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Showing posts from August, 2018

What to do with accidents

Plans look great on paper. Intentions are rich and full inside our heads. And then -- life, and work, and customers, and team members, and STUFF happens.

Accidents happen.

How we handle those accidents as leaders tells our team members what we really think of them. It tells them if our values are real.

Accidents are unintentional. They are not part of the plan. When they happen, high performance leaders navigate the changing landscape and develop the ideas needed to get back on track or, if needed, to forge an entirely new direction.

Maybe that accident is just what you and your team needed. It's there, what will you do with it? What changes will you take? Who will you encourage to keep moving, keep learning, keep working on the goal?

High performance leaders learn to accept perfect accidents.

What's a perfect accident? Any unexpected change that moves you to act is a perfect accident. Moaning, complaining, blaming -- those are all useless. The perfect accident opens a door t…

Solve Problems for Yourself AND for Others

When you are solving a problem, do you consider the impact your solution will have on other people?

I've seen leaders who impose solutions on their teams that make the job worse, not better. While some degree of resistance to any solution is natural, your problem has a much better chance of staying solved if the solution you pick is supported by your team.

Does your solution make the job easier?
Does your solution make your customers happier?
Is your solution elegant and simple and yet robust enough to solve the problem?

The purpose of problem solving is to make life better for you AND for others.

Do the whole job.

-- doug smith

What If You Miss Your Deadline?

If you work on enough projects and goals, you will inevitably miss a deadline. It feels terrible. The energy can drain out and it can feel as if you will never achieve what you set out to do.

Instead of giving up, though, what if you simply recalibrate, reset, and restart in order to redouble your efforts? What if you garnered more support and focused more sharply on the task at hand?

Some goals we let go because their time has come and gone or they never really served our mission. But, if your goal is still in alignment with your mission and you do still have the support of your boss, then what if you took a few deep breathes, drank a glass of water, took a walk, and then hit that restart button on your goal?

Sometimes missing a deadline is a delay, not a failure.

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Take two minutes to review your top three goals. What are you doing on them today?

You'll never do everything, but you can always do what is most important to you.

High Performance Leaders Keep Learning

Once I was lost in Washington, D.C. That's easy for me because the streets are unconventionally situated compared to many other cities, plus I get lost quite easily. I could get lost in a hotel.

While I was lost (before GPS was widely available) I stopped and asked for directions. Maybe the advice was good, maybe it wasn't, but I stayed lost.

I asked someone else, at a deli. New directions, same outcome. Lost.

Thank goodness for GPS these days! And also, thank goodness that I've learned not to take every piece of advice that's been offered to me. If I had, I might have:

Given up on trainingKept a dead-end jobNever called an old friend just because she'd broken my heartFired some people who later turned out to be exemplary team membersUsed facilitator's guides word for word You get the idea. There's a lot of bad advice out there. That's why a deep foundation of knowledge is vital. You don't get lost when you know where you're going!
-- doug smith

Understand the Paradox

Teams get confused. They compete, they collaborate, they get stuck. As a high performance leader, how do you get them unstuck?

What if you want your team members to compete with each other to enhance their performance AND you want them to cooperate on projects?

Can you have both? Can you embrace the paradox?

Here's what helps: tell the truth. Let your team members know what works. Let them know how you decide what to compensate. Sort thru the details with honesty. Wrestle with the contradictions and focus on your team's mission.

Because whether you choose to embrace the paradoxes of leadership or not, they will find you and how you deal with them will largely calibrate the success of your team.

What if the opposite of what you want is also what you want? Get more clarity around what you want.

Go for that.

Let your team know.

-- doug smith


What do you do when you are really stressed?

Having lived in Colorado for eight years, I became quite tuned into how a lack of oxygen can effect your performance. The higher you go, the more rare the air. And sometimes, that makes it very hard to breathe.

High performance leaders live in rarified air. They go places others are afraid of. They lead people on new challenges. They get stressed.


Learn your limits. Learn your capacity. Learn what you need to keep going strong.

When we pay attention, breathing teaches.


-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action: Pause, Take one minute right now to breathe, slowly, and carefully paying attention to your breath. Give it at least a few deep full and complete breathes. On the exhale, make sure that ALL of the old air is expelled. Breathe in with your full attention.

What Elements Make Up An Effective Team? | John Lyden | Expressworks Int...

This brief video poses the theory that in order to build an effective team it is important that the people on the team get along. Interpersonal dynamics are important.

While this may seem obvious to anyone who has worked with many teams, it is still important.

How well do the people on your team get along? What are the interpersonal behaviors that your teams needs and wants? Why not explore that idea at your next team meeting? It's cheaper than a retreat, requires no trust falls or zip lines, and might just be the best thing you do for your team this month.

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Gather your team. Plan a substantial portion of your meeting (or maybe nearly all of a meeting) to asking your team members the following questions. Make sure that someone is capturing the answers on a group memory (white board or flip chart or similar display.)

What interpersonal behaviors do you find most helpful when working with others?What habits or behaviors are getting in our wayW…

Even Leaders Change

Even high performance leaders can get stuck trying to solve a problem. Tough resistance stands against the solutions tried and keep the problem around. What makes that problem so tough? What is it that stands in the way?

What if it's you? (or me, I must ask myself!)

What if the part of the problem that's so hard to solve reflects that part of you that you don't want to change?

You might need to change!

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Think about a problem that you are struggling with. What can you change about YOURSELF that might wiggle you free from this stasis?

Do You Listen to Your Own Advice?

I've noticed that often, when I am tempted to give someone else advice, that it's really intended for me. It's an action that I should take. It's an intention that I should express. It's a direction meant for my team.

How about you?

The next time you catch yourself coaching someone, check to see what's in that message for you.

Advice we give to others is often intended for ourselves.

-- doug smith


Believe, conceive, achieve. Believe in yourself, conceive a creative plan, and work that plan to achieve your goals.

-- doug smith

Challenge Your Fears

What are you afraid of?

We're all afraid of something. Some of us are afraid of many things. It makes sense to be afraid when danger threatens your physical or emotional well-being. If your life is in danger, deal with it promptly even if that means running away.

Could it be that our fear centers are over-working? Is it possible that we avoid too many things that need a healthy supply of confrontation?

High performance leaders confront their fears. They face into the risk knowing that they will grow in the process. It takes practice. It takes building muscles over the years and continuing to learn long after you think you know all the answers. That's just the beginning.

Fears are there to warn you AND to challenge you. Can you handle this? Are you ready for this? Are you going to let this turn into an opportunity or a stalling game of keep-away?

Challenge your fears, don't worship them.

You're bigger than they are.

-- doug smith

Give Advice Sparingly

Do you like to give advice?

High performance leaders are often asked for advice. The temptation is to give it no matter what. After all, aren't we the experts? If someone is asking for advice, doesn't that mean that they trust us and believe we have the wisdom needed to answer?


Giving advice is limiting, though. What if you helped that person think thru their possibilities instead? What if they already knew what they wanted and needed to do, and were only hoping that you'd advise them accordingly?

And what if your advice doesn't work?

It's better to stay curious. Ask questions. Help them with their thinking. You could still end up giving them advice, but probably not. Probably, they'll develop a strategy all of their own, one that they can own and implement and achieve.

"I wonder what you'll do about that" is more powerful than "here's what you should do..."

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Stay curious.

Appreciate th…

No Excuses

When I worked at Whole Foods, one of the store managers told me, "We live in the land of no excuses." That stuck with me. Even knowing it already, it helps to know that others will hold you accountable. Excuses are not acceptable. High performance leaders work past excuses and find ways to achieve their goals. When they miss (and we all do) they own their misses and move forward. Maybe the task gets a new deadline. Maybe it no longer matters. But excuses don't change a thing and do not reflect the courage that a high performance leader needs.

Show your courage. Eliminate excuses.

It's easy to get distracted or make excuses so we all need someone to hold us accountable.

Who is holding you accountable?

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Ask someone to ask you about your most important goal, at least once a week until that goal is achieved.

Infinite Possibilities

Problems pile up. Answer hide. Frustration builds. Still, there are always more answers. There are always more possibilities. Our biggest challenge is to give up before we have explored enough possibilities to find a winner. There's a winner (or two or more) in there. Keep digging. Keep generating ideas. Keep focused on possibilities.

We may never run out of problems but we'll also never exhaust our possibilities for solving them.

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Stay curious!

Meet the Challenge

When the direction is unclear, when the heat seems unbearable, when the pressure is crushing you, when the problems stack high like a looming tower, put the problem into perspective:

A problem is there to challenge you, not break you.

Meet the challenge.

-- doug smith

Your Team Expects The Truth

You know how easy it is to lie. When people are quiet about it, it might even seem as if you can get away with it. Without a confrontation, who is to say what is truth anyway?

Somewhere, deep in your heart, you know better than that. High performance leaders cannot afford lies. They cannot afford having lies told to them -- the lies must be exposed. And, they cannot afford telling them -- because the lies WILL be exposed.

I have said it many times and I believe it firmly: the truth will always bubble to the top. It might take a long, long time but every lie will eventually be exposed. The truth emerges. When it does, high performance leaders feel good about having stayed with the truth. No spinning. No fibbing. No lies of omission, commission, or submission.

Your team is relying on you to tell the truth. (oh, and they will find out if you do -- or don't..."

-- doug smith

High Performance Leaders Learn to Respect

We live in a time when it is so easy to attack, so simple to disrespect. Our beliefs clash and our logic melts into emotions. It happens between friends, within families, and often, within our teams.

High performance leaders avoid the temptation to personalize every dispute. When that rush of adrenaline hits our hearts, we would do well to pause and think it over. Let people be people and lead with respect regardless.

It's harder when we don't know people very well because we jump to conclusions or we defend our emotional turf. Still, it's senseless.

It's harder when we know people so well that they know just how to push the right emotional buttons to flare us up and we know all their emotional triggers so well that we play right into the conflict.

Two extremes invite disrespect: not knowing someone at all and knowing them extremely well. What to do? Pause, and respect.

Pause, and respect.

-- doug smith

Respect Anyway

Do people need to earn your respect?

Some people do believe that it is necessary to prove yourself worthy of respect before someone should grant you respect. What's the problem with that? When we put ourselves into the position of judge we also open the door wider to being judged.

Can people tell when you respect them?  Undoubtably. We seem to have an inner radar that differentiates respect from disrespect -- or worse, disregard. We can tell, and we care. Deeply.

Whatever a person has done in the past that we might question, it is still possible to treat them with respect. Kindness, compassion, even love know no limits.

Respecting someone does not mean that you agree with everything that they've ever done -- or even with what they are  doing or saying right now. Respect means that you treat them with human dignity, fairness, compassion, and honor.

I know that it can be tough to show respect in the heat of an argument or when someone is not acting in a likable manner. It can b…

Leaders Recognize Anger

Are your team members ever angry with you?

Whether you are a creative artist, a business person, a not-for-profit consultant...whatever -- when we are doing important, passionate work we will sometimes generate anger. It might be unexpected. It might be provoked. People get angry.

Anger can cloud our understanding. We can disagree. We disagree every day with some one (and sometimes it feels like half the world!) The better path, better than getting upset, is to clarify. If we disagree, we can figure out how to understand. Unless we understand, all the anger in the world is wasted energy. High performance leaders find ways to disagree respectfully while staying open to new possibilities. Ever been wrong? I'm wrong at least once a day.

Disagreeing with my truth is often useful. Getting angry at it seldom is.

-- doug smith

Test Those Terms of Agreement

Have you ever really read the complete terms of agreement on any device, any contract? If so, when was the last time that you did it?

We skim over those things. We click "agree" as fast as we can scroll to it and move on with whatever it was that we wanted to do.

That's high risk. You know that, I know that, and yet we do that anyway.

It's hard to stop. But here's what I would like you (and me) to stop, to desist from, to resist. Stop doing that to others. Just don't do it.

Be gentle. Be kind. Be honest. Be real. And (when you can) be brief.

Overwhelming people;le with long, extensive, even convoluted terms of agreement is a low form of coercion and manipulation. Here's why:

it's not an agreement, it's a weaponagreements that are unjust and unfair are NOT agreementsit's not clever or smart to trick someone (say, your customer) into signing away rights -- it's evil and it's theftthe ability to take advantage of someone's ignorance do…

You May Not Need Every Tool

Do you have a lot of tools?

I don't. I had a nice collection inherited from my dad (I call them a collection because I collected them but when they were his he actually USED them) until they were destroyed in a fire.

Now, an apartment dweller, I have few tools. I still don't use all of them -- but I know how.

When we are solving problems we have many tools. The temptation is to use them all. It's oddly satisfying to bring out tool after tool. Satisfying, but sometimes inefficient. Simplicity - elegant simplicity is often best.

Use the tools that work, and leave the rest for another time.

It isn't always necessary to overwhelm a problem in order to solve it.

Sometimes the solution is right there in from of you and in need of only one tool. Dialogue. Talk about it and see what happens. You might just solve that problem faster than you expected.

-- doug smith

Do You Understand?

It's not always easy. We don't always succeed. There is so much distance between some of us that the easier path is to isolate, seclude, allude, and dig in. Hiding from the truth does not keep it at bay. Pretending that ignorance is fine is...not.

I have often failed to understand someone -- sometimes for lack of trying enough and sometimes because they were not telling me the truth when I thought that they were. But making the effort -- that's where I rest today. It's not enough to hope I've got it right. I must work at it, dig deeper, ask better questions, and stop judging. All tough, but helpful. All the tools of love.

Understanding someone is an act of love.

Do you understand?

-- doug smith

High Performance Survival

High performance leaders solve problems. They solve their problems and they work with their team members to solve collective team problems (because any team problem becomes a collective problem - impossible to isolate.)

Using the right balance of clarity, courage, creativity, and compassion high performance leaders facilitate the kind of dialogue that challenges, encourages, cooperates, and collaborates. They talk about it. Their team talks about it. They get it done.

It can be rough going solving problems. Personalities can get excited. High performance leaders find ways to remain centered. How? Of course it depends. Here are some ways to remain centered when you're solving problems:

BreathePauseMaintain respectThink creativelyConsider many, many possibilitiesSuspend your inner judge and stay curiousTrust that others have ideas as great as yours There's more to it of course. Solving problems is a dynamic, difficult adventure. But by taking the time to solve problems your team…

Develop Discipline

Leading on the front lines can wear you down. The day-to-day routine with its reports and meetings can wear you down. That rut can take over just when you need to grow some wings and fly.

High performance leaders works thru those ruts. They find time to grow, to learn, to develop their skills even as the demands of the every day wear them down. It takes resolve. It takes experience. It takes discipline.

Successful supervisors value and develop discipline. In themselves, in their team members, and in their organization.

-- doug smith