfall.

Two kinds of mindsets when facing a major loss

How we think about the situation has a lot to do with how we come up with a solution. Psychologists identify two kinds of mindsets when facing a major loss:

  • Prevention Focus – concerned with what is lost if we don’t succeed.
  • Promotion Focus – think of goals in terms of new potential gains.

If you adopt a prevention focus, you’re more likely to see all the investments you’ve committed to getting where you are today, making it difficult to cut your losses. If you adopt a promotion focus, you’ll be much more likely to see the cuts as an opportunity to reinvest.

While both positions have merit, studies show that people will more often instinctively take a prevention focus because the effort they’ve invested is a tangible factor in the decision. In other words, they’ve shelled out the money, time, and effort, and they hate to watch it go down the tubes.

Often the promotion focus is the less obvious, but much more fruitful, position. The person sees that there is still money, time, and effort that are yet unspent, and those resources would be better allocated to other investments, rather than continuing to send them down the drain. This is the focus of the visionary.

Knowing when to fold your hand and cut your losses is a great challenge that can’t be taken lightly. Often, the decision to keep going can have as big an impact on your life or your business as the decision to cut. When you face the question of cutting your losses, step back and know your focus: prevention or promotion. It can make all the difference.

 

Disconnected.

You know that feeling?

Something is off. You aren’t in sync with your boss. Your team seems fragmented. Time and energy feels wasted. There might be a major defining moment that is at fault or it could be incremental deterioration. Regardless of the source, it’s not ideal and a sustained disconnect undermines you, your company and any healthy forward progress.

What’s the culprit? And more importantly, how do you fix it? Life would be easy if the blame game was black and white. In my experience it’s never been that easy though. Broken relationships and fragmented teams are often the result of many factors. It’s always the leaders responsibility to deal with but not always their fault.

Diagnosing the broken connection

The team doesn’t know the vision. When your team doesn’t understand or know their personal connection to the vision you create a disconnect. Instead of rallying behind THE vision they start to create their own to fill in the gaps. Is this your story? If so, don’t settle. Fight (respectfully) for a clear vision and if you’re the leader, listen, so that you can provide the clarity your team needs.

Everyone is in it for themselves. This could be the leader that overlooks the needs of the team or it could be a rogue team member that doesn’t lift a finger beyond their job description to help out.

Reality is ignored. The very nature of a vision is that it lives in the future. It’s something to be achieved and navigated towards that is different then the present reality. BUT…it doesn’t mean we get to ignore the present reality. Leaders need to be honest about the present situation or they’ll loose their team. Painting a false sense of utopian reality doesn’t help anyone. We need to be honest about the present struggles as we paint a picture of a better future.

Company values are all talk. Knowing and living your company values should be a no-brainer. You have them for a reason, right? However, if your company values are nothing more than words on a paper or platitudes dished out in a meeting then you’ve got a case of hypocrisy. Your true values are what you do day in and day out. When they’re aligned, watch out world. When they’re not, a credibility storm is brewing.

My way or the highway. Humility might be the most powerful way to unite a team. When established leaders are out of touch or new leaders are arrogant you build a culture of isolated superheroes. A team where everyone wants to lead as long as it is their idea, isn’t really a team.

Feeling disconnected is an awful spot for everyone. No one wins. How can you fight for clarity and lead your team to be more connected?

 

How do you measure clarity in your organization? Is it as simple as asking everyone to regurgitate the company mission statement? Providing clarity is the hardest yet most necessary work of any leader. We usually don’t like to ask the questions because we don’t really want the answers. It takes time and might make more work in the short term. Here are twenty-one questions I dare you to ask your team this week. Allow for anonymous answers if you think that will give you the most helpful and unbiased information. Then schedule at least a half-day out of the office on your own to study and organize the answers. It might be painful, it might be encouraging, but regardless it will be insightful into the clarity your team has and where you might need to emphasize your leadership attention over the coming months.

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Image © Nate Smidt

Mission Clarity (WHY?)

  • Why does our organization exist?
  • What is the single most important thing we do in the world?
  • How would you articulate the company mission in your own words?
  • How do you personally connect with the mission? 

Vision Clarity (WHERE?)

  • Where is our company headed?
  • What should the organization look like in three years?
  • What are the top three objectives of the company over the next year?
  • How does the vision of the company inspire you on a regular basis?

Leadership Clarity (WHO?)

  • How would you define the leadership culture of our company?
  • How many bosses do you have and do you know who they are?
  • On an average day, how many people are delegating tasks to you?
  • Do you have a defined path for personal growth and leadership development?
  • How is your supervisor developing you for future responsibility?  

Strategy Clarity (HOW?)

  • What are our three most important strategic initiatives right now?
  • How are we going to accomplish these initiatives?
  • What are we doing that we should not be doing as a company?
  • How do our day-to-day tactics align with the vision of the company? 

Numbers Clarity (WHAT?)

  • What are the most important numerical metrics we measure?
  • Do you have good information and data regarding the metrics?
  • How do you define success in your job?
  • Do you know the financial goals of the company?

 

Are you willing to take the risk? The more dead honest you and your team are, the more helpful it will be to your future. If I can be of any help with a Clarity Session please let me know. Go for it.

 

I got stood up at lunch yesterday and while I sat there, checking my phone to pass the time, two guys next to me were having a clarity crisis conversation. Trying to figure out what was wrong with their boss. “Is he stupid? Does he not care? Is he full of $&*T?” They bounced back and forth between talking about how this place is better than all their previous jobs, and trying to understand the severance policy of the company and how many weeks of pay they might be entitled to. You might say this is just the reality of business these days but I don’t think it is overstating things to call it a crisis. A clarity crisis that is eroding away at the company’s bottom line and the emotional health of its people.

Clarity doesn’t mean you know the future. Clarity doesn’t automatically put an end to bad leadership or selfish employees. Clarity does better your chances of creating a unified and prioritized team that spends their time thinking about how to make the company better rather than their exit strategy.  

Three keys to defining and building clarity

Clarity is the antidote to feeling lost or stuck. Here are three important ways to ensure clarity within your organization.

1. Clarity is a shared reason for being. The most philosophical of the bunch for sure, but it’s a reality you can’t avoid. People are only motivated for so long by activities, you need to dig deeper into why your company exists. How is it uniting people together towards a common goal? More and more people want to make a difference, a difference that resonates with who they are. What an amazing opportunity to help our teams make these connections to the why of what we’re about. 

2. Clarity is a shared vision for the future. We all know that every vision we have does not come true, but without a vision we can’t lead anything. When you don’t know where you’re headed, you loose perspective, you loose passion, you loose the joy and satisfaction of a job well done. Your work becomes rote and disconnected from the future you envision. Work with your team to explore, understand and build a shared vision of the future together. As you do, you’ll find the buy-in and commitment begin to increase.

3. Clarity is a shared strategy for execution. When the rubber meets the road, every person on your team will have the tendency to interpret the best path forward through their own lens. A great vision is one thing but a lack of clarity develops most quickly in the execution. There are always different methods to attack an opportunity but it is hard for the same team to deploy different methods. Investing in this will take your company to that next level as everyone operates from the same playbook.

None of this is easy work but it’s worth it. How can you drive more clarity within your organization today?

 

Yesterday I wrote about defining success and today I want to focus on how to build on it.

Have you tasted it? That feeling that comes with victory. That sense of accomplishment. The satisfaction of a job well done. What happens when success comes your way? Do you enjoy it? Do you take it easy? Do you fear you’ve peaked? In my experience, there are two roads we head down after experiencing success; we either presume upon it or we learn from it.

Presuming on Past Success

Presumption is the attitude that naively and arrogantly says, “I did it once, I can do it again.” It’s often accompanied by a flippancy that thinks it can get by without all the work this time around, forgetting what the journey looked like to get there in the first place. In an organization this could be accompanied by pedal-to-the-metal, get-rich-quick methods that produce steroid-like growth. You experience a faster flash, a more immediate impact, and put out a greater investment of resources up front to try and buy success. It’s more chaff, less substance; more height, no foundation. The success is short lived.  

Presumers will fail, despite the fact they’re coming from a past experience of success. They may not fail right away and the immediate results may look like success, but over time, without a deep foundation, the results will fade away. This will continue to be the case until the new failures are converted to learned lessons.

Learning from Past Success

Analyzing a victory is so important. What worked? What didn’t? How can I get better? Repeat what you did right the first time, but learn from the mistakes you made so that you can improve. Ask questions of others involved in your success to see where your strengths and weaknesses are. Listen to critique with an open mind and be willing to learn at every opportunity. 

Those willing to learn will continue to succeed. They will never be mistake-free, but when they do mess up, they will see it as an opportunity to grow, and persevere until they reach their goal.

So, be bold, chase success, stay humble, learn from it, don’t sacrifice the wrong things and keep after the attitudes that got you there.

  

What’s in it for me? 
 
Or, to put it more bluntly: “The world revolves around me, don’t you know that!?!” or “I’m really important, didn’t you get the memo?” 
 
We may not come out and say those words, but we communicate this attitude in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it’s the flippant “I don’t care” comment to those you lead. Other times, it’s ignoring a minor problem that eventually turns into a crisis.
 
More often, or maybe most often, it’s avoiding an important relationship because you have less to gain from the outcome than the other party. We (I) don’t think beyond myself all that often. I believe we could benefit greatly by taking our eyes off ourselves and opening our hearts and time to the needs of those around us.

That sounds good…but, back to me. 

Why would I do that? What am I going to get out of it? We are probably in the habit of leading with those questions as we think through situations. But what if our first questions were, “What can I give?” or “How can I help?”. In a world where most of the messages we hear center on how to build yourself up, pursue your dreams, and live your most fulfilled life, these questions might feel counterintuitive. On my best days I understand this but on most days I’m still learning.

Five ways to counteract the plight of me-ism.

1. Find someone to serve today. It might be your boss, your kids, your assistant or your spouse. Find something you can do to meet a need of theirs. We usually know what these things are when we take a minute to stop and think about it. Serving is where it’s at, the most powerful antedote to me-ism.

2. Deflect the attention off yourself. Who can you make look good today? Find someone on your team and call them out for killing it. I’m not saying embarrass them completely but find an opportunity to praise someone else, earnestly.

3. Invest in someone else’s success. Someone around you is stuck and needs to borrow your mind. You’ve got a thought they need that can help them move forward. Seeing someone get unstuck is one of the best feelings in the world.

4. Confront something that is hurting the mission. Fighting me-ism is not just serving, praising and helping someone else. Sometimes it’s about confronting someone or something that is opposed to healthy progress. There are never a lot of accolades in putting yourself in harms way but sometimes it’s the most important thing you can do. 

5. Listen, and listen again. Actually hearing the words, and the words behind the words is powerful. What’s in it for me type thinking doesn’t listen well because listening requires taking a back seat in the conversation. It gives the other person the microphone and platform while you observe and listen. Good listening isn’t passive though, it should engage every part of you; a heart that empathizes, hands that are ready to help and a head thoughtful on how to respond.

Which of these five points really stuck out to you? Don’t just file it away and assume you’ll remember it, pick a person or situation to invest in today and see how shelving the “what’s in it for me” attitude changes the game.

 

Have you ever been on a great team?
 
Maybe you haven’t won the NBA Finals but no one could touch your Little League team. Or maybe, it’s your team at work–always on budget, on time, producing great work and having fun while you do it. Great teams are a gift. Great teams are rare. Great teams are a lot of work…but worth it.
 
What does it take to build a great team? What does it take to be a great team member?
 
For the last two weeks I’ve been immersed in a really productive planning session with my team at work (hence the lack of writing). We went deep, really deep into everything we’re doing. We got a lot done but a more important by-product was a great team building week. After seventeen trust-falls, we hit a really big breakthrough…just kidding. As I’ve observed great teams in action, both from a distance and up close, here are eight things I believe it takes to build a great team.

How to build a great team 

 
1. Great teams get prioritized. A team may start out with multiple agendas and priorities but if they don’t come together around a common vision and set of shared priorities, they aren’t going anywhere. You may see individual greatness but team greatness simply won’t happen. I’ve written about the importance of getting your own day prioritized, the same thing is true for your team.
 
2. Great teams don’t force it. It’s hard to force trust and friendship. It’s not about trust falls and forced social mixers. It’s been tried many a time, but doesn’t work. Rather, be yourself and let the relationships develop naturally. Sure, there will be some awkward moments but stay after it. Getting beyond the surface relationally will bind your team together.
 
3. Great teams spend time together. Email is great but email alone will never build a great team. Regular face time is vital–body language, tone of voice, back and forth, posture–nothing replaces face time. You also need to get some extended time together, road trips, new experiences and dinners out. Getting out of the office context allows you to learn more about your team members. 
 
4. Great teams take time to form. Yes, there are those stories of the couples that meet, get engaged and married a week later, but let’s all agree it’s not the norm. Relationships take time, they take conflict and miss-communications, they take apologies and forgiveness. The only short-cut might be taking on the role of a servant, care more about your team than yourself and you’ll see the relationship blossom.
 
5. Great teams require you to play your position. Don’t make your teammates do your job AND don’t envy your team members positions. You’ve got a role to play and if you neglect your position, someone else has to pick up the slack. In life there is always someone better, smarter, prettier, wealthier, shorter or taller. We’re diverse for a reason and your team needs you to be you.
 
6. Great teams back each other up. We’re selfish by nature. If the ball isn’t coming to me why would I move. The true hustlers and the true team members will support each other and get behind each other even if they aren’t the center of attention. You shouldn’t need to do their job for them, but when the load is too heavy to haul on their own, you should be there to help pick things up.
 
7. Great teams build the right culture. Don’t build a culture, build the right culture. A culture might be your personal preference and what works for you. The right culture is what is best for the organization; sometimes they’re the same and sometimes they aren’t. Always asking yourself, “What’s best for the team?”, will keep you from building the wrong culture.
 
8. Great teams enjoy their work. Joy filled enthusiasm to show up and perform your job everyday is huge. This is driven more by attitude than it is circumstances. If you’re heart is in the right place, engaged, excited, humble, then you should be able to enjoy it regardless of the job. This includes the good times and the hard times, the right team is invaluable in both.
 
What’s lacking from your team? How can you be a catalyst towards greatness? It’s worth the effort, I promise.
 
For more on this subject check out my book Authority on Amazon.
 

Who is the best sports team of all time? We could debate this subject for the rest of our lives. But, for the sake of keeping things civil, I’ll just tell you: it’s the 2013-2014 Seattle Seahawks… if they can stay out of trouble this year.

Whether in football, business or a non-profit, all great teams have two things in common: Unity and Diversity.

There is a reason that 5’6″ point guards like Nate Robinson can make it in the NBA, alongside of 7’6″ centers like Yao Ming. They’re diverse in their gifts (short and tall, in this case), but they’re united in the mission to create a great team and win. This diversity allows them to fulfill the necessary roles to accomplish their collective mission.

The same idea is true of leadership teams.

Great teams celebrate Diversity.

Continue Reading…

I was traveling on the East Coast for work in March and stayed up way too late one night to finish watching the Mexico vs USA World Cup qualifying game. As soccer so often goes, it was a thrilling match that ended in a tie! …Not my favorite. I tend to be competitive and like to see somebody win, ties don’t do it for me. Just being honest. I don’t always like conflict, but competition is thrilling.

And while we all enjoy a clear win/lose situation on the playing field, the thought of being on the losing side of a conflict at work or at home can leave us anxious, defensive, and discouraged. It doesn’t have to be that way.  

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Who are you talking to and what do they want to hear?

I’ve been doing this blog thing for the last four months and these are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself. I’ve written and published 54 blog posts; some I’ve loved and others not so much. It’s a lot of work and on the days I haven’t felt like staying up late to finish, I’ve wondered what’s the point. The one thing that’s kept me going is remembering I started out with a clear purpose to challenge, encourage and maximize leaders. Without this rudder I would have been tempted to give up already.

So, I’ve made up my mind to keep after it, but how can I be sure I’m reaching my audience?

Get to know them.

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