War of Words

May 26, 2014 — Leave a comment

word

More words are spoken in today’s society than in any other time in history. The information age has ushered in an era where there is constant communication all day, every day. 24 hour news, the internet, and social media have made it all but impossible to escape the fever pitch of being in touch. The words being spoken online, in text messages, phone calls, and in person are all competing for our time and attention. Many of those words aren’t needed and much of what is communicated gets lost in translation and the result is frustration on the part of the communicator and the person the communication is intended for.

While we can’t control the amount of information being shared through technology and CNN we can take some steps to improve the way we communicate personally.

Here is how to help improve communication without over-communicating and make the world a better place in the process:

  • Choose your words carefully for maximum impact.
  • Use fewer words.
  • Allow for silence. Quit trying to fill the gaps in conversations with more words.
  • Listen more. Speak less.
  • Ask great questions but ask them clearly.

Now more than ever less really is more.

fail

Failure is going to happen, no matter how hard we may work to prevent it or how great our plans may be, we will fail. The question isn’t so much whether or not you are going to fail, but rather how we respond to that failure.

Over the years as I have encountered perceived failures they often have been blessings in disguise. They have challenged me to look at things differently and make tough decisions about the priorities I had and what was important and what wasn’t.

My advice to you is give yourself permission to fail. Use your failures as learning opportunities and an opportunity to reset. To right size. To change course.

Go and fail big so that you might experience true success.

The Sweet Spot

October 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

sweet-spot-2

How do you find the sweet spot between micro management and empowerment as a leader? The reality is no one wants to be labeled as a micromanager and everyone wants to be known as someone who empowers their team. The problem is that falling on the extreme of either side of these two styles can get you into trouble as a leader.

  • If you micromanage someone who is a top performer you will frustrate them.
  • If you micromanage a low performer you enable them to be mediocre at best.
  • If you empower someone who does not embrace the vision you’ve set for your organization, or doesn’t buy into the high standards, you lose complete control in your organization.

So how can you manage the tension between these two styles?

  1. Hire the very best people you can, even if it costs you more up front. Hiring less than the very best will cost you more on the back end then your up front investment does. Trust me on this.
  2. Make sure your team knows the standards you want to achieve. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you expect. Show them what you expect, model those behaviors, and be the leader.
  3. Establish a crystal clear vision for your organization. Without a vision and laser focus communication surrounding it you will have a group of people doing what they hope is right and hoping you approve of the results. Not exactly a high performing culture to be working in.
  4. Ask powerful questions. By asking powerful questions you give your team an opportunity to talk about what’s working for them and what’s not, as well as open a fantastic channel of dialogue about what they might do differently, or celebrate what’s working well. As a leader this is imperative because it can help you see opportunities to help them grow in a way that is very respectful, thoughtful, and non-threatening. Celebrating successes by understanding what is really working for someone gives you the ability to leverage their experiences and knowledge and gives them an opportunity to help someone else on the team who might be struggling.

The best way to find the sweet spot between micromanagement and empowerment is to create an organizational culture that provides an opportunity to become a top performer; someone who knows and is empowered to achieve the high standards for your organization, and has the ability to make the people around them better.

What Matters Most

September 30, 2013 — 5 Comments

21djc-what-matters

On September 20th a neighbor of mine was driving home when he began not feeling well. He knew something was very wrong and called 911. It turned out Bill had a brain tumor, one that had shifted his brain several millimeters. The doctors operated to remove his tumor and were able to remove it successfully, however the tumor was malignant and will require radiation and chemo to fully eradicate the cancer.

Watching Bill and his family over these last 10 days has been an emotional journey as our neighborhood has prayed, hoped, and stood with them as it became clear that they had a long road ahead of them. While we do all we can here to help prepare them to come home so that Bill can begin treatment, I am challenged once again about my priorities and how I live my own life.

I have spent these last 14 months re-engaging with my family and struggling through what to do next, and how to utilize all of my experiences to do something that matters. While that process has been long and fruitful, it has also been frustrating. However I watched that frustration melt away as I saw a man who wanted nothing more than to hug his girls and get out of that hospital bed.

Yesterday a friend and I visited Bill in the hospital and I heard him talk about how he had taken so much for granted and he was going to cherish this time with his family. It made me realize that while work is important, and making an impact in my career is something I am wired to do, it is not what matters most.

What matters most is being a great husband to my wife, being a great dad to my kids, being a good friend & neighbor, and serving others. Everything else beyond those things is icing on the cake, and if I get a chance to do something that can influence and change other people’s lives in the marketplace, I’ll be thankful for the opportunity to do that. But it won’t be an all encompassing and life draining venture that takes me away from my family emotionally and physically.

Remembering the things that matter and not focusing on the things that don’t is what I want to be remembered for. Thank you Bill for your courage, heart, and the impact you have had on me through your journey.

performance_review

Performance reviews can be a big source of anxiety for team members and leaders alike, causing stress and sleepless nights. It does not have to be that way. Here is how you can make performance reviews a tool that really helps to improve and celebrate performance for everyone on your team!

  1. Schedule quarterly updates with everyone on your team for a 30 minute update on progress made towards goals and objectives. This is such a great time for you and them. It allows several things. One, it allows you to check in face to face and review progress, but more importantly it gives them confidence that the direction they are heading is the right one. Two, it gives them a chance to course correct if needed and actually be able to make real adjustments to improve results versus waiting until the end of the year and both of you wishing things were different. Lastly this face to face interaction goes a long way in removing any apprehension about a performance review because in essence they are writing their review as they go throughout the year so that by the time the official review time comes around, it is already written, and most importantly everyone feels great about the results and the direction.
  2. Encourage everyone on your team to write a self review. This is important because when someone writes their own review they take ownership for their results and believe me they will be much harder on themselves then you will be, and this takes the pressure off of you as a leader while at the same time giving you the chance to offer objective, constructive feedback on opportunities and recognize accomplishments that they might have missed. Your comments go on the same review form they used to write their self review. Most importantly it allows the team member to pull together measurements, documentation, and information that help them construct a detailed review that will help them in their future role as a leader. Remember, the performance review process really should be driven by the team member, not you as the leader. You will write a review and measure results against the desired goals and objectives but the team member should provide the details.
  3. Help your team understand how to write goals that matter. They should stretch their abilities but adhere to the SMART goal system; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timebound. When goals are written using this format there is a lot of excitement throughout the year about the results being achieved, but also about the opportunities that present themselves because they know WHAT they are focusing on versus just flailing about hoping they are focusing on the right things. Having good goals helps to set your team up for success and also teaches them how to make adjustments to their action steps as needed throughout the year.
  4. This is about the conversation, not a piece of paper. One of the biggest sources of anxiety is the official review document. Make this a non-event by having great conversations surrounding performance. Don’t read off of the form. Look your team member in the eye and have a conversation. What they’ve written you have already read, and what you are saying is what you’ve written down and they will read that later. Focus on the conversation. The piece of paper used to write the review is just extra texture for the conversation, which is the most important part of the review process. It is helpful to have an ability to look back at feedback when measuring performance but it should NOT be the focal point of a performance review.

Following these principles has helped me to create many top performing teams over the years, and in hundreds of performance reviews I have NEVER had someone disagree with their rating. This helped to facilitate a high performance culture with clear understanding about the direction we needed to go as an organization. Not surprisingly this also created a deep bench of strength in our people pipelines for succession planning, and we had leaders who knew exactly how to duplicate this process within their own teams. This is sustainable leadership and performance management at its best.

Power of Words

Last month I wrote a post on the power of writing things down. Today I want to tackle writing from another angle and discuss how being a better writer can make you a better leader. It has certainly been proven true in my life. Now more than ever the way you communicate in writing is becoming the distinguishing factor in how effective you are as a leader.

  1. You think more clearly when you write down your thoughts. This is important because as a leader, in the middle of big challenges, your thinking can be muddy at best when figuring out a course of action to take. Being clear in your own mind as the leader is imperative before you start communicating to your team.
  2. You begin to find inspiration in your own writing. And if you don’t you know what you have written is not powerful enough. If you aren’t inspired by what you just wrote, how is the rest of your team going to be inspired? You should never write any communication that doesn’t challenge, inspire, and change someone.
  3. When you write clearly, you become better in the field. Because you have so clearly communicated what you’re passionate about, your team will be clear on those things and it gives you a platform from which to communicate, and a clear direction for your team to follow.
  4. Crisp written communication keeps you absolutely clear on the objectives, goals, and mission you have for your team, and this is critical for any leader. You will stay on track and know when you start to deviate from what you communicated, and be able to course correct. And more importantly so will your team.
  5. Being a better writer means you are also a better note taker. How many meetings have you been in where you walk out and can’t remember some of the details? How many times have you led a meeting and walked out feeling the same way? Great writers are great note takers. Making this important as a leader will set a great example for your team to follow. Expect it and be the example of it.
  6. Journaling is not something that is often discussed in the same conversation as being a better leader, but it should be. Journaling your thoughts as a leader, every day, helps you to clear the decks, and reset. Getting how you felt about the day on paper is critical to being able to get back after it the following day and be clear on what you need to do more of, less of, or change.

We need leaders who can inspire as much in the way they write as in the way they communicate verbally, and being a better writer can help a leader chart the course for their team to achieve more than was ever thought possible.

Vulnerability

Showing vulnerability as a leader is not a sign of weakness. It shows strength. Leaders who act like they are bulletproof may have position power but they have little influence to affect real change in the long run. A leader who is honest about their shortcomings and opportunities inspire their organization to do the same, and creates an opportunity for everyone to leverage their strengths to make everyone around them better.

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you aren’t a good leader, it means you are a leader who understands that you don’t have all the answers and aren’t afraid to ask for help, and in doing so you surround yourself with people who can help you figure out those answers. Being vulnerable is a huge strength in rallying the troops and making change happen in today’s world.

7 Reasons why being Vulnerable is Important as a Leader:

  1. You will be better positioned to communicate your vision with passion with honesty, emotion, and inspiration.
  2. Your leadership will show authenticity, and no matter how magnetic and charismatic you might be, authenticity is king. Nothing is more authentic than a leader being honest about what needs to be done, and what they can personally do better to help their organization accomplish it.
  3. Vulnerable leaders care deeply others and want them to succeed. The example you set in helping others achieve their goals will multiply throughout organization and create a reproducible people culture based on honesty and integrity, instead of politics and looking out for their own interests at any cost.
  4. You will get very comfortable with sharing your story. Vulnerable leaders share their story at all levels throughout their organizations. There is nothing more inspiring than a leader sharing how they got where they are, and talking openly about the journey.
  5. Your platform to affect change is so much greater as everyone in your organization understands that they have a story too, and as they learn how to tell their stories they create another generation of leaders coming through the system, who in turn will inspire others.
  6. You learn one of the most important qualities every great leader has; the art of asking great questions. By asking questions, in addition to not acting like you know it all, you are genuinely seeking to understand what your team really thinks about the ideas on the table, and that builds loyalty, respect, and a can-do attitude quicker than anything else. And it all happened just because you took the time to sit with them, asked great questions, and heard what they thought.
  7. You build a reputation as a leader who truly cares, and not just someone who is looking at the bottom line. When you become known as a leader who does the right things for the right reasons, with your people in mind first, you have truly become a great leader.

Bonus Reason Why Being Vulnerable is Important as a Leader:

You will never asked to be on an episode of Undercover Boss. Seriously, how can anyone think it is a good thing to be featured on that show?! Leaders who are truly engaged in their organizations are known throughout, and could never pull that off. If you are a leader that could, you may want to check your vitals on your vulnerability.