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 When you are leading a team through a time of transition it can be difficult to cast the vision, shoulder the message, and carry the weight of the uncertainty on your shoulders. There are days that turn into weeks that turn into months where you wonder if what you are doing really matters. You may ask yourself is anyone really listening? Does anyone really care? 

As a leader you know all the right things to say. You know the boiler plate language used to describe your company. You know what the organization stands for. You can recite the mission and vision. You want to believe that what you know in your head is actually true in your heart. 

And then there is the moment you believe it. That is the most powerful moment in the life of a leader and in the life of a company. 

The moment you believe what you’re saying is the moment that the mission and vision of your organization come alive and the people around you can FEEL what you are saying, not just hearing the words come out of your mouth. This is the moment where you hear the words that you are saying turn into the vision that your heart aches to accomplish. This is the moment that you can actually see the future of your organization accomplishing your goals. This is the moment where you can’t turn back because the desire to lead your team to greatness is stronger than the pain of getting there. 

That moment, when regardless of the circumstances and challenges you may be facing, you know as a leader that what you believe is true and nothing can change that. Embrace the moment. It’s in that moment that Leadership becomes Art and can change the world.

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Leadership takes a little bit of art, a little bit of science, and a lot of courage. As leaders we are called to wade into uncharted territory, and sometimes we are called to jump first into the ocean of challenge. Even the most seasoned leader faces times of uncertainty and change and it is in those times that our skills are most tested.

You have two choices as a leader. You can sit back, delegate, and quarterback the situation from behind the scenes. You might be successful in that approach for awhile. Over time though you will develop a reputation as a hands off leader who doesn’t roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. You will be viewed as someone who doesn’t have any real skin in the game and you will begin to lose influence and looked at as someone who doesn’t really understand the challenges in the field.

Or you can choose to surround yourself with the best leaders you can, get organized, do your homework, and face the challenge head on by leading through it. You leap first. You take the first step. You face the uncertainty, the hostile environment, the unstable economy, or the brutal reality of the situation. And you do it first. You might fail. You might not recover. You might prevail. But regardless of the outcome you will create a culture of leading first and that will change the world.

man-edge

Influence. We all have it even if we think we don’t. Influence is defined by Webster as impact, control, sway, power, authority, direction, and pressure. As leaders we all have some sort of influence on the people we work with, our families, and our friends. So the question isn’t whether or not we have influence, it’s what kind of influence we have, and how are we using that influence.

One of my favorite authors and leadership experts, John Maxwell, defines Leadership as having influence. Nothing more and nothing less. I think John is right. Think about it. If you have some sort of control in a situation, or you set direction and have the authority to create change then you are exerting influence.

I once heard someone say that as leaders our words weigh 1000 pounds and that we need to be careful with the words we choose to say around young leaders. We all have had those times where the moment the words left our mouths we knew we had either overshot our reach, said something without being compassionate, or let our pride get in the way of delivering the right message.

But the beauty of leadership is that we learn from those moments and when we respond in humility and take ownership for our words and action we are able to lead more authentically than ever. That’s certainly been my experience as a leader and I would bet it has been your experience too.

As leaders we are in a position to influence those around us, even those who may not be in our circles of influence, in huge ways. Having influence is a huge responsibility and can also be very satisfying as you help other leaders grow through your leadership.

If your leadership is intentional, your influence will be felt far beyond your circle of influence. That’s leadership…influence beyond yourself. You never know how far your leadership will reach. I believe that every leadership moment leads beyond you to another person who might not even be in the conversation. That type of influence can be hugely positive if the message is delivered in the right context and delivered with compassion, grace, and candor.

As leaders we get a lot of questions. Sometimes it’s a request for advice, and sometimes its a request for specific direction to fix a problem.

One of the best things about leadership is when you as a leader are able to plant an idea in someone’s mind, without giving them the answer to the question they have. What ends up happening, with the right encouragement and influence, is that the person you’re working with comes back to you and tells you what they want to do to solve a problem or fix a situation.

I had a leader like this once in my career, and his name was Matt. He was masterful at turning my question into an opportunity. He wasn’t being evasive. He was leading. It took me awhile to figure out what he was doing but once I did I knew how brilliant it was. I began to anticipate the conversation with Matt, but before I actually had it I ran through the various scenarios and outcomes in my mind and that exercise resulted many times in Matt saying “nice job”.

As a leader when we use our influence in such a way that we develop the leaders and team around us then everybody wins! Influence. We all have it. How will you use yours today?

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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.

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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.