Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Centered Leaders Listen to their People's Problems

Do you listen to your team member's problems?

It can get tedious. It can seem tough. It can be tempting to give quick, terse advice. Centered leaders do more than that.

It's better to listen and then ask, "what would you like to do about that?".

It's not up to you to solve their problems, but by listening and coaching you can help them.

Leading a high performance team means helping each and every member to operate at their best. That means seeing them solving their problems, getting barriers out of the way, and moving forward.

Someone else's problems may seem trivial but don't ever tell them that.

Listen, and help them find the answer that most likely is already within them.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Your List of Leadership Problems

List the five problems you'd most like to solve.

Chances are you'll need help solving them, and the sooner the better.

Centered leaders seek the help they need to solve the problems that concern them.

Those problems haven't solved themselves yet, have they?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dealing with Corporate

If you work for a regional site of a large corporation, you probably like it just fine when corporate leaves you alone. Surely, they have more important things to work on than how things are going at your operation.

What you probably don't want, is someone in a suit showing up (or in some cases a blue shirt and khaki pants...) and saying "Hi, I'm from corporate and I'm here to help".

Help from corporate often leads to restructuring, layoffs, and even site closures. Who wants that?

What's to be done?

Keep corporate happy. Make money faster than other regional offices. Reduce your expenses on your own. Keep customers happy and complaints at a minimum. Create a culture where your people are happy to work and still challenged to constantly do better. Lead with intension, high intensity, and deliver high performance.

It's not a guarantee. You could do so well that the site is sold or merged. Sometimes you just can't control that. But you're odds are much better of staying within the parent company if you deliver positive results.

Be careful about trusting anyone who says they're from corporate and here to help. It's probably not the help you're looking for.

But once they're there, whether or not you have been,  it's time to get serious about success.  The stakes are suddenly higher.

What are you doing to distinguish your workplace as the best in its class?

-- Douglas Brent Smith
 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tell the Truth

There's no such thing as a little white lie when you're a leader. I'm not talking about being blunt if someone asks "does this dress make my butt look big?" because we all pretty much know how that goes. What I'm talking about is telling your team members the truth in connection with your mission, your values, your goals. When it comes to what keeps a person on the team and what gets them an invitation to find a new direction.

Far more opportunities are lost by hiding the truth then from telling it.

Your competition is searching for the truth. Your team is searching for the truth. Your inner self really wants to know and share the truth, doesn't it?

It always comes out anyway. Why not get to the truth faster?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Build a Team that Works for Your People

How much time have you spent building your team?

That doesn't mean a fancy outdoor course with ropes and ladders and touchy-feely conversations in the woods. Conversations are a useful idea, but you don't need the snakes or mosquitoes.

What you do need is a team that gets along. What you do need is a team that talks things over, that is able to reach consensus quickly, that can argue without fighting, that can embrace new ideas without trashing the old. You want a team that works.

People work best when they work well together.

Individual performances improve. Collective performance multiplies. Goals become much more achievable.

Build a team that works for your people.

How do you do that?

- Remove rules that get in their way without adding value to your product or service
- Challenge people to be their best and to help each other get there
- Delegate with authority and follow-up with diligence
- Measure what matters and ONLY what matters
- Find out what your people want most from the team and create an environment that makes it possible

Fix what bugs your people, and you can leave the bug spray at home.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

To learn more, explore Building Your Team


Friday, October 26, 2012

Skip the Meetings That Don't Matter

How much time do you waste in meetings that don't matter?

Oh, they probably matter to someone. Whoever called the meeting must think it's necessary. But the agenda (if there is an agenda) does not include you or any goals that you are working on. Maybe it's not aligned with your mission or values. Maybe it is just a status update or something worse -- a meeting for the sake of meeting.

Do you really have time for that nonsense?

It takes courage, but it's well worth it to screen the meetings that you attend. Whenever you have a choice, if the meeting makes no sense to you and if there is a better use of your time, skip the meeting. Be polite, let your organizer know you won't be attending. Or before you send your intention not to attend, first ask if there is something relevant at the meeting that you're working on. Is there a goal that you need to contribute to? Is that a problem that you can help solve? Will the meeting move goals that you are working on forward? If so, and there is a reason for you to attend, then you know you won't be wasting your time.

I know there are exceptions. I've worked for a company that has required meetings. If team members don't attend they are charged with an absence and can be written up, even fired. It's ridiculous but it's a company policy I didn't have time to fight (sometimes when an organization is large enough we must pick our battles). But if it's NOT a required meeting, it's worth your time to explore whether or not you really need to be there.

There are other reasons you might want to attend:

- to build relationships
- to celebrate milestones
- to help people learn
- to influence change
- to trade favors
- to show support

... but if you can't find a reason, there might not be one.

Find the courage to refuse any meeting that doesn't align with your mission, goals, and priorities. Life's too short for meaningless meetings.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Work Hard For Your People

Your people work for you. You're the boss. Do you also work for them?

Do you do all you can to get them the resources they need?

Do you challenge them everyday to do more, to improve, to create an impact?

Do you defend your people against the outrageous attacks of your own boss? What about your bosses' boss?

Do you challenge your people when they seem complacent or need a prod to move forward?

Do you stand side by side, on the front lines, handling customer issues and taking the heat along with your team?

Your people are hoping that you are doing more for them than reading email.

So do it.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, October 22, 2012

Work Side by Side With Your Team

As a supervisor, you still have a hand in production. Maybe you assign 100% of your production tasks to your team, and that's fine, but you probably are also close enough to what's going on to spot quality issues, customer problems, team member performance challenges and opportunities. Part of your job is to stay close to that.

Do you work side by side with your team members? Do you give them a chance to show you what they can do while you take the opportunity to observe quietly what gets in their way? Are you close enough to customers to hear the current wave of requests and (more importantly) to sense what customers will need soon but haven't yet asked for?

High performance supervisors are comfortable working side by side with their team and still know when to step far enough away to lead.

It's not your job to do their job. But it is part of your job to know their job. Supervisors who do this earn credibility, camaraderie,  insights and motivation with and from their team members.

Think of a team member you haven't worked side by side with recently. What can you do this week to spend some working time with them?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more in the workshop: Improving Performance

Friday, October 19, 2012

Skip the Status Meeting

Haven't you had enough of meetings where nothing new is accomplished and you're just give the status of tasks, projects and objectives?

Status updates can be handled more conveniently thru other media. Face to face time, and even phone conference time, is far too valuable to spend updating people.

Status meetings are a waste of time. Better to spend that time on new ideas, developing relationships, and achieving goals.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Punishment and Fear

Have you ever been punished by your boss?

Maybe it takes the subtle form of a vacation request that's denied. Or, maybe it's more obvious like a probationary period when some of your privileges are at stake. It could be an authorization level that gets lowered. It could be a stern warning that unless things change you'll be headed for the exit.

There are lots of ways that bosses punish team members.

How do you like it?

Punishment and fear create short term compliance and long term rebellion.

Maybe the side effects are immediate, like a passive aggressive destruction of an important document. Oops. Maybe the side effects happen way down the road, as people mysteriously leave the organization to find a less punishing environment. But the side effects are inevitable.  What does punishment teach? Punishment teaches how to punish.

Is that what you want?

There are better ways to improve performance:

- Coaching
- Rewarding good performance
- Acknowledging effort
- Setting clear expectations
- Following up regularly
- Setting sensible boundaries
- Recruiting the right people

...and dozens more that will help much more than punishing people. It's your choice. What kind of culture do you want to be famous for?



-- Douglas Brent Smith


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Feedback Gets You Deeper

The criticism kept coming in increasingly uncomfortable detail. It was so much to digest in one sitting. It was enough to make anyone defensive and resistant to change, and I could feel myself heading that way.

That moment when the other person's voice fades into the white noise of your head and echoes like a meaningless harp in the distance. That moment when we shut someone off.

But I told myself to stay focused and attentive. I remembered that I was hearing one filtered view, but that I could still learn from it. Whether or not what she said was true, there was something creating that perception. Now was the time to understand, not influence, that perception.

The mistake I've often made in receiving critical feedback is trying to change perception on the spot. It doesn't work. That person has entered that space with that perception based on what has already happened outside that space. The place to influence that perception is the space that gave birth to it.

Now was the time to understand. To learn. To assess. And then to change whatever needed to change. Maybe it was the other person's perception or, gasp, maybe it was my own behavior.

I could still feel myself perspiring, but now it had a purpose. Now the meaning was longer term and more beneficial. Now I could show that feedback helps the other person (and myself) get deeper into what's going on. Whatever our perceptions were going into the interaction, how we react can lock us in or get us deeper. It's more useful to get deeper.

Instead of defensiveness, try asking questions. If the data is flawed, questions will point that out. If the questions confirm what you've resisted, you now have opportunity. No matter what, it was a chance to learn more about that other person than either of you may have suspected. It's a chance to take your relationship to a deeper level of understanding and respect.

Feedback is a chance to learn and to show the depth of your character.

Whether or not the feedback is true or warranted isn't even in the range of questions.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Interested in learning more about feedback and other important communication skills? Explore Communicating for Results.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What You Do

Do your team members know what you do as a leader?

It's a serious question. I've known leaders who seem to nearly never venture outside of their office, and others who are seldom there. What is it that you do?

Answer customer questions? Resolve team conflicts? Make your own boss happy? Develop new ideas? Fill out reports? Answer emails?

It's risky to take for granted that your team members know what you do. But, they sure want to!

I'd encourage you to conduct daily individual conversations so that no matter what else you do, much of what you do is communicate with the team.

Will that take time? Sure. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Are you giving your team members enough of your time?

Is what you do vital to your team's success?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Many Times?

How often do you delegate something and then wonder why it's not done?

Crazy, isn't it? Your team members want you to trust them, and for the most part they enjoy the challenges of new assignments, but sometimes they get done and sometimes they don't.

How do you balance total trust and micromanaging the joy right out of the task? You've got to know your people. We're all on different learning curves. We each have personality types that might differ. We live on different levels of maturity. We're not all the same.

The best way I've found to know whether I need to remind someone once or seven times is to know what they need by testing it, over and over. And, it had better be improving or we're having a tougher conversation. Not mean, not the kind where you write them up and start their path out the door, but straight forward, honest and to the point.

How many times do you have to remind someone? Until they start doing exactly what you want without any reminders at all...

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Explore this more in the workshop: Communicating for Results

 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Can You Make It Seem Inevitable?

I can remember certain times when leaders that I worked for were so influential and so convincing tht what they were promoting seemed inevitable. People realized, as in the Star Trek Next Generation shows, that "resistance is futile."

Not because the leaders were ruthless. Not because the change was imposed (the way the Borg would impose it!) but because there was no stopping the change.

When GE made a major move to go paperless, things happened that make resistance futile. Documents became easier to find online.  Approvals for information took online shortcuts. Copy machines and printers disappeared. We didn't completely eliminate paper, but we saved enough to fill many forests.

When Whole Foods does Good Organics training, there's no ducking it. You don't get to choose. Leaders project the confidence, urgency, and insistence to make your change in knowledge deeper and inevitable.

One of my favorite leaders of all time, Jim Hursey my high school track coach make training seem inevitable and right -- because the always difficult workouts he coaxed us into always improved our performance. It was change for the better because it clearly worked.

As leaders, we need to bring about that kind of change: working, effective, transformative change. And, to make it inevitable because it is so clearly the right path to go.

The art of leadership is making positive change seem inevitable.

Easy? Not always. Worth it? Absolutely.

 
-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Creative Impulse

Where does it come from? What does it mean? What can you do with it?

The creative impulse stirs thru each of us in varying degrees. Feed it, nourish it, support it, encourage it and the creative impulse will follow you around like a trustworthy friend. You might not always know that it's there, but it is (especially when you need it most).

Need a new idea? Listen to your creative soul. Puzzling thru a problem? What could you do differently that might help? Is that idea you had last night really as crazy as you thought, or could it have a valid use in that project you're working on?

For me, a jolt of creativity feels like energy I can tap into. Sometimes it runs away like an ornery kitten, but sometimes it jumps into my lap like an eager puppy. Either way, starting that conversation, launching that interaction is up to me. It's up to you, too. Listen to your creativity and it may surprise you with what it has to say back.

The creative impulse is a dialogue with your soul. Listen carefully.

It pays off immensely.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Art Belongs Everywhere

What does it take to be creative? What place does art have in your business?

People are naturally creative. As a leader you can put that creativity to good use, or you can hold it back. If you want innovation, new ideas, better ways of serving your customers, and happier team members you probably already know that it pays to keep your environment conducive to creativity.

Art helps.

Whether it is in the form of fascinating photos, interesting prints, provocative sculpture, or occasional performances by that local string quartet or improv troupe, people benefit from an environment that celebrates creativity.

Creativity helps to bridge the previously unseen connections. Creativity helps to spark new ideas. Creativity puts smiles on people's faces.

Where does art belong? Art belongs everywhere.

What can you do today to add a touch more of creativity to your environment?

Curious about creativity?

Creativity May Play A Role in Healthy Aging


The Power of Ordinary Practices:  Research summarized here by Theresa Amabile as interviewed by Michael Roberts for Harvard Working Knowledge shows that leaders can increase both the productivity and creativity of their team thru supporting and developing  behaviors. The article is short and yet filled with great ideas, plus this marvelous connection to creativity: 

"I believe that a focus on creativity is absolutely essential for current business success. I define creativity as producing novel, workable ideas and solutions to problems; innovation is implementing those ideas within an organizational context. You need novel and useful ideas at all stages of a process, from early idea generation up through successful implementation. I maintain that creativity is possible and desirable in all forms of work, no matter what people are doing. In particular, knowledge workers require creativity."


Creativity, Why Bother? Ten Benefits of Expressing Your Creativity:  including improved self knowledge, establishing connections with other creative people, a better mood (or natural high) and seven more.

10 Hidden Benefits of Creativity: 

  • They stayed healthier longer and enjoyed health more.
  • They required fewer visit to health care providers.
  • They used fewer medications.
  • They were more outgoing, more exuberant and their morale was higher.
  • Creatives were more socially active and therefore less lonely.
  • They appeared more optimistic.
  • ... and four more.

    Any quick search will uncover many more benefits of creativity. I think it's so important that I consider it one of the four key values and strengths of leadership: clarity, courage, creativity and compassion.

    -- Douglas Brent Smith



     

    Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    The Essence of Leadership

    What do leaders spend most of their time doing?

    Is it planning?
    Is it counseling and coaching?
    It is working with customers?

    The essence of leadership is solving problems and achieving their goals.

    Whether you solve a problem or achieve a goal directly, or whether you enlist the help of others to do it, that is what leadership is all about.

    Whether you write your own goals or have them handed to you, chances are you are held accountable for them. And whether or not you expect them, sure enough problems develop that demand your attention.

    What are you doing to improve your ability to solve problems and achieve your goals?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Information on Solving Problems and Achieving your goals.


    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Leading is Easy

    Do you think leading is easy?

    Or, like most of us have you found it to be troubling, challenging, confounding, and joyful all at the same time? It's an important role, and one filled with hundreds of emotions.

    Finding the right people, getting them on their best path, training them thoroughly, keeping them energized, helping them focus, and challenging them from extreme to extreme takes knowledge, practice, and yes a few mistakes along the way. It takes learning how to follow as well as how to lead. It takes deep conviction in a set a unwavering values. It takes clarity, courage, creativity and compassion.

    Leading is easy -- just teach people to fly without falling and forgive them when they fail.

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Friday, October 5, 2012

    Don't Wait for the 360

    Are you expecting a 360 evaluation in your organization this year?

    I spent considerable time with two organizations administering their online 360 evaluation systems. Leaders send out surveys to their direct report (and sometimes peers and bosses) and then wait for the feedback to pour in.

    And pour in it does.

    Sometimes it floods in with data so diverse you wonder if everyone had the same survey directions.

    And sometimes it doesn't pour in much at all. I've observed teams who swore that the feedback was NOT going to be anonymous (it absolutely was) so they withheld it. Why get in trouble? Why tell the truth under observation?

    Except, isn't it the truth we're after? Isn't that the only kind of feedback that matters -- truthful feedback.

    Whether or not it's accurate, we want it to be truthful: we want the evaluators to say what they really feel. Or do we?

    What if they feel hurtful? What if they are mean spirited? Why if they unfairly lambaste a leader just because they didn't get the raise they'd hoped for?

    I've seen all of that happen, and more. Any online anonymous 360 feedback tool is flawed. I'm not saying that we shouldn't use them. For many leaders they absolutely have value.

    But, if you're waiting for a 360 survey to tell you what employees really think it's already too late.

    What leaders need most is real-time feedback. Face to face feedback. Open, respectful, honest feedback. Dialogue. We don't need to grade each other. What we need is direction on how we're doing in connection with our mission and goals. What leaders need is knowing if the environment on their team is motivating, energizing, healthy, and productive.

    Go ahead and participate in that 360. But please don't expect it to tell you the complete truth. You've got to ask for that in person.

    Maybe you'll get it and maybe you won't. Maybe you'll appreciate it, and maybe it will lose you sleep. But you've got to ask for it sincerely, openly, honestly.

    You do want to know what your people are really thinking, don't you?
    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Behind Closed Doors

    How secretive is your organization?

    Are there mysterious initiatives that you know nothing about? Have you ever been told that a piece of information is "eyes only" or on a "need to know" basis? How does that make you feel.

    If you reverse the scenario and withhold information from others in your organization, you are contributing to a culture that is difficult to sustain.

    If you often hear "behind closed doors" in your organization, it's time for major change.

    Strong, sustainable, noble organizations are built on an open culture where information flows freely and people know what's going on -- not just those in the inner circle -- everyone.

    To communicate for results leaders must be open and truthful. They must expose their agenda to scrutiny and hold few, if any, secrets.

    What kind of organization do you want to build?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Learn more in the workshop Communicating for Results



    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    Someone to Confide In

    Do you have someone in your life you can tell your innermost secrets?

    As open as we try to keep our communication within our teams and within our organizations, sometimes the thing we need most is someone outside to confide in. Someone with nothing at stake, who can listen openly and without judging.

    Someone we can trust. Someone like us, willing to suspend titles and lines of authority and willing to let you think thru your thoughts out loud.

    Leaders need people outside of their organization to confide in.

    Who is that for you?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith