Monday, April 29, 2013

Following Up

How often do you follow-up with your people on a project?

Do they know that?

Different people need different frequencies of follow-up of course. You may have some superstars who hardly ever need follow-up and will still get their tasks done. Then there are those who if you do not follow-up frequently will not get their tasks delivered.

As a leader, how do you decide when to follow-up?

I like to ask the people I'm working with when they would like follow-up. If their answer makes sense (and most of the time it does) then that's what I go with. The follow-up happens on their schedule and they are prepared to report their progress.

If their answer does not make sense all that means is that the conversation continues until we reach agreement on a schedule that does make sense. Maybe I've underestimated the time they need. Maybe they are more responsible than I'd expected. Maybe they have information I need to know, but not until a certain time. It's also possible that they've underestimated how important their work is to the project and so agree to move their follow-up schedule up.

But follow-up is necessary.

If your people don't expect you to follow-up what exactly are you expecting?

Have that conversation. Reach agreement on when you will check up on them. And then do it.

You'll be glad that you did.

Douglas Brent Smith

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Compassionate Competition

Does business feel like dog eat dog?

Does competition drive you and others to the edge of aggressive, gnawing, clawing feelings that leave you drained?

Or, do you thrive on it?

We do live in a competitive culture. When jobs took on a new scarcity it forced many people to view their opportunities from a limited point of view. If opportunities are limited, don't I have to act aggressively to seize those that come my way? Don't I have to defeat the competition convincingly and swiftly?

At what cost?

Not at the cost of our values. Not at the cost of our integrity. Not at the cost of our kindness.

Fiercely competing does not force you to compromise your values.  Fiercely competing does not force you to treat people unkindly.

It is possible to compete compassionately. Strive for your best outcome. Challenge other in your field of influence. Move forward assertively. AND act in ways that show kindness, consideration, and strength of character.

At the end of the big game, people will remember you for how you treated them, not for how many chips you won.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Quick Thoughts on Problem Solving

Do you spend much of your time solving problems?

Are you tempted to jump to solutions before you've truly understood the problem?

It's nothing to feel guilty about. Most of us do it most of the time: jumping to fast solutions before we see all the threads of the garment stuck around our necks. Throwing light into the darkness and missing the shadows behind us. Stumbling thru the caves of our intentions and forgetting the vision that led us to this mountain to begin with.

That's why I enjoyed the short blog entry here:

The Real Roots of Problem Solving

I especially like this observation: "Problem solving does not start with brainstorming options; brainstorming is only effective when it is preceded by clarity, focus, and understanding."


That's why in the problem solving process we use at FRL it starts with FOCUS. It's important to know what it is you are looking for. What is the ideal state?

Then we move to ANALYZE. What's going on? What is causing us issues? Grant Litchman calls it dissonance and recommends a first step of "find the dissonance". Sure. Figure out what's going on.

Our processes are not exactly the same, and still it is well worth exploring his ideas. The problem may be bigger than we think; we can't be sure until we slow down enough to figure it out.

Those solutions will still be available. Why not take the time to find the best one?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Centered Leaders Ask Questions

When you are in a conversation, who asks the most questions -- you or the other person?

Are you able to stay curious for long stretches of time and send your inner judge out for milk and cookies? You know, the judge who wants to evaluate what your conversational partners say and dismiss anything that's not in your agenda. You wouldn't like that from anyone else, so why do that to anyone?

Centered leaders ask questions.

Big questions. Little questions. Probing questions. Non-leading questions asked out of pure curiosity. Questions to see what sides of the truth are still a mystery.

Knowing what questions to ask is often more useful than expertise.

The possibilities are endless.

Ask, and then wait long enough for genuine answers.

It's worth it for the surprises alone, but there will be much more in it than surprises.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Curious? Check out our workshop "Communicating for Results".


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Take Care With Your Goals

Is there a dark side to setting goals?

Let me be clear -- I firmly believe that setting ambitious and noble goals is critical to your success. We need targets. We need measurements. We need goals.

It's also true (centered leaders must be comfortable with an occasional paradox) that goals can create risks and temptations that must be avoided. If all we care about is the outcome, we may well break rules and hurt standards -- even other people, in pursuit of those outcomes.

Creative, noble goals consider the needs of others. Chasing a dream with a deadline is important and it is also important to stay within the boundaries of ethical, disciplined behavior. There can be no cheating to hit the metric. There can be no cooking the books to show better results. There must be character.

Achieving goals is our time to show our best use of clarity, courage, creativity and compassion. We dare not let any of them get out of balance.

A recent article from  Setting Goals Can Sometimes Hurt You  points out that in addition to goals, we should also work on our areas of focus. What are the things that we do that bring about the outcomes we are looking for? Often, it is in working on our areas of focus that achieve our goals and in so doing we don't bend the rules, we don't blur the data, and we don't burn ourselves out.

Elevating each employees stretch goals every time they achieve a goal is risky, too. As leaders,  let's take care to keep the pursuit of our goals noble and to support our team members in their focus areas as well as their results. In all that we do, it pays to keep the big picture in view: what kind of organization are we building, and what type of people do we want to work with in the long run?

What can you do today to balance your goals and your focus areas?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Begin with Serving

Addie helps a fellow baby.
"I'll help you fellow baby!" Photo by Christopher Smith
Have you thought about leadership as an act of service?

Imagine that you're in a meeting with an organization you care about. The agenda is unseen, the progress is stalling, and things feel out of control. Do you step in to help? That's leadership.

What about a cause that matters? Do you contribute? Do you send your thoughts and ideas to people who can influence the outcomes? Do you influence the outcomes? That's leadership.

Leadership development begins with serving.

Opportunities abound.

- help at a local school
- serve food at a local kitchen for the homeless
- volunteer as a fire fighter
- teach Sunday school
- contribute to causes that matter to you
- help build houses with Habitat for Humanity

If you want, you can find a cause that resonates with you and then help. It will build your leadership skills. It will increase your potential. And, it will help to create a better world.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Making Creativity Stronger

Are you using your creative muscles?

Centered leaders continue to work on their creativity. They use it. Whether it is in problem solving sessions, team building, coaching, performance evaluations, or achieving their goals -- successful supervisors keep the creativity flowing.

Your creativity -- and the creativity of your team.

How do you make it stronger?

- Listen carefully to the ideas of others
- Learn something new -- especially a new language or a new art form
- Attend arts events and locations
- Laugh
- Take up a creative hobby -- paint, make collages, knit, draw, write -- the possibilities are endless
- Socialize with creative people

What other ways can you think of to flex your creative muscles?

Your creativity grows stronger the more you use it.

So, use it.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, April 1, 2013

Problems of Your Own

Does it feel like your organization has more than its share of problems?

They aren't going away by themselves, are they? They are not mysteriously and miraculously getting better. Your problems need your attention.

Every organization must wrestle with its own problems.

They can be ignored for a while. They can be rationalized. But eventually, unless each problem is solved or managed the problems will only get worse.

It's solutions that you want.

-- Douglas Brent Smith