When The Sure Thing…Isn’t

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I have two great friends who just lost their jobs suddenly at one of the worst possible times of the year. These friends are amazing, and they will pull through with flying colors. But it got me thinking about their situations and situations I have been in before. What are the warning signs we should be seeing if we are somewhere that we know deep down inside we shouldn’t be? And more importantly, what can we do about it before we are forced to do something about it. 

The best of intentions lead us down certain paths we are sure are the right ones. We can get counsel from friends, pray about it (if you are so inclined), talk the decision through with family, do our research, and meditate about the decision we are about to make. But in the end, even with all of these boxes checked, we can end up someplace that isn’t a good fit. That of course is super frustrating because we did everything we were supposed to do. We did everything that society told us to do in order to be sure. But we are someplace doing something we don’t love, which is a huge problem. And as renowned chef and author Mark Bittman says, “You’re not going to succeed at stuff you don’t want to do.” Truer words have never been said. 
I would add that you aren’t going to succeed at something you don’t love doing, but you also can’t love it so much that you sacrifice the things that are truly important. So, if you find yourself in this unenviable position what can you do to course correct, and hopefully improve the situation? And if that isn’t possible, what can you do to reset?

  1. Make sure there isn’t a misunderstanding. Seth Godin wrote a fantastic blog post on November 20th titled “Is it possible there was a misunderstanding?” He asks the all important question. Is it possible that you misunderstood the person on the other end of the question? Is it possible that they misunderstood you? The only way to know for sure is to ask the question and be up front about how you’re feeling. That should clear things up one way or the other.
  2. If you take Seth’s advice and there aren’t discernable or sustainable change, than you go back and ask again. Clarify expectations. Make sure you truly understand what is being asked of you. Can you do those? If sthen go do those things.
  3. If you are still struggling than you have to ask yourself, is the mission of the organization you are a part of important to you? Is it important enough that it can transcend a difficult personality? Can you rise above the drama and affect change? If so, great. Mush on and do the best you can in your circumstances and be the change you want to see. If not, see #4.
  4. Be up front with your boss and tell them how you’re feeling. Tell them that while you appreciate the efforts they have made to help you navigate the culture of the organization and assimilate, it just isn’t enough. Depending on your position in the organization, allow for a smooth transition and be available to do whatever it takes to ensure that there is a proper handoff of responsibilities to the person taking your place.
  5. Leave with grace and don’t burn any bridges. Finish well, but get out of there. Life is way too short to be somewhere that you will be consistently frustrated by the people you are working for. Take the passion and commitment you have somewhere that will appreciate the gifts you have to offer. Be that change. Be that difference.
  6. Learn from the experience. What, if anything, could you have done differently? Don’t beat yourself up, but truly seek to understand so that you can prevent a similar thing from happening to you again.

There are no sure things in this life. All you can do is what you can do to vet an opportunity and give it your best effort. In the end you have to be able to pivot as needed because it can be a great organization but be a terrible fit. Don’t allow yourself to be caught in the crossfire of competing interests of work, friends and family and try to balance it all, because there is no work/life balance. There is only life. And then work. There is and should be a constant imbalance and when your focus is on your family and friends, you will make the right long-term decisions professionally, even if no one else can understand why you are doing what you are doing.

Slowing It Down and Doing Less With More

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image credit: bossfight.co

Things aren’t slowing down anytime soon so it is up to us as leaders, fathers, husbands, wives, mothers, and students to take some action against the urgent and important. This is not the typical leadership advice you get from many of the great resources out there but I believe that instead of trying to do more with less, we need to start doing less with more. Do less work with more thoughtfulness. Do less hurrying through your day with more intentionality towards the things that really matter. Do less overreacting to problems by asking more questions.

Do less. And do it more slowly. This is not intuitive in this day and age of 24/7 connectedness, I totally get it. However, we are a society on the edge of burnout and if we don’t slow down the world around us, than we will end up losing control of our destination, direction, and discipline. At the breakneck pace of the world today no one can sustain top performance without taking the necessary time to refuel, recharge, and unplug. That looks different for everybody. For some, it’s shutting the laptop and turning off the phone. For others it’s taking a long walk. For some it’s reading a book to their kids. Or just reading a book. I am convinced that the key to happiness is less of anything that creates distractions and keeps us from what we truly love.

In the context of leadership, the art of slowing it down and doing less with more is just as important as it is for our personal lives. Many of us lead teams of people, some of us lead tens, hundreds, or thousands of people, some of just lead ourselves. Regardless, the ability to slow down what is happening around us as leaders is incredibly important. A good leader knows how to slow down the process without slowing down the progress. Sometimes in the heat of battle a leader can think that they need to pull the trigger on a decision and that it has to be done right now, and more often than not it simply doesn’t. There is a lot of value in slowing down the chaos going on around you in the midst of a high pressure situation and the best way to do that is by asking more questions. Dig deeper. Clarify. Paraphrase. Get the folks around you to calm down, because you are calm. Model what grace under pressure looks like. Ask more questions.

Slowing it down also allows you to be a better teacher, coach and developer of people. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, responsibility a leader has is to develop those around them to be as good or better than they are. And the art of slowing it down is a great way to instill good decision making into their leadership DNA. This is so important. Don’t miss it. The thing that you don’t do in the heat of the moment is just as important as the things that you actually do. Are you fighting fires, or are you preventing the fire in the first place? Are you proactively leading with vision or are you reacting to temporary circumstances? Are you orchestrating your plan in times of crisis or overreacting to the drama?

If you can develop the skill of slowing the process down, you will ensure the progress that is achieved is far beyond what you had hoped for, and you will have created the opportunity for those you lead to learn how to do less with more in the process.

 

The Messy Middle

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The messy middle. We’ve all been there, right? Maybe you’re there now. You know the space I mean. That place where things are in flux, everything is turned up to eleven, and you can’t seem to catch your breath. Yeah. I know that place. When we are in those moments there is nothing we’d rather do than get out of them, but afterwards, when the dust settles we realize that in the middle of all of THAT, the messy middle, we may have made some magic.

The truth is we find ourselves in the messy middle more than we’d like to admit, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t thrive and accomplish great things. A few years ago at Leadercast I had the opportunity to hear Ed Catmull, who is the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, talk about how we as leaders need to make it safe to operate in the messy middle. We need to make sure the teams of people we lead realize that where they are is a safe place, and no matter what might be happening in their scope of work, we will be there for them to work alongside them to help find a solution when things don’t quite work out the way they planned. Sometimes things don’t go right and you have two choices. You can either shut down or you can pull together and figure out a solution. 

In the case of Pixar someone on the team had deleted most of the only copy of Toy Story 2…just months before it’s release. Hundreds of hours of work, and 90% of the film…gone with a keystroke. Now that is messy! But the team came together and figured out a solution, redid much of the movie, and of course we’ve all been enjoying that classic with our families for over a decade. The version that ended up in theaters and in our homes was actually much better than the original deleted version. That could only happen because no one was pointing fingers and everyone stepped up and took responsibility for the issue.

As leaders we all have had experiences that just don’t go the way we hoped they would. In his talk at Leadercast, Ed Catmull gave several suggestions and question to ask that I believe lay the foundation for how we can change the paradigm for how we operate to make us as efficient and productive as possible, while providing a safe place to screw it all up and learn from the experience.

  • Fail often, Fail early.
  • Instill trust.
  • Challenge the status quo, even when it’s working.
  • Asking the right question. It’s not “Am I a success?” or “Am I a failure?” It is “What am I learning?”
  • How can we develop more creativity in our organizations? This is the process by which problems get solved.
  • Figure out what are the management and cultural forces that block creativity and change versus trying to become more creative.
  • Face the problem of hidden issues that you can’t see.

Those are such good points. I see and talk to leaders who are afraid to fail and so they never move forward. They never accomplish anything great, because they are afraid to fail, when in fact, failing is the only way to find out what is really going to work. Fail often, fail early. Instilling trust is crucial. You lead by example, and leaders eat last. Make sure your team has what they need. Challenge the status quote even when things are going great. It’s easy to hunker down when you are facing a crisis, but what about when things are going great and everyone loves you? Not so easy is it? Good leaders know how to handle problems. Great leaders know how to handle success and make the results even better. 

What are the true cultural roadblocks in your organization that are keeping you from succeeding? What are the issues that are keeping you from being creative and nimble in addressing the issues your business is facing? Until you address those problems, typically rooted in having the wrong people, you will not achieve the greatness that you desire for your organization. Face the problem of hidden issues that you can’t see. Immerse yourself on the front lines. What is really happening in the kitchen? What are the issues with your vendors? How are you tackling the wage pressure in the restaurant industry? Face those hidden issues early and often.

Later in the talk Ed Catmull gave some practical suggestions to address the process by which things get done at Pixar, also outlined in his excellent book Creativity, Inc. which puts accountability on the team and creates the safe space that every company says they want to have for their teams, but that very few companies actually have.

  1. Focus on the dynamics of the team. (My editorial to this is that if you have the right team, they will smoke a bad team member out. Your job as the leader is to listen to them and deal with the problem swiftly.)
  2. Establish a Braintrust – Peers talking to Peers. Remove the power structure from the room. Foster shared ownership in each other’s success. Give and listen to honest feedback. Egos disappear. The focus is on the problem.
  3. Rethink failures and errors.
  4. Make it safe for people to operate in the messy space.
  5. If the team is good, but the idea is bad, make it better or come up with something else.

I love the approach Ed Catmull took at Pixar and I think we can all learn a lot from the processes he put in place, regardless of the industry we are in. Focus on the team dynamics, establish a Braintrust, make it a safe place, and challenge the ideas you have. If they suck, kill the idea. Find something better. Don’t waste your efforts on an idea that has no merit. If the team you have is a good one then they will make it better or come up with something else.

The world we live in and work in (and if you are in the restaurant business this is especially for you), can be very messy. However with the proper perspective, you can thrive and create synergies and success if you ask the right questions, challenge the status quo, face the problems you can’t see, remove cultural and management obstacles, and most importantly have the right people on your team.

5 Things a Leader Can Do When Facing a Delay


Expect Delays. I saw this sign on my walk last night. This hit me on a number of levels as I think back over just 2016 and the number of delays in moving important projects forward this year that I have had to accept, and how frustrating it has been, but also realizing those delays are also beyond my control. So I can either choose to be frustrated about what’s happening or I can choose to figure out how to use the delay to my advantage and be even more ready when it’s time to take action.

Here are 5 things that a leader can do when faced with a delay in a project, timing, or resources:

  1. Look at the extra time you have been given as a gift. Perhaps the delay you’re experiencing is exactly what you need to go back and reassess your action plan and make adjustments. Maybe you missed something and now have the opportunity to course correct before you launch to make your project even more successful.
  2. Get the team together. When faced with an uncontrollable delay, use that time to rally the troops and sit down and review the launch plan. Have everyone take a fresh look at their part of the plan and talk it through. One of the best things you can do as a leader is to help other young leaders understand that things don’t always go according to plan. Modeling how to approach a delay thoughtfully is a huge learning for them that they will carry with them through the rest of the their careers. 
  3. Once you’ve shored everything up and are just waiting to deploy, use the time to revisit other projects and initiatives that need attention and move those forward. Continuing to make progress in other areas of the business keeps everyone’s confidence high and keeps them sharp, but as a leader you need to set that example.
  4. Depending on the type of project you’re working on, use the time to think about the next iteration and apply the learnings you have gained to thoughts around the next phase. Some of the best ideas for the future come from the adversity we experience in the present moment.
  5. Own it. Leaders have the responsibility to show their team how to lead through difficult times. Even though the delay might not be your fault, own it, and do everything you can to put the resources behind getting the project back on track.

As I write this I am experiencing a major construction delay on a new project and using these words to challenge myself as a leader. This has been a great experience because it has challenged my entire team on how we can keep moving forward even in the face of adversity, and we are! We’ve done a number of exciting things to keep everyone engaged and using the time we have to be even more prepared as we lean into this new opening.

Expect delays, because they’re coming. You’ve either just experienced one, are experiencing one, or are about to. But the beauty is you get to choose your attitude in how you deal with it, and you have the chance to influence other leaders through the example you set! Let’s do it!

What Opportunity Looks Like


A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. I love that definition of opportunity! As I look back over my career as a leader I can identify several times where the circumstances I experienced led to an opportunity for me to do more and contribute at a higher level. Without exception, each time I was given an opportunity, it was always rooted in the fact that someone believed in me. 

“I am a leader because someone told me I could be.” I read that quote several months ago that deeply resonated with me because that is my story. I had very few bright prospects in 1985 as a 17-year old crew member at McDonald’s or at least that is how it appeared to me. What I did not realize is that over the course of my first year at McDonald’s in 1984, my manager Wanda Ford saw something in me that I did not see in myself, which that was a leader. This came on the heels of another manager Brenda Weiss, who after a few months, gave me a chance to work the front counter even though I had a profound stutter. So when Wanda approached me and said “I want you to complete the first Management Development Program module” I was incredibly surprised, but also really excited about the opportunity.

Of course back in 1985 there was no such thing as an Internal Career Fair, but she developed me nonetheless and invested in me to teach me the basic management skills of how to run a shift, count down cash, and manage others, building on the leadership skills she saw below the surface. This experience changed my life and set me on course for a lifetime in the restaurant industry and I have always held this experience close to me as I have grown in my influence and made it a point to invest in the people around me at the highest possible level.

But in 2005, as an Operations Director for Chipotle, a leader that I deeply respect, Jean Wallace, presented some learnings from a meeting she had with In N Out on how they built their people culture. There was a passing comment about an “Internal Career Fair” and how they used that format to identify future leaders and I latched onto that immediately, so much so that I don’t remember much else from that meeting. I flew to Houston, rallied my team and said “We are doing this!”. So my team and I built the Internal Career Fair process for Chipotle, completely from scratch and it gave me another opportunity to pay it forward. Another opportunity to repay Wanda’s investment in me by creating the opportunity for others to invest in those around them.

I remember in the earliest days of the Internal Career Fairs, when long-time employees who were truly top performers, came to their interviews dressed up, incredibly nervous and proud of all they had accomplished. They were so thrilled to be able to talk to leaders of the company about their work, their restaurant, and their hopes and dreams. There were many times where I got emotional during these meetings. It was impossible not to. We saw the future of our company in their eyes, and we knew that we were on the front end of a movement; a revolution, and there was no turning back.

From 2008-2012, we never had to hire one external candidate for any position in the South Region, across 228 restaurants, which is an accomplishment I give full credit to my teams in the restaurants for the culture that they created to support having the internal talent to promote when we had open positions.

Fast forward to today, where I am privileged to lead an amazing team at Freebirds, where we are about to launch the ICF process again, and once again, we have lightning in a bottle. For our 29-year old brand, we have new life, and we have opportunity. We have the privilege of creating the process by which our Tribe can embrace the career path in front of them to accomplish things in their life they may not have previously thought possible. At Freebirds we are all about opportunity and welcoming new Tribe members and today when we hire someone externally it is because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to, and that is a wonderful place to be. To have so many wonderful leaders already in our organization gives us the chance to do amazing things like relocate an entire management team to Nashville, TN ahead of our brand new restaurant that opens later this year, and I am so proud of that accomplishment.

The future is bright, and I am proud of the momentum we’ve achieved as a brand and look forward to this next generation of leaders and all they will accomplish!

6 Things I Learned From My Holiday Social Media Sabbatical

 

image credit:bossfight.co

 
I made an intentional decision on December 23 to not post to Twitter or Facebook through New Years Day. I wasn’t doing it to grandstand or say “hey look at what I’m doing”, but at the time I wasn’t sure why I was doing it, or felt compelled to do so. I just knew I needed a break from creating original thought or re-posting other great content from the inter webs. I was tired, and it had been a long year, I missed my family, and I needed to unplug. As one day turned into two, three, and four, I realized how much I really needed this social media sabbatical.

To be fully transparent (and those of you who follow me know this) I did use Instagram, but it isn’t the same medium as a Facebook or Twitter and it didn’t cause me to put much thought into anything that was being posted. For me Instagram traditionally is just a fun way to show off my family and meals I am cooking, so I felt pretty safe in using it! Over the course of the 7 days of not posting I learned a lot about myself, and how I spend my time with the content I either create or consume for social media and most importantly, I learned why I needed this sabbatical so badly.

6 Important Things I Learned From a Social Media Sabbatical

  1. The world does not revolve around anything I post. It sounds a little silly because I have very few followers on social media (mostly by design) and even fewer actually care about what I post. But sometimes in the heat of the moment when I create something, read something, or think something I think it is the most important thing in the world at that moment for me to get it online. And it’s not.
  2. When I am not immediately retweeting or sharing something I read, I actually get to internalize the content. This is a big one for me. I only try and share things that are relevant that I think friends or followers will actually benefit from, but sometimes I get it out there so quickly I don’t get to fully immerse myself in the content, and that is a huge disservice to myself and to those that read what I’m posting.
  3. Sometimes a good book or a magazine article is king. Because we live in such an online age I forget that there are countless magazines that are delivered to my house or office each month, most of which if I’m honest, I never crack open. I tend to read the articles that most interest me online, which is fine, but sometimes sitting with a story and letting it wash over me and marinate is exactly what I need. Being able to highlight, tear out a page, scan it, and think on it is a pretty powerful action. It’s something I did several times over the last week and I will continue to do so. It’s actually given me some great content to remix and share over the next year.
  4. When I am constantly on Twitter and Facebook I write less original content. For some people this would not be an issue. For me, it’s a HUGE issue. I like to write and would like to someday write more officially…as in write a book! And for me to live out that dream I have to write everyday, and while I can be influenced by what I see online through various platforms, I have to make the time to write down my thoughts.
  5. I care too much about if someone “likes” what I’m posting. One thing I am striving for in 2016 is to be totally transparent, and I will tell you write now I care way too much about what all of you think about what I write and post! I’m pretty sure I am not alone here. How many people (like me) check your likes on Facebook or Twitter? For me I learned I was finding “value” from a “like” far too much, and in doing so I was hurting my ability to create content.
  6. My family is more important than social media. No, I didn’t need this social media sabbatical to tell me my family is more important, but I did need the reminder. By not reading, posting, and retweeting I actually engaged with my family more. This is important for me because I tend to be on the overdrive end of the workaholic spectrum and the intentional act of unplugging from social was extremely powerful for me. In fact, I found that the days of not posting anything were the best days of my vacation because I was fully present and engaged. 

I am excited to build my platform in 2016 and be an even better thought leader and contributor to the communities I am a part of, but I am even more excited to do so in a more thoughtful, healthier, and balanced way. I am thankful for this last week of social media fasting as there is no way I would have learned these 5 things any other way. I challenge all of you to think about the ways you interact on social media in 2016 and to slow down the sharing long enough to fully digest and internalize that which are are sharing.

I wish each and everyone of you a fantastic year as you influence those around you with your platform!

What Fast Casual Is and Why Some Companies Don’t Measure Up

  
The fast casual restaurant segment stormed onto the dining scene in the mid to late 1990’s and has really never looked back. The timing was perfect as there was no middle ground between the QSR segment and fine dining, and many consumers were looking for different dining options that fit in with their increasingly mobile lifestyles and decreasing margin of time. But it wasn’t just the choice that resonated, it was the options that resonated. Deeper, richer flavors with textures and nuances that weren’t available at many QSR’s is what many guests were looking for, and the fast casual segment was there to greet them.

Over the last 20 years we’ve seen many different iterations of fast casual restaurants created to try and capture the guest with their approach to better food choices, served in a unique service model in a more contemporary enviornment. Many of those concepts have been very successful. 

Having spent the last 13 years of my career immersed in the fast casual segment I am amazed that many organizations call themselves fast casual when they are really in the casual dining segment. This not only creates great confusion for guests, but also a lack of focus for the restaurant concept. Trying to be something you’re not is a dangerous proposition, and can do serious damage to your brand.

The idea of fast casual is rooted in the idea that you can get a high quality meal with engaging service in an efficient manner. The beauty of the fast casual model is you order your food, get exactly what you want, and it’s ready for you as you pay for it. If the execution does not match that model, it is not fast casual. It may be casual. If you order, get a number, and sit down and wait for your meal it is casual dining. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But calling a casual dining concept fast casual is setting an unrealistic expectation for the guest, and creating undue stress on the employees working in the restaurant. 

Not every concept translates to the fast casual model, nor should they. The restaurant world needs all kinds of concepts, for all sorts of occasions, and whatever segment a restaurant finds itself in, it should be embraced in order to deliver the best possible experience to the guest.