Friday, September 30, 2011

How Performance Leaders Must Deal with Paradox


What do you do with paradox? (A paradox is a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition. -- Wikipedia)

How do you explain your company's need to reduce expenses and expand at the same time?

High performance leaders must deal with paradox. They must deal with the fact that sometimes we need to hold what appear to be two conflicting ideas at the same time in similar (if not equal) measure. There is no easy answer. We wrestle with complicated problems that have no simple explanation. Some must be left to evolve. Some must be carefully sculpted into a sensible blend. But our issues are often not a yes or no proposition.

How leaders explain their need for paradox determines their credibility.

How do you expand energy without using public domain acquisition of property?

How do you reform banking without failing to compete internationally?

How do you adopt austerity measures and reduce unemployment?

Faced with complicated problems, leaders may not always choose either/or. Sometimes the answer lies somewhere within both/and.

High performance leaders find way to expand their possibilities and embrace what at first appears to be impossible.

It's part of what makes a leader successful.

What paradox are you wrestling with today? How can you explain it to your constituents?

-- Douglas Brent Smith




Thursday, September 29, 2011

High Performance Leaders Get Feedback Often

Have you ever wondered what on earth was going on in the mind of a leader?

Have you found yourself in the throws of the effects of a decision that was far more serious and pervasive than the leader knew?

I can remember being in situations where the team members were saying things like "change is good, but this is chaos!" and "why would they do such a thing?" and "do they realize that this will drive the best people out of here?"

Did these leaders do these things on purpose to rock the boat so thoroughly?Well, maybe sometimes. There are leaders who trash and burn a team to move it to another place -- sometimes (rarely) for the better but usually just closer to that downward spiral of dissolution.

But most of the time that I've seen leaders make catastrophic decisions it has been from well-intentioned ignorance. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but they had no idea how disastrous it would be. They could have known, though if they had just bothered to get enough feedback from their team.

Sometimes all it takes is to ask.

Asking does not remove a leaders ability to decide -- but it does illuminate what may have been in the dark. It does expose what may have been hidden. And it does provide the opportunity for people to have a meaningful voice.

Even the best leaders are not always aware of the gravity of their actions. Get feedback often.

What are you about to decide in the dark? Who can you ask first?

-- Douglas Brent Smith



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When The Truth Requires Clarification

Have you ever thought that you understood something, only to later discover that you didn't get it at all?

Have you ever been deceived by a "near truth" that you had wanted to be true and so you filled in the blanks that weren't there, only to discover later that it wasn't true?

The truth takes work.

What we believe, and what is true are not always the same thing. While we can (sometimes) control our beliefs, it takes more work to dig down and discover the truth behind a statement, a story, a view.

The truth often requires clarification. Shared meaning is not automatic.

I remember times when I truly wanted to believe that what someone was saying resonated with the truth because I liked that person. And, they may have believed that their statements were true. But, I've learned to be careful about "versions of the truth" and "degrees of the truth. The best way to find out if someone is SAYING what you think you are HEARING is to clarify. Ask for examples. Ask for them to restate what they've said. Ask them to put it into context with one or more of your values. Ask them the magic unquestion:

"Tell me more about that."

Dig deeper.

Sometimes it makes for an uncomfortable moment.

"What do you mean? Don't you get what I'm saying?"
"Maybe I do, but I'm not sure. Could you say it in a different way?"
"I thought you were on my side..."
"I didn't say that I wasn't on your side. I'm not sure I understand what you said, though. Could you give me an example?"

It is worth that moment of discomfort NOW to avoid the slow unwinding effects of misunderstandings LATER.

In the end, we aren't decided truth so much as we are seeking shared meaning. When you say "entitlement" do you mean what I think you mean? Are you making a judgement or just a statement? Is there a better way to say what you really mean? Or, have I truly understood your meaning and find that we disagree?

Conflict exposed is something that we can work on. Conflict buried or hidden is an unresolved problem that will eventually damage our relationship.

Why not deal with our versions of the truth now?

Why not find out if we agree on what we're saying to mean the same thing, whether or not we agree on what to do with that.

"Because when you say entitlement, I'm thinking "earned benefit" that we've paid into our whole careers...is that what you mean?"

The truth often requires clarification.

Centered leaders clarify meaning, rather than taking it for granted. Centered leadership seeks shared meaning.

Today, pay attention to how many times you think you've understood a word or phrase that can have several meanings. When it is appropriate, stop the conversation just long enough to see if you share meanings or if you have disparate meanings. Wouldn't you rather know now than later?

-- Douglas Brent Smith




Monday, September 26, 2011

Finding the Cause of Performance Problems

What do you do with a performance problem on your team?

How do you know what is causing your team member and your team to miss a goal or deliverable?

Do you automatically think of it as a people problem, or do you dig deeper?

High performance leaders identify the causes of performance problems in collaboration with the people involved.

If your evidence is pointing to one individual, talk with that individual about what is standing in the way. It may surprise you.

Think of track that runners use during a race. They start in different lanes, but all of the runners share the same track. If it is muddy, it effects them all. If it is in perfect condition, they all have conditions that are conducive to running their best race.

But some will contend for the win and some will simply finish the race. It doesn't make them bad people, it just means that there will almost always be faster runners in the race, and runners that will not quite compete with those faster runners. In a way, that's what makes races.

But every runner in the race is capable of running their best race on any given day. Motivation is a factor, conditioning is a factor, even nutrition is a factor, but all have the opportunity to do BETTER than they usually do.

Now image that race track with hurdles on it. Will the runners run faster or slower with the hurdles there?

What hurdles do your team members have on their track?

What can you as a leader do to reduce the hurdles and optimize the conditions for performance?

Ask your team members -- they probably already know.

-- Douglas Brent Smith




Saturday, September 24, 2011

Parallel Problem Solving

Have you ever had a boss who seems to constantly confront you with new problems?

Everyday there is something new for you to solve, some new challenge that
boss gives to you personally and then dashes off.

I had a boss like that once. I often wondered why he trusted so many problems to me? Why was I personally in charge of so many vital issues on the team?

Then I became a bit flattered by the notion. If my boss was giving all those problems to me, he must really trust me. He must really think that I'm a quality thinker and problem solving. That must be it. How cool is that?

And then I realized: he was asking several people about the same problems. He was parallel processing solutions in the laboratories of his team members' minds. One or more of us would come up with viable solutions. One or more of us would develop ideas that the boss either couldn't or didn't have the time to develop himself. And they would be different ideas than if we were all in the same room, when interpersonal dynamics, posturing, and groupthink might impact our potential solutions.

Although I was disappointed at first, and even resented the idea, I later realized that it was a brilliant strategy. It worked. Sometimes the idea that I came up with would be implemented, and it would work. If my idea was one that would likely not work, it usually did not pass the mult-processing test because another idea would emerge as better.

It was fast (we were each working at the same time, just apart from each other). It was efficient - we each worked on the problems when it made sense for each of us (in our individual best problem solving environments) instead of trying to find an impossible time and place that worked for everyone.

It wasn't the only way to solve problems. My boss would still occasionally schedule group collaboration sessions, but the parallel individual nobody-knows-who's-working-on-what method worked great.

I've used the method sometimes myself as a leader with one minor yet major alteration: I let people know what is going on. I tell them that I am also seeking solutions to the same problem from other people and in other ways. It's not that it is a competition (although it benefits a bit from the competitive edge of some people) but rather it is a way to process more ideas faster with less interference. People tend to like the "with less interference" aspect of this method, and reach deep down for their most creative ideas.

Try it some time. Just let people know what's going on and you'll avoid those feelings of disappoint and resentment that people can get when they feel deceived.

Problems aren't going away on their own. High performance leaders generate solutions.

Putting It Into Action

Think about your list of former bosses. What unusual methods of problem solving do you remember among the mix?

Did any work particularly well?

What would you do to change the ones that seemed to work?


-- Douglas Brent Smith



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Problems Mean We're Ready to Grow

How do you know when you're ready to grow?

Since we basically have two choices: growth or decay, our best choice is always growth.

The need for growth is always around us and some signs are more clear than others.

Having problems, for example, is a clear sign that we're ready for growth.

We need to grow to acquire the skills we need to tackle those problems. We need to grow beyond our limitations. We need to grow as people in our key strengths of clarity, courage, creativity and compassion. We need to grow.

So if you have problems, don't let them shove you in the direction of giving up to decay. Instead, smile and take them as the dashboard for growth that they are.

Having problems is a great sign that you're ready to grow.


-- Douglas Brent Smith


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Helping Other People Solve Problems

As a front line leader, how much time do you spend helping other people to solve their problems?

Not the people who report to you -- their problems are YOUR problems, too. But, people around you, perhaps your peers, maybe your friends -- people who simply have tough problems that need help. How often do you help?

I remember with great fondness times that friends have helped me to solve problems. I was stuck, I was in over my head, didn't know what to do about basic problems (like repairing a car or getting a refrigerator up a flight of stairs) and friends have always come to the rescue.

Some problems are more complicated than that of course, and friends are invaluable then as well. Talking it through, exploring your options, even just letting words come out of your own mouth that you need to hear (a little like therapy?) help in hundreds of ways.

By proactively staying willing to play that role for others: to help them with our problems we not only quietly create a network of people who may be willing to help us -- we gain experience and knowledge that otherwise would pass us by.

The more we help other people solve their problems the easier it is to solve our own.

So the next time you hear someone gently call out for help, you know how to respond. Volunteer to help.

Who in your circle of influence is looking for help with a problem today?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Solving Problems and Perspective

Have you noticed how much our ability to solve problems relies on our perspective?

Sometimes we get too tight to think. Sometimes our thinking is so narrow that even the walls seem to close in on us as we struggle with a persistent problem.

It costs almost nothing to take a fifteen and think it over.

Talk with a trusted friend. Maybe the conversation will be about the problem at hand or maybe it will be about something else. Take a break.
Many problems look smaller after a cup of coffee and a friendly conversation.

Isn't it worth a try?

-- Douglas Brent Smith



Monday, September 19, 2011

Solving Problems With the Help of Other People


What do you do with problems that you can't solve?

Do you have a few aggravating problems that persist beyond every individual effort you've been able to develop?

Maybe it's one of those problems you can't solve on your own.

There's no shame in that. Every supervisor and manager has a constant list of persistent problems nagging them, bothering them, percolating in the background just waiting to bubble over. We can let them bubble, or we can get help.
People solve problems with the help of other people.

Find people who can help. Think of the biggest, toughest problems that people face, and you'll likely see that they best way for people to solve those problems is with the help of other people. It's why we hire professionals to take care of problems that we could never solve, but that they have all the training and experience to solve painlessly.

It's just one of the thousands of reasons why other people are the best thing going -- collectively we are so much more, cooperatively we are limitless, connected we are indestructible.

Got a really tough problem? What are you waiting for? People solve problems with the help of other people.




Sunday, September 18, 2011

Doors to Creative Solutions

Do you have a leadership problem that is just too stubborn to go away? Is finding a solution proving to be difficult?

There's no need to give up.

The doors of creativity are there for you to open. Doors that include collaboration, courage, connections, and surprises. Doors that let the light thru even when they're closed. Doors for which you might need to ask a friend for the keys.

But the keys are there. So ask.

Dig a little deeper. Involve someone new. Try something unusual. Look at your problem from a new angle. Focus on expanding your possibilities.

High performance leaders find creative solutions to stubborn problems.

Yours is coming -- keep looking.




Thursday, September 15, 2011

Creating Alignment


What is the connection between your actions and goals?

How do your goals connect to your overall mission and purpose?

Do you have a sense that what you do matters and gets you closer to accomplishing what is most important to you?

High performance leaders align their actions to their goals and their goals to their mission.

It's how they get things done that matter.

It's the filter of success. Does that task that someone is asking you to do contribute to your purpose? Then do it. If it doesn't, negotiate another path, another step, perhaps another set of hands to get it done.

Our time is too valuable to spend it on anything that does not contribute to our happiness, and our happiness is largely dependent on doing what matters most to us and that contributes to the well-being of others.

We can run, we can hide, but without that alignment of action, goals, and mission how will we ever reach our potential?

Alignment creates that guidance that we need in times of uncertainty. Alignment clarifies our focus and leads us forward. Like a beacon of light in the fog of night, alignment helps us stay the path and navigate our way thru unending challenges on our way to success.

When has alignment made things easier for you? Wouldn't you like more of that?

How will you clarify your alignment today?





Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Centered Leaders and Beliefs


Do you know why you believe what you believe?

It's easy to take for granted that what we each belief is (of course) the truth. It's common to adopt a set of beliefs without giving them too much thought or analysis. That can make for a comfortable and confident lifestyle, but it can also lead to a flawed value system and unproductive behaviors.

Think of the person who grows up in an environment of distrust or abuse. To them, that may well seem normal, but to others that will not be welcome.

Or consider the person who grows up in a home where people are not valued as much as individual effort and success. Right or wrong, that person may struggle when placed in an environment where team work is valued over individual desire.

Centered leaders consider the needs of others as they work toward accomplishing noble goals. To do that, we must consider how we are filtering those needs through our own lens of perception. Do we even see what people want and need or do we see them as somehow only there to meet our own needs? What are our needs and how did we decide that they were important?

Centered leaders seek the clarity of knowing the source of their beliefs. Only then can we decide if they are valid for the context we are in. Only then can we assess whether they are truly needs or simply desires based on a flawed past or untested set of assumptions.

Centered leaders constantly test their assumptions. What can appear to us as facts may seem like fallacy to others. This is yet another reason why it's so important for leaders to feel comfortable at encouraging and creating much deeper conversations. It's important to create the places and times when people can talk about their feelings, their desires, their beliefs. If we give hidden agenda's no place to hide; if we shine a light on the stage of our beliefs, we can all benefit from better chances to reach shared meaning.

Shared meaning can lead to shared agreements, and shared agreements lead to success.

What part of your beliefs are you comfortable testing today?

How can you as a leader get more clarity around what you believe and why?



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Letting Go

Are you working hard on any goals that you shouldn't be?

Are some things getting in the way of your success?

It's easy to accumulate a full schedule of meetings and tasks surrounding goals that were not ours to begin with but now consume all of our time.

Bold leaders weed out those types of goals. Strong leaders focus on the goals that they align with their mission. High performance leaders let go of goals that don't belong.

When we let go of the wrong goals it makes room for the right ones.

Maybe that goal made sense at one time. Maybe it was thrust to you from someone else who meant well but who was not fully away of your mission or the list of goals you were already working on. Maybe the goal just doesn't belong to you.

What goal should you let go of today?



Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Way Things Are


How do you feel about the way things are?

Is this the world you dreamed of as a child?

Are there things about this world that you would like to change?

The task of a leader is to improve the way things are.

Because we each cannot do it alone, we approach the world thru the role of leader: someone to rally the people, gather the resources, and get the job done.

There's so much work to be done.

When do we start? How do we get moving?

It's always the right time to improve the way things are.

What's first on your list today?



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Borrowing A Bit From John Wesley


John Wesley, the famous theologian who was instrumental in launching what became the United Methodist Church and who spear headed a huge Christian revival, once said:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.” (quoted at ThinkExist)


It's been quoted in various ways. The message is clear. Do good no matter what: no excuses. It can feel like a full time job, but in a way, isn't it our only job? Don't we all want to leave footprints that matter by creating a better world, developing better relationships, and helping those who can't help themselves?

I'd like to paraphrase Mr. Wesley a bit today in the context of centered leadership and say:

Do good where ever you are, even if you're in the wrong place.

What's the worng place? Any place where you're not appreciated. Any place where you are resisted. Any place where you feel like you don't belong. You're there for a reason, so do some good. Do good anyway.

It can happen twenty times a day - we find ourselves in the wrong place. Or, maybe it just happens once. Or (gasp) maybe it's where we live, Take a breath, focus, and center yourself.

Do good where ever you are, even if you're in the wrong place.

Thank you, John Wesley. I'll do the best I can...




Image of John Wesley source.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In The Way of Your Goals


What might stop you from reaching your goal?

Every goal has a list of things which stand in the way and must be dropped.

Does that sound harsh? Does that sound cold?

Even as I write this I can think of at least a dozen things that might stand in the way of me reaching my goal-centered tasks for today.

Maybe you have a list as well.

Things like...

-- excuses
-- time wasters
-- ambiguities
-- mixed priorities
-- other people's goals that don't match yours
-- recreational activities
-- too much facebook, twitter, etc...

You name it. Your own goals have their share of roadblocks with one cure: drop them.

Get rid of whatever stands in the way of your goal, or watch it stand in the way.

You decide.



Solving Problems in Groups


Groups solve problems faster when they take the time to know each other.

It's not magic, but it's essential.

I've worked with groups that did not want to warm-up, that did not want to get to know each other, that did not want to talk about feelings. They wanted to jump in, analyze, find a solution and move.

The trouble was in agreeing to the possibilities. Without knowing each other, how can we judge each other's possibilities?

Without knowing what makes us feel the way that we feel, how can we assess each other's ideas?

Without taking the time to know each other, we can get stuck in posturing, staging, hiding, and diverting.

Take time to get to know each person in your project, on your team.

It will pay off.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When Followers Are Hard To Find


Not every cause creates a buzz. Not every leader find the people needed to move the movement. Sometimes followers are hard to find.

Have you ever tried to lead an effort and found that you were mostly alone?

What happens next?

Remembering that if it was easy, it would have been done long ago, leaders with a focus on making necessary and timely change keep at it. Followers may come and go, but the cause remains.

Centered leaders lead even when followers are hard to find.

That's the part that calls for influence.

Are you ready?



Monday, September 5, 2011

Communicate Your Goals

Who do you tell about your goals?

Who knows what you're working on and can ask you about your progress?

Once we tell people about our goals they know what we're working on. We can then choose to go about our business as usual or we can focus on achieving those goals. The people we tell about our goals will have a natural curiosity about our success. Wouldn't it be great to be able to share that success? Wouldn't it be great to actually achieve those goals?

State your goals. Again and again. Tell everyone who will listen. Ask them to hold you to it.

Then see what happens...



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dessert of Darkness

Lead long enough, and some type of crisis will develop. Stay the course and eventually you will find obstacles to overcome.

Resistance is a natural part of progress. Difficulty is bound to follow innovation. How do you handle it?

Does every leader eventually travel thru a dessert of darkness when you're not sure of the answer and not even sure of the direction?

What will pull YOU thru?

Having an answer before you get to that dessert is critical to success.



Friday, September 2, 2011

Time and Success

As a leader, do you factor in time as a part of your plan?

Not just deadlines, but the time it takes for people to develop, for logistics to fall in place, for people to see the value of your goal?

It's tricky, I know. Too much time and your opportunity can pass you by. Too little time and things might not quite coalesce the way you need them to.

Centered leaders know that time is a critical part of success and that the amount needed varies. Stay the path.

Are you giving your big ideas the time they need to develop?


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Six Tips for Creating Deeper Conversations

How do you create deeper conversations? A deeper conversation takes you beyond small talk and into shared meaning. During a deeper conversation you feel listened to and you listen and understand both the facts and feelings of everyone in the conversation.

Here are six tips that help to create deeper conversations.

1. Listen actively with empathy.

2. Identify facts AND feelings.

3. Share responsibility for success.

4. Think creatively about what you say AND hear.

5. Express yourself openly and honestly. No hidden agenda.

6. Nurture your relationships with kindness.

How can you use these six points more often? What I've seen work is to keep them on a sheet of paper nearby as you intentionally practice creating deeper conversations. You might not hit all six at first -- or every time -- but by making yourself aware of the possibility of using these six tips I think you will find a higher quality and deeper level of conversation filling your life.

Isn't it worth a try?

Want to get started?

ACTION PLAN:
Print this list of tips and initiate a conversation with another person on what you think it means and how you might put it into practice. Check yourself to see how many of the six tips you can use during the conversation.

...and as it says on the shampoo bottle, "rinse and repeat..."


Learn more in the workshop: Communicating for Results