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Powerful questions asked by you as a leader illuminate the darkness, confusion and uncertainty in the minds of the people you are leading. By asking the right questions, you invite clarity, action, and discovery at a whole new level within your organization.

3 Powerful Questions Every Leader Needs to Ask:

  1. What Seems to Be Happening? Get clear on what the issue really is. Seek to understand where the organization is truly at. Until you understand the situation completely, you and your team will never be able to make the improvements you want to see.
  2. What Possibilities Do We Face? As a result of the situation you are in, what can you do to be even better as a result of it? Great leaders see problems as possibilities to become even stronger as an organization. They look at operational challenges as opportunities to become leaders in that area. Help your team understand that while things may not be great today, they control tomorrow.
  3. What Are We Going To Do About It? By creating a true, cooperative environment where your team feels like they can fully engage with you in an open, honest, and fact-based conversation you will create synergy that other organizations only dream about.

One of the key things a leader has to do is to immerse themselves into the situation and become part of the solution versus approaching it from the standpoint of “it’s not my problem, it’s yours”.

Defensiveness, denial, and deflection are not what an organization needs when facing a problem. Great leaders understand that they are accountable for everything that happens on the team and by including themselves in the solution they provide a true feeling of teamwork and accountability. When leaders exhibit this kind of accountability it serves as a beacon for the rest of the organization and builds the right culture to support a healthy team.

By asking the questions as leaders with ourselves as part of the solution we can open up honest dialogue about a problem and can help facilitate a solution much quicker and eliminate the bureaucracy. This sets the stage to create an empowered culture in our organizations to help our teams perform more confidently in the future whenever difficult situations arise.

Generally speaking, the most best questions you can ask are the open-ended ones, but the most powerful questions are asked with YOU in the equation.

Sometimes the best question you ask is the one you already know the answer to, but by doing so you are giving your team a platform to succeed by sharing their ideas and owning the solutions.

failure
It sucks to fail. True story. Nobody likes it. I certainly don’t like it. Every time I have an idea that doesn’t move the organization forward, or worse yet, creates a setback I have that little voice in my head that says “See. I told you this wouldn’t work.” But it’s in those moments that we are closest to success personally and professionally if we just pay attention. We just need to learn the lessons from failure.
  1. Failure can breed determination. We’ve all heard the story of Thomas Edison and his struggles with creating the light bulb. When asked about his repeated failure, Edison replied “I have not failed 1000 times. I have successfully discovered 1000 ways to NOT make a light bulb. As cliche as that may sound, it’s true. Many times our failures can lead to our greatest successes.
  2. Failure keeps us humble. There’s nothing worse than being around a leader who’s “always right”. You know the one. The person in the office who is so worried about looking good that they don’t create or ship anything meaningful. A little failure gives us the ability to dig deeper, to truly make a difference, and to teach that lesson to someone else down the road.
  3. Failure makes us human. Nobody’s perfect. I wrote a post recently about how vulnerability is important for every leader to exhibit. When we are honest about where we’ve fallen short, or are willing to share our failures, we open up a whole new level of dialogue with our peers and the folks that report to us. We become authentic when we share our failures and make our successes even more powerful teaching moments.
  4. Failure opens new doors. Sometimes a failed idea or concept leads to breakthrough thinking. It’s important to understand why something didn’t work and in your analysis you find a different perspective to approach your challenge, and that approach could change the world.
  5. Failure isn’t fatal. One of my favorite movies is Elizabethtown (2005). Directed by Cameron Crowe (and seen by only my wife and I seemingly!) this film chronicles the story of Drew Baylor (portrayed by Orlando Bloom) and his creation of a new shoe that is a huge flop in the marketplace. The journey he goes on to find redemption is a journey through his life and understanding what is important and what’s not. In the end he may have failed at what he created, but he succeeded in getting his life back which led to future success.
We don’t always get it right as leaders, but we always work hard to get it right. We need to learn from our failures and take the appropriate time to reflect, remember and reset. Use your failure to fuel your success. Then move on and get back to work creating something meaningful. The world needs you.
busyness

Busyness does not equal productivity, much like eagerness doesn’t always equal excellence. I hear from people all the time about how busy they are, how much they have on their plate, and how full their calendars are. If we aren’t busy, we find something to make ourselves busy, or look busy. We equate extreme busyness to our self-worth, and that is not a healthy place to be.

I know from experience what a trap this is. The wheels never stop turning and there is always one more thing to do, one more email to answer, and one more project to tackle. The problem with all of this is we all have limits. There is a wall we all have and we need to be aware enough to see the wall approaching and change course, slow down the train, and avoid the wall. If we don’t we can do irreparable damage to our careers, our families, and in the worst of circumstances, to ourselves.

Earlier this week I wrote a post on the benefits of developing the people around you and empowering them to achieve great things. This post highlights what happens when we don’t do that. No one is indispensable, and no one is capable of operating at the breakneck pace we pretend to be able to do for prolonged periods of time. We are not machines. We are flesh and blood. We need downtime to reflect, regroup, recharge, and rest.

A few weeks ago I was at the airport in Austin, TX and I was watching all of these people rushing hurriedly to their gates from another flight, or barely making it through security. They were on their phones the entire time, never pausing to take a breath, let alone assess their surroundings and the other people around them. I remember wondering, “Where is everyone going in such a hurry? Did they eat? Drink a glass of water? Did they do anything to refresh themselves?” I used to be that guy, and honestly sometimes I still am. I need a gut check and reminder that nothing is more important than my health and my family.

Busyness is everywhere. And it’s only getting busier. Unplug, Unwind. Undo. Be present. Make a difference. Stay focused. Assess if everything you are currently doing is really necessary. And if it is necessary, honestly determine if you need to be the one doing it.

But whatever you do, don’t lose what’s most important. Yourself.

performance_review

As the end of the year arrives, all of us are thinking about performance reviews; ours and those of the people who work with us. I thought this was a great time to update this post from last year and get the conversation going.

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. A Performance Rating should never be a surprise. This is where I have seen many leaders fail. Just because you sit down and give a review and someone signs it does not mean you’ve done the right thing. In fact, I would argue that you would have been better off not giving the review. Someone’s annual review is not where they should learn how you view them and their contributions.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Slow Down

December 5, 2014 — 1 Comment

Slow Down Sign

We move fast in today’s world. We make decisions quickly, manage from our gut, and more often than not, we are right in the final analysis. But did we get there the right way?

I coach my team that how we get a result is as important as getting it, so there needs to be intentional and deliberate thought in how we make our decisions. The long term impact of the decisions we make can be felt for weeks, months, and sometimes years after the fact. Sometimes we have to go slow to go fast.

The same applies to our lives professionally. If we take the time to slow it down and think about the long term impact of our decisions, we’ll make better choices because we are being thoughtful and strategic. It doesn’t mean that every decision we make will work out for us, but we will certainly have the right platform to achieve the highest possible rate of success.

We live in a fast paced world and decisions have to be made quickly, and that’s not going to change. But we can change the way we approach decision making to improve the results we get by being more intentional.

Here are a few things that have helped me slow down my decision making and improve my results:

  1. Evaluate the consequences of the decisions we make. What does it look like immediately, in the short term, and long term? 3 years ago, best-selling author Suzy Welch was speaking at a Leadercast event in Atlanta and she gave a talk on 10-10-10. Here’s how it works. Every time she found herself in a situation where there appeared to be no solution that would make everyone happy, she asked herself three questions:

    What are the consequences of the decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? And in 10 years?

    That’s pretty powerful. When I think about this concept it applies to both our personal and professional lives. Looking at the consequences of our decisions through the lens of 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years can save all of us a lot of heartache, frustration, and disappointment.

  2. Ask great questions. I talk about this a lot but it becomes more true every day. When faced with a challenge every leader wants to solve it. Now. But many times what we should do as leaders is ask some great questions to gain clarity around the issue at hand. Doing so not only gives you the right information but it buys you time to properly assess the situation before making a decision.
  3. Get the right people involved. Not every decision is a consensus, but every decision is an opportunity to educate someone on your team. Bringing people in under the tent allows you as a leader to coach someone, and develop them to be a stronger leader themselves. They learn that being inclusive as a leader is the best way to get things done in a way that gets the best result and how to get the result in the right way.

If we all slow down as leaders and ask the right questions, involve the right people, and think about the long term impact of our decisions we will find that the results we achieve will improve and we will be proud of the way we achieved them.

workaholic

We know you are. I know who you are. Because I’ve been one. I am one. This post isn’t meant to be negative about hard work. I am a big believer that hard work pays off. The fact I can write this post after being in the restaurant business for 30 years is testament to that. Having a strong work ethic is critical to driving change, building culture, and making a lasting impact. I don’t think anyone taking the time to read this post would argue with that.

But like any good thing, too much of it can be bad. Again I write about this subject from an experts point of view. For 7 long years I covered 11 states, hundreds of restaurants, and spent countless nights away from home and from my family. Oh, I tried to convince myself it was for the good of my family and our long term future. It sounded good. Hey, my wife even believed it for the first couple of years. But then I got tired. Really tired. And even with a high performing team around me, it was not a pace I wanted to continue. Burning out is no fun, and that is exactly what happens to workaholics, even when they say they love what they’re doing. And believe me, we say we love it. But secretly, way down deep inside in the place no one likes to talk about, we hate it, and eventually begin to hate who we’re becoming.

If that sounds like a strong statement and I’m being a little over the top, well, I’ll accept that. Sometimes the truth hurts. For me the truth hit home standing in a parking lot in Little Rock, Arkansas when I realized I was on a path that wasn’t sustainable. Sure I could have stayed. I could have figured it out. I could have maybe given 6 more months…at an unrecoverable impact to my family. No thanks.

After an extended sabbatical and recovery, someone proudly said to me “I only sleep in my bed 3-4 nights a month! I travel ALL the time.” I looked straight at this person and said “That is not a badge of honor. Stop doing that. You can’t keep doing that.” It really caught them off guard. Previously they had been recognized for all their hard work, industry accolades, and results. But at what cost? A marriage? Missing all of their kids’ activities? Losing touch with friends? And for what? More money? A bigger house? A new car?

It’s important to realized I am not throwing stones here. I am, and will always be a workaholic. It’s a disease. One that I will always battle. But I have put things in place to help me stay grounded and to not get to far gone again. I have a great support system at home to help me and a mirror in the form of my wife to keep me honest. I am apart of a great organization that values family and balance, which I am incredibly thankful for.

So go work hard. Get great results. Change people’s lives. Make a difference. Working hard is important. The work we all do is important. But it’s not the most important thing we do.

Finishing Well

November 30, 2014 — 1 Comment

leaving-jobA few years ago I chose to leave an executive position at Chipotle Mexican Grill. It’s never easy to leave a job you love, but doing it on your own terms is very empowering. Change is inevitable and it will happen, but doing it the right way is important for many reasons. Even though I did not leave Chipotle for another position, the way in which I left gave me endless options when I was ready to take on another challenge.

Freebirds World Burrito is the amazing organization I have had the privilege of serving in as Senior VP of Operations for just over a year, but I can tell you that how I left Chipotle was key in me being able to take on this exciting role.

Here are 5 benefits to leaving a position well:

  1. You can look your prospective new employer in the eye and be honest. You aren’t couching what you want to say in a different way to say it, trying to avoid hard subjects. No, you are able to say “I left XYZ organization, on my own terms, and I left it in great shape. Here is how I communicated my departure, and transitioned out of the role.” That is huge.
  2. It gives you the right platform for your new position. It’s hard to garner the right trust & respect if your new team knows you bailed on your last gig and left the team hanging.
  3. You earn the right to share learnings from your last position. If your leaving is all above board, the great ideas you had can be great once again. They just can’t be proprietary and confidential.
  4. You can leverage relationships with vendors, suppliers, and in some cases, even people you worked with in your former job to help you in your new position. If you develop a relationship for treating people well and investing them, that becomes the gift that keeps on giving.
  5. You leave a legacy. Every good thing you did, every program you implemented, and every person you invested in will matter long after you are gone. Unless you leave abruptly and there is destruction in your wake. Then all of those things are erased.

Keep these points in mind when it’s time to move on. When you finish well and the door closes, you will find many other open doors waiting for you. It sounds like a good idea to burn your bridges, until it’s not. The problem with burning bridges is you’ve left no way to get back home to the people that love you and to the relationships will define you long after you leave your current position.

Corporate America, or the Non-Profit Sector, are small worlds people. Leave an organization well, and instead of having a past that you worry about haunting you, there will be a legacy you leave behind that follows you.