Saturday, January 28, 2012

Problem Solving and The Stakes Involved

Does the way you solve a problem differ from the way you figure out what the problem is?

Sometimes we are so deep into a problem that we can no longer see the causes. What is right in front of us is so familiar that it seems perfectly normal and normally perfect. It's not, of course. That's one of the reasons that it is a problem. But, it's probably not the main reason (or even in the top three reasons).

To see clearly the exact causes of a problem takes a certain amount of detachment. Sometimes we can affect this detachment on our own, and sometimes we are so close to the problem that we cannot detach ourselves from the results.

Problems can be clarified by those with no stake in the results but are best solved by those who do.

It's easy to see that someone has a drinking problem but hard to stop if you're that person. It's easy to see a broken customer service process but hard to stop doing what you have been trying to do to make that demanding customer happy. It is two completely different things: diagnosis and solution. Why do we pretend that we can do both in one close motion?

The more we communicate, the easier it becomes to work with those who do not have a stake in our problems and yet have some clarity about what they are. It does NOT mean that we should trust the solutions to outsiders -- what do they care about how uncomfortable or ill-fitting the solutions are?

But they can help to spot the root causes of problems.

Once we have clarity about that, solving the problem is best left to those who care about how it turns out. Usually, the people IN a problem already have the solution -- what they need is a little clarity, courage, creativity and compassion.


What problem would you most like to solve this month?

Who do you know who might have some insight to the causes of your most pressing problem?

How skilled are you at providing feedback about someone else's problem without trying to solve it for them?

What happens when we try to solve someone else's problems?

What can you do today to clarify your approach to problem solving?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will There Be A Test?

Trainers, professors and teachers are well familiar with the question: "will there be a test?". Students are concerned about if their learning will be evaluated and how it will effect their lives.

What a question behind the question: will this learning effect my life?

When it comes to facilitating learning, it may be the primary question. Why spend time on a topic if it has little impact on you? Why learn what you don't need and can't use?

Unless, of course, you are going to be tested.

Yes, we are going to be tested. Everything that we learn matters. How we apply it matters. What we do next, who we share it with, how we use it to avoid mistakes, how we use our learning to solve problems and achieve our goals. It all matters.

Yes, there will be a test. Maybe today, maybe a week from now, maybe years into the future, but yes there will be a test.

Here's the good news:

Life is an open book exam. We can keep learning until we get it right. And then we can make it even better.

What have you learned today?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, January 23, 2012

Truth vs. Universal Truth

How do you know if something is true?

Do think that once something is true, it is true forever and in all situations?

I believe that there are some universal truths. To avoid getting into theology, philosophy and politics I won't list "my" universal truths here. I'm sure you have many of your own.

But there are also truths that make sense for the time, place, and/or situation. They are true right now, but may not always be true.

I'm hungry. True right now, but it changes once I eat.

You're cold to me. True in a moment of conflict perhaps, but if we continue the dialogue can get past that perception.

Centered leaders do not mistake truth for universal truth.

Hold onto your universal truths as values if you like. Test them when you can, because universal truths can stand any test.

But keep you mind very open for what is the truth in other situations. Could it be simply your truth at this time? Could it be a perception that is easily changed?

What is truth to you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Prevents People From Solving Problems?

My job is to help as many people as possible, solve as many problems a possible, as quickly as possible.

That should keep me busy for the rest of my life, don't you think.

But you can play, too. You can join in at helping to solve problems. Why not start with your own?

Or start with someone else's so that you can gain the confidence and skill you need to solve just about any any problem?

Why do you think that people have problems?

What do you think prevents people from solving problems?

Maybe it's because of one of these three things:

1. They don't know.

They don't know that it IS a problem so the situation continues. This applies to many personal and relationship problems but it could apply to just about any problem.

They don't know how to solve it. Surely we would solve any problem if we simply KNEW how to solve it wouldn't we? Usually, unless:

2. They don't care.

No one is likely to solve a problem that they don't care about. Why would some one not care about a problem? Probably because:

a. They've fully adapted -- in which case the "problem" is now part of who they are. It may not be the best that they can be, but they've gotten used to it. The problem situation will then stay around until they DO care about changing it.

b.It's what they really, maybe even secretly want. They might make noises about someday changing the situation, but something about the situation gives them exactly what they are looking for (right or wrong) and so it isn't going to change until THEY do.

Number two isn't a judgement, but it IS a reason.

3. They don't have what they think they need to solve the problem.

Maybe it's resources like time, money,or the right set of people.

Maybe it's discipline, a method for solving the problem, or a process to solve the problem.

Maybe it's a character trait or skill like courage, clarity, creativity or compassion.

Think about any problems that you're experiencing right now. Could it be one of these three things keeping you from solving it?

Think about any problem in the world right now -- could it be one or more of these three things (don't know, don't care, don't have) preventing us from solving it?

I help people identify what's keeping their problems around, to figure out what to do about it, and then to do it: solve problems.

The good news is there's plenty to keep us all busy.

If you want to explore these ideas more, and maybe get busy solving some problems of your own, I welcome you to contact me at:

Start the conversation, and see where it goes...there's nothing to lose but our problems.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Benefits of Supervisory Training

When was the last time you had any leadership training?

How often do the supervisors in your organization get training?

If you are like most organizations, it's never enough. Some teams go without any supervisory training at all and expect supervisors and managers to learn as they go, on the job. Unfortunately, while it is memorable to learn from your mistakes, it comes at a high cost.
People get tired. People leave. Important accounts go away. Customers complain. And teams struggle without the skills and knowledge it takes to build cohesive teams that are capable of solving problems, improving performance and achieving goals.

Admittedly, I can be expected to support training since I'm in the business. Still, take a closer look at your own leadership career and decide for yourself. Are leaders better off with more training and development or with less?

Supervisory training can generate benefits that pay off long after the training is over.

Here are just a few of the things supervisors and managers gain from training:

- Skills to improve performance, solve problems, and achieve goals
- Strengthened relationships with their peers
- An expanded network of experts who can help
- Experience solving problems in a safe environment
- A forum for sounding out ideas
- A place to nurture new ideas that lead to even more ideas in the field
- Renewed energy
- Resilience that comes from remembering to take the long view
- Increased confidence in the support of the organization
- New respect for their own leaders
- Tools and tips that can be used productively for years
- A valuable break from the routine
- New ways to use their courage, creativity, clarity and compassion
- Help in centering themselves during troubled times and times of growth

... and more

Think about the training and development that you've gotten and the unexpected benefits that came along with it. Wouldn't you like more of that? Don't you owe it to your people to encourage and facilitate more of that?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Centered Leaders Create No Losers

Do you pride yourself on being highly competitive?

Do your actions as a leader create winners and losers?

What becomes of the losers?

I would submit to you that creating winners and losers accomplishes one thing extraordinarily well: It perpetuates conflict.

The more significant the win, the longer term the conflict. It may take a long time for losing to whiplash it's side effects, but the side effects are sure and harsh.

We're not talking about games, sports, or the competition that is necessary in the marketplace in certain industries to assure fairness and economy. We're talking about competing with such a fierce habit of destruction that the "enemy" is crushed. Don't kid yourself though - an enemy is never permanently crushed, just as a friend is never permanently reliable.

What is reliable is leading with strong principles. What is reliable is leading with clarity, courage, creativity and compassion. Within that compassion is a high regard for every constituent in a leader's life -- and that includes the "competition".

The highest level of leadership creates no losers. Losses perhaps, but not losers. Respect remains, and learning occurs best when people and organizations treat each other with dignity.

Can you compete without creating losers? What would that look like in your organization?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Friday, January 13, 2012

Future Leaders

Guess what:

the leaders of the future are watching you today.

What will they see? What will they learn? How will they remember you?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Centered Leaders Create Joy

How long does it take to achieve your biggest goals?

Even if we're on track, big goals take a while to achieve. There's much work to do in the mean time, and progress is not always obvious. People look around to see where the excitement is.

Team members can become discouraged or distracted. What's a leader to do?

Centered leaders create joy within their goal achievements.

Joy that goes beyond accomplishment. Joy that comes from an inner, centered satisfaction in doing the right things and focusing on what matters. Intrinsic joy manifested by extrinsic celebrations.

There are many ways to do this, including:

- Recognizing great efforts
- Increasing one-on-one communication
- Coaching frequently
- Smiling!
- Debriefing mistakes and looking for opportunities
- Celebrating both personal and team milestones
- Remembering birthdays and anniversaries
- Demonstrating progress thru metrics or charts
- Building enthusiasm

What ways can you think of to create joy within your team as you move forward toward your goals?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

High Performance Leadership and Longer Term Results

Will you get more out of your people by becoming a task master? In today's tougher climate do we need tougher bosses who lean on people constantly and manage with detailed insistence?

It depends.

Do you want quick results and resentful people? Or do you want a longer term relationship of success with your team?

Any task master can achieve short term results but where will the team be a year from now?

Invest in the longer term future of your team. Develop relationships of trust and empowerment. And go easy on the role of task master. You probably don't want the side-effects.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Friday, January 6, 2012

People or Processes

As a high performance leader, where should you focus your attention on change?

If people are not hitting their targets, if performance is not what you expect, should you set about fixing people, or even removing them?

People develop incrementally. Processes are capable of improving geometrically. Which do you think you should fix?

Hint: it's hard to fix people.

Start with processes and win.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Centered Leaders Do More Than Demand Improved Performance

It's everyone's job to improve performance. Centered, high performance leaders spend much of their time determining how to help people improve performance.

But simply demanding a change in performance can be damaging. Be careful what you ask for unless you are sure how it can be obtained.

Demanding improved performance without removing barriers leads to hidden short-cuts and unwanted trade-offs.

That's not what you want.

1. Find out what's standing in the way of the performance you want.

2. Find out how to remove those barriers.

3. Ask how you can help.

Simply demanding is not enough.

What barriers are standing in the way of your team's performance?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more in the workshop:  Improving Performance

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Centered Leaders and Criticism

Do you think it's the role of a leader to criticize?

There is a big difference between analyze and criticize. Leaders do have the responsibility to provide clarity to their teams, and clarity requires a certain level of analysis.

But to criticize implies a tearing down, tearing apart, deconstructing of performance that may contain some nuggets of use but truck loads of side-effects. How do YOU like to be relentlessly criticized?

You can always find things to criticize if that's what you're looking for. That does not build confidence or strength in your team.

What does build confidence and strength?

- Debriefing team members on what went RIGHT
- Building a culture of continuous improvement
- Providing opportunities for people to operate from their strengths
- Knowing the strengths of your people
- Developing people
- Providing frequent, instant feedback (and finding more positive points than critical ones)

What other ways can you think of to build confidence and strength on your team?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more in the workshop: Communicating for Results

Monday, January 2, 2012

Leadership and Shared Compassion

Who is in charge of compassion on your team?

Do you look for a source of compassion, or do you feel a shared sense of responsibility?

We are all called to feel, and show compassion for each other.

That's how it works.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Sunday, January 1, 2012

High Performance Leaders Provide Possibilities

How does an effective leader forgive?

Is it enough to offer a clean slate?

Is it enough to provide the opportunity for a new start?

Centered leaders offer more than a new start. Centered leaders realize that sometimes the errors of the past need a new focus, a new sense of direction. What will team members do positively to avoid repeating mistakes? High performance leaders provide new possibilities.

Possibilities that expand potential. Possibilities that correct past wrongs. Possibilities that solve problems.

Forgiveness that carries the strength of redirection and new possibilities spares many frustrations.

-- Douglas Brent Smith