Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Put In the Creative Work



Are you waiting for an epiphany of discovery? Do you think that creativity is going to sneak up on you and then surprise you with a flash of inspiration?

Here's the news: it  does not happen that way.

No sudden burst. No bright light of inspiration. No spirit-like brilliant glimmer of impulse.  Creativity is hard work. Putting in the time. Steady development. Practice. Making mistakes and correcting your direction. Creativity is more the result of a steady supply of study and work than it is a blast of sudden inspiration.

You may get that blast of inspiration -- but probably only after putting in the work.

Put in the work.

-- Doug Smith

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Set Big Goals


Set big goals. Set goals you don't have a clue how to achieve. They will stretch you. They will grow you. They will bring about change.

And change is the direction you're headed whether you like it or not. As my friend Andrew Oxley once told me "nature only knows two directions - growth or decay. If I were you I'd choose growth."

What's your biggest goal? If it's big enough, you likely don't even know how MUCH it will change you. But change you, it will.

-- Doug Smith


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Push for Clarity


Ambiguity could be good but might not be. That's purposely ambiguous. It reminds me of something a fraternity brother of mine once said to another brother:

"John, you're a nice guy, but you're a little wishy-washy."
"No I'm not," said John, "well, maybe a little..."

Yeah. And maybe a lot.

Ambiguity drives me crazy. People who don't commit for whatever reason cause me a kind of anxiety. There may not be much that I can do about it, but I do my best to clarify what the heck is going on.

Leaders must clarify. We live with ambiguity -- we can't always know how things will turn out. Not everything is even in our control. So things can get fuzzy around the edges. In the mean time, there are important things that we can clarify:

- who we are
- what our values are and mean
- what is our mission and vision
- our most important goals
- our character

Once we have a firm, clear understanding of those five important things, any ambiguity simply exists at the mercy of any of those five. We'll know when we know, but in the mean time, clarify as much as possible.

People will resist your efforts to get clear. Get clear anyway. People will look for wishy-washy options. Reduce the gray areas and focus on what is most important. You might change your mind, but you likely won't change my mission.

How clear are you about what is important to you?

-- Doug Smith

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What Is Your Next Training Opportunity?


How long has it been since you've attended any training?

What are you learning right now? There are many ways to learn. Training is just one. You could read a book. You could launch a project. You could listen to a recording or watch a video. The possibilities abound.

Training is just one of those possibilities, but it's an important one. It's your chance to practice new skills in a safe environment until you can practice them under stress. It's exploring, discovering, practicing, and mastering.

When I was a volunteer fire fighter we had to attend lots of training. Our certifications were important, not for the piece of paper, but so that we knew (and our crew members knew) that we had what it takes to survive. In addition to weekend and weeklong programs, some took several weeks. And even between training sessions we had weekly drills where we refreshed our existing skills and worked on new ones. The learning opportunities never stop. Take advantage of them.

Do you have what it takes to survive and thrive as a leader?

What's your next training opportunity?

-- Doug Smith

Friday, August 19, 2016

Keep Persisting

Here's a trick question - when do you give up?

It's a trick because maybe you don't give up. When the goal is important enough, you don't give up. And if the goal isn't important enough to persist, why would you even work on it?

Choose your goals carefully. Work on what you consider vital to your success. And then act relentlessly on your plan. Persist.

There is no substitute for persistence. It will get you through when the world throws all kinds of road blocks your way. And you can depend on that. So persist.

-- Doug Smith

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Talk About It

Are your team members skilled at creating deeper conversations? The kinds of conversations that go far below the surface level of day to day trivial. The kind of conversations about values, mission, goals, and (gasp!) feelings.

You do know that your team members are living, breathing critters with (yes...) feelings, don't you?

I remember what it's like as a front line supervisor trying to ignore those feelings. They didn't go away when I ignored them -- they just got more complicated.

Strong teams are built thru deep conversations. Got a problem? Talk about it. Need to focus more on a particular goal? Talk about it. Wondering what comes next? Talk about it.

I remember Susan Scott saying that relationships are built one conversation at a time -- and (most importantly) that the conversation is not about the relationship, the conversation IS the relationship. She also says that the heart of leadership is conversation.

So when we want to be better leaders, the fastest path to that is deeper, more meaningful conversations. We don't need to agree on everything. And yes, that means that we may stir up some emotions. How else can we achieve our difficult goals unless we stir things up and ignite the passion in our work and in our team?

Successful supervisors build strong teams thru honest conversations. No baloney. No lies. Tell your truth openly and with respect, and watch how much respect comes back at you.

-- Doug Smith

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Build Enthusiasm for Your Goals

Are you enthusiastic about your goals?

How do you know?

Here are some positive signs of enthusiasm for your goals:

- talking about them!
- prioritizing your work around your goals
- starting your day with your goals in mind
- scheduling your days with time to work on your goals
- involving other people in your goals
- sticking with your goals even when things get in the way
- Getting as creative as you need to get to stay on track to achieve your goals
- Refusing to get talked out of your goals

How else do YOU show enthusiasm for your goals?

People can tell when you are filled with enthusiasm for your goals and you know what? It's contagious. If you want other people to care about what you're working on, show them how important and how cool it is.

It's what successful supervisors and leaders of all kinds do.

-- Doug Smith


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Start Strong, Stay Strong

Is it easier to start strong as a leader or to start tender? Which gives you the most payoff? Which gives you the most credibility?

Start strong.

I don't mean bossy. No one needs or wants you barking orders at them. By start strong I mea get a grip on what you want from your team and let them know. Coach, coach, coach every single team member from struggler to super star. Everyone.

Who benefits from coaching? Everyone. Get them the help they need to sharpen their skills and expand their capacity. Give them so much feedback that it becomes as natural as breathing. When you've reached that point -- when feedback (both sending and receiving) becomes as natural as breathing -- you are well on your way to a very strong team.

And isn't that what you want? How strong will your team get if you're not strong?

Your team looks to you for your strength. They draw inspiration from knowing that no challenge is too tough and no upper management person is too constraining to keep your team from achieving its goals.

Start strong. Stay strong.

Here are five key leadership strengths to begin with and develop:

Clarity: Knowing your mission completely and given it priority.

Courage: Say and do what you mean with resilience, reliability, and persistence.

Creativity: Find and use new ideas. Expand your possibilities. Make things better.

Compassion: Speak and act with kindness.

Centering: Take a mindful and balanced approach to your work and your relationships. Be here completely.

Team members will test you. They'll want to discover how much grief you'll take, how persistent you are in your expectations, how thorough you are in your feedback. If you are weak, quiet, and loose -- the team will become weaker, looser, less assured.

You don't need to have all the answers. But you can't be afraid to try.

It's not something you're ever finished with because there is so much growing to do and so much to learn. So why not start now?

What have you learned today?

-- Doug Smith

Start Strong, Stay Strong

Is it easier to start strong as a leader or to start tender? Which gives you the most payoff? Which gives you the most credibility?

Start strong.

I don't mean bossy. No one needs or wants you barking orders at them. By start strong I mea get a grip on what you want from your team and let them know. Coach, coach, coach every single team member from struggler to super star. Everyone.

Who benefits from coaching? Everyone. Get them the help they need to sharpen their skills and expand their capacity. Give them so much feedback that it becomes as natural as breathing. When you've reached that point -- when feedback (both sending and receiving) becomes as natural as breathing -- you are well on your way to a very strong team.

And isn't that what you want? How strong will your team get if you're not strong?

Your team looks to you for your strength. They draw inspiration from knowing that no challenge is too tough and no upper management person is too constraining to keep your team from achieving its goals.

Start strong. Stay strong.

Here are five key leadership strengths to begin with and develop:

Clarity: Knowing your mission completely and given it priority.

Courage: Say and do what you mean with resilience, reliability, and persistence.

Creativity: Find and use new ideas. Expand your possibilities. Make things better.

Compassion: Speak and act with kindness.

Centering: Take a mindful and balanced approach to your work and your relationships. Be here completely.

Team members will test you. They'll want to discover how much grief you'll take, how persistent you are in your expectations, how thorough you are in your feedback. If you are weak, quiet, and loose -- the team will become weaker, looser, less assured.

You don't need to have all the answers. But you can't be afraid to try.

It's not something you're ever finished with because there is so much growing to do and so much to learn. So why not start now?

What have you learned today?

-- Doug Smith


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Set That Problem Free

Collage by doug smith
Have you ever held a problem so tight that it couldn't get away?

I have.

Why would we do that? We get so comfortable with a problem that it's hard to imagine living without it. But what good is that? It's a problem!

Or is it?

Maybe we need to see beyond what we keep defining in pain as our problem and embrace whatever is as whatever is. If that sounds like double-speak, forgive me for a second and think about it. The situation is the situation. Calling it a problem does not change what is going on. Agonizing over how much misery it is bringing us, our team, or our organization does not help.

Here's what I suggest instead. Set that problem free. Stop calling it a problem. It's the situation. Call it that if you like or don't call it anything at all. Set it free.

Set a goal. What is it that you DO want? Whatever is going on now, what environment, situation, action, or relationship do you really want? Go for that.

Set a goal. Design a plan. And then work your plan until you've forgotten all about your problem.

And, do you know why you'll forget all about your problem? Because your problem will be gone.

-- Doug Smith

Monday, August 1, 2016

Remember The Heart

When I worked for GE and I was learning project management, they had a popular expression that was often spoken with pride and just a touch of arrogance. "In God we trust, all others show us the data."

We used to say that opinions were like noses. Everyone's got one. So what. What does the data say?

Since then data has become even more important. We rely on data for so much. It drives decisions. It sorts product offerings. It calibrates without feeling the temperature of the times.

And yet...what about the heart? Haven't you sometimes had a feeling that something wasn't right and discovered that you were right? There wasn't any data to tell you, it just hit you as true.

Relying on your gut instincts can be dangerous. Our intuition is wrong at a surprisingly high frequency. But data isn't everything. How we feel matters. How our customers feel matters. What we bring to our work through our emotions matters.

Rely on the data. What other choice do you have? But please, remember the heart as well.

-- Doug Smith