Monday, February 24, 2014

How Many Mistakes?

Leaders make mistakes. Supervisors often make more mistakes than other leaders, simply because much of the work of leadership is new to them.

We can learn from experience, and make many mistakes in the process, but that is an expensive, and sometimes embarrassing way to learn.

Why not get the training you need? Why not practice the skills you need in a safe place where your mistakes won't cost your organization money and you some dignity?

It's up to you.

Feel free to skip leadership training if you don't mind making all of your mistakes in public.

Or, maybe that training is needed afterall.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Shine That Light

Are you looking to reveal your problems or seeking to hide them?

Hidden problems don't go away -- they just get harder to solve.

If you can shine a light on your own problems you have a fast start in solving them.

And, you DO want to solve them, right?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ten Ways to Achieve Your Goals

Do you spend much time working to achieve your goals?

If you do, you have probably uncovered and discovered many useful ways to help you do that. I'd love to hear some of them in your comments below.

In the mean time, here are ten ways that I've found to help achieve goals.

1. Care about the goal.
2. Get help from other people.
3. Align your goals with your mission and purpose.
4. Learn and adjust from your mistakes.
5. Drop excuses and time wasters.
6. Act relentlessly on your plan.
7. Resolve conflicts quickly.
8. Solve problems creatively.
9. Stay centered with flexible use of clarity, courage, creativity and compassion.
10. Have fun.

I put the heart of these ten ways into an easy to remember acronym which I call the IDEAL process:

Identify your mission.
Drop excuses.
Energize your team.
Act relentlessly on your plan.
Learn constantly.

What suggestions do you have for achieving your goals?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Clarity Rises the Deeper You Go

Do you sometimes find yourself in a problem that seems to get more complicated the longer it lingers?

Sometimes the causes and even effects can get murky. We wonder what happened. We lose patience with sorting it out. We start chasing a thousand possible trails.

Centered leaders seek clarity. They align their efforts, their thoughts, and their team around the core mission and strategic goals. When problems arise, the first filter is "how does this align with our mission?" How can we solve this within our values?

When we stay clear, we can dive extremely deep to find root causes. When we stay clear, we avoid raising new problems that spin out of poor choice solutions. When we stay clear, we achieve our goals.

Clarity rises the deeper you go.

It rises in importance. It rises in power. It rises in usefulness.

What do you use to stay clear on your goals?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, February 17, 2014

Centered Leaders Preserve Dignity

How important would something need to be for you to surrender your dignity in order to achieve it?

That question reminds me of an activity that required heavy loss of personal dignity. Maybe you're aware of it. Pledging a fraternity or sorority demands that the pledges surrender all sorts of personal inhibitions in the service of obtaining membership. They may be asked to recite weird incantations in public. They may be asked to procure obscure objects (like the driver's side door of a police car). They may be harassed until tears seem like the only release.

Yet, at the end of it, they may even call the experience valuable. They may especially treasure their friendships with their new brothers or sisters.

That kind of surrender is likely rare, though.

If an action you are contemplating requires you to surrender your dignity to the extent that you compromise your values, maybe it's one best avoided.

There are very few answers worth paying for with your dignity.

Oh, and yes -- I did pledge a fraternity and don't regret it. But I hope I never experience that level of embarrassment again...

Digging Deeper

Are you ever tempted to ask someone to do something they may not be comfortable with? Would you be comfortable doing it?

Think about the most embarrassing moment in your life. What could you have done to avoid that? Was it worth experiencing in order to get the desired outcome?

What social organizations have you been a member with? What were their strong points? What keeps people from joining those organizations today?

How do you build a sense of community?

Does your work team think of itself as a closely knit team? What more could you do to increase that feeling?

-- Douglas Brent Smith






Thursday, February 13, 2014

Respond to the Needs At Hand

Have you ever found yourself searching for a magic formula for everything? Wouldn't it be great if there were a fool-proof process for leadership, or problem solving, or achieving your goals that you could apply and be guaranteed success.

It's not so easy.

What works sometimes can crash and burn another time. What seems to make perfect sense can be irrational under certain situations. It's not exactly going with the flow, but it is adjusting what we think and do based on what confronts us.

When I was a firefighter we had an expression often repeated at training exercises: "Never say never, never say always." Respond to the needs at hand.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Problem With Punishment

What do you think of punishment?

That, you might say, depends on where you're looking at it: from the side of the punisher, or from the side of the punished. Either way, how effective do you think it is?

Sure, it will change behavior. The trouble is, it changes that behavior in ways you hadn't counted on. Punishing people teaches them that punishment is a viable strategy, so you can be sure that they'll start practicing it, too. It also teaches them to find ways to avoid getting caught -- not to stop their undesirable behavior but rather to keep you from knowing about it so that they don't get punished again.

Punishment creates a profound desire for revenge. 

Leaders who punish incur side-effects worse than what triggered the punishment.

Does punishment ever make sense? Of course. Justice is important. Some people are so dangerous that keeping them away from society is the only humane thing to do. But punishing the people on your team by withholding basic human needs like attention, financial raises, and respect is counter-productive.

There are much better ways to change behavior.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

We Build the Teams That We Deserve

Are you happy with your team?

Does your team operate effectively, efficiently, cohesively, and with a sense of fun?

When I worked for Aon, the CEO at the time said, "the speed of the leader is the speed of the team". That was true then, and it's true now. And, it applies to more than speed. All of the traits of your team owe much to you as the leader. While we all inherit teams with challenges and traits we wouldn't have chosen, at some point in the develop of our teams we are responsible. Whether we like it or not, that point is now.

We build the teams that we deserve. What more can you do to build the team that you want?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Accepting Each Other Fully

Does judging someone stand in the way of your accepting them fully?

We all have an inner judge developed over the years from the voices of our parents, our teachers, our leaders, our friends, our own judges. That voice is persistent and tries valiantly to assess everything. Sometimes it is quite useful ("should I really ride that motorcycle without a helmet?") and sometimes it siply gets in the way ("she seems nice but that hair is disgusting").

Our judge keeps us from realizing that most of the time we have more in common with each other than we have in opposition. Bridging that gap can help us build better teams, lead better projects, achieve our goals and solve our problems. But we do need to bridge that gap.

When we accept ourselves fully, we have more in common than we have to divide us.

Can you send your own inner judge out for just long enough to accept the people around you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Friday, February 7, 2014

How much is enough data?

When do you stop collecting data? How do you know when you have what you need to move forward or to make a decision?

I can tend toward analytical and as a result never tire of checking for more data. But, sometimes we need to move ahead. Sometimes we need to take action and adjust as we go along.

One of the keys to progress i knowing how much data is enough.

The data alone might not tell you. It might take you making a decision to move.

After all, that data could change anyway. And, data is only useful if you use it.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Thursday, February 6, 2014

How will you handle the reactions to change?

Change creates unexpected reactions. People rebel. Some people simply ignore the change. Others react emotionally with sadness, confusion, and even anger.

Whenever leaders create change -- through a project, a new process, a new team member -- it creates a reaction. We can anticipate many of those reactions, but not all.

To improve performance we must create change. There is no standing still. And, the change never stops. People can grow tired of change, but the change must never stop.

As leaders we can provide some relief from the change fatigue that sets in. We can celebrate. We can preserve treasured artifacts and features of the culture before the change. We can honor those who have brought us as far as we've come. We can provide the breathing room that people need to remain centered and ready.

Ready for the next change.

Change creates unexpected reactions. How will you handle them?

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Getting Our Attention

How do you respond to attempts to get your attention? There's so much energy devoted to getting us to click on this, pay attention to that, subscribe to this, respond to that...where does it lead?

What will you do with my attention once you get it?

Clearly, there is more out there than we can pay attention to. What grabs us has a responsibility to move in some positive, useful direction.

What's your positive, useful direction?

What goal are you working on that matters to others?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Centered Leaders Ask Great Questions

Would you be surprised to learn that your team might already have most of the answers that you need to drive forward with great performance to achieve your goals?

It's easy to get stuck as a supervisor trying to provide all the answers. I've done it. It feels good to be the answer person. The problem is, our answers are incomplete. The team has answers of its own. Getting them to adapt and implement their own answers is so much easier than trying to drive the leader's own answers. The difference is profound.

So consider this. Your team probably has the answers -- you just need to ask the right questions.

What's your next great question for your team?

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Monday, February 3, 2014

Centered Leaders Speak Calmly

Do you like to be yelled at? Does it get your attention? Does it spark resistance and make you NOT want to do what the other person is yelling about?

You don't yell at YOUR people, do you?

Well, maybe we do all yell sometimes. Maybe not. It's part of the human experience. Heated emotions sometimes do erupt in loud talking. But, seriously, is it effective? What are the long term effects?

Yelling creates tension. Sometimes that tension can lead to a positive change in behavior, but when it does it's more likely the communication skills that eventually emerge or take over from the loud talk, rather than the loud talk.

Emotion may supply energy, and that energy still needs skill behind it to move positively rather than cause more damage.

Centered leaders, leaders who operate with a balance of clarity, courage, creativity and compassion, speak calmly.

As I once wanted to say to someone who was in the habit of yelling at me, "I heard you the first time you yelled at me, but not much after that."

Get energized, get emotional, get passionate about what you believe in; and then deliver your message calmly and persistently. Communicating for results can be exciting, vital, even urgent.

But please don't yell.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Centered Leaders Use Influence, Not Manipulation

Have you ever had a leader who manipulated you? They pushed you around by appealing to your sense of threat, or your fear of consequences?

I'm not saying that team members are not responsible for their actions. When we fail to perform we may rightfully encounter consequences. But, leaders who rely on threats, hidden agendas, and manipulation are not doing themselves or their teams a service.

As John Maxwell pointed out, "Leadership is influence." My over 25 years of experience in the field keeps proving that out, over and over.

Centered leaders -- leaders who are in touch with their goals and feelings and who operate with clarity, courage, creativity and compassion -- use influence, not manipulation to achieve their goals.

How about you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Every Answer Raises Two More Questions

Have you ever wondered when exactly you'll have this leadership job figured out?

You're in good company. The longer that I serve as a leader, the more questions arise. People challenging questions, character challenging questions, process challenging questions. It's all a mix of constant learning.

Things that worked with one team seem ineffective with another. That's no reason to stop asking the questions, though.


So what if every answer raises two more questions?

It's in the questions that we move forward.

-- Douglas Brent Smith