Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2018

Tell the Truth

Lies. Half-truths. Broken promises. Deceit. Distorting the truth. Hiding the truth. Secrets.

We all lie, but we don't all have to lie. We can choose the truth. We can be polite, respectful, kind, and still tell the truth.

Every lie breaks a promise.

Tell the truth.

-- doug smith

Improving Performance: Take a Step

When you get stuck, take a step. Find the forward motion. Act on a goal, a task, a plan. Move.

Take a step, any step. Find the dance inside the chaos and each new step gets easier to find.

Find it.

-- doug smith

Is That Goal Worth It?

How important are your goals?

I've learned that as important as goals are, and for high performance leaders they are essential to success, it is also possible that a goal can outlive its usefulness. A goal can even become an impediment.

It may sound silly, but I still remember the day I realized that I don't have to finish reading every book that I start. Before that I would slog thru it no matter what -- long past any resemblance to enjoyment seemed possible. Why? Because I was taught to finish what I started.

I do still like to finish what I start. I do still find merit in keeping one's commitments. And, I've also learned that like a book that no longer makes sense to read, some goals no longer make sense to achieve. As important as they might have been, they now stand between you and something better.

Stay relentless on your plan as long as you can. Achieve every goal that you set that is worth achieving. But, don't let a goal arbitrarily run your life.


When It's Not A Problem

We call lots of things problems that really are not problems at all. If we know the solution and can immediately solve the situation, it's not exactly a problem, is it? If money can fix it and we have enough money for the situation, then it's not a problem (I know, the lack of money can certainly be a problem).

If we haven't prioritized the situation and it requires our attention, it's not so much a problem as a choice.

Yes, we have lots of problems. Let's just be careful about avoiding a situation by labeling it a problem.

It's not a problem just because it doesn't fit into your agenda.

-- doug smith

Everyone On Your Team Has Challenges

It's easy to forget that our team members are people with problems. They have issues. They have lives. They have families with situations we don't even know about. And, yes, they are also our team members.

High performance leaders remember that there are no perfect people and that we all carry a bit more baggage than we'd like. We're all wired too tight in some spots and a bit unravelled in others. A great leader knows when to hold someone carefully accountable and when to ease up enough to allow for some room to ease the tension, to relax into the task.

Everyone on your team is dealing with challenges that have nothing to do with you or your team.

How you help help them handle those challenges will largely define what kind of leader you are.

-- doug smith

Your Team Is Changing

When was the last time your team changed?

If you answered "today" or "about a minute ago" you are thinking the way that I'm thinking: your team is constantly changing.

Every time you add someone to your team, it changes. Every time you say goodbye to someone from your team, it changes. Your team changes when you change a process, when you change a procedure, when you change a rule, when you change the schedule...on and on your team is a relentless mixture of change.

The good news is that team leaders can influence that change. You have the opportunity to change in ways that makes your team better, faster, smarter. Your change is open to better change.

Changing one person on a team could change the whole team. High performance leaders build constantly, change intentionally, grow patiently.

They change on purpose, and so does their team.

-- doug smith

What's Your Next Area of Growth?

Leadership requires growth. You need it from your people, you need it from your organization, and you need if from yourself.

Successful leaders constantly look ahead to the next area of growth.

-- doug smith

Set Your Team Up For Success

High performance leaders provide the kind of environment where people can prosper.  How do you set up your team for success? By interviewing and recruiting so carefully that you bring in qualified and motivated people. By providing the training that everyone needs. By supporting projects that stretch your team while also delighting your customers. And maybe most importantly, by spending time with your team. Time to talk, time to socialize, time to break bread, time to bond.

Your team's performance depends on how well you've set them up for success.

Set your team up completely.

-- doug smith

Lessons Learned

John Maxwell has said that the only failure is the failure to miss the lesson. So many times we when it feels like we failed, what we have gained is the opportunity to learn. Go with the learning and the lesson may be well worth the momentary loss.

High performance leaders several low performance into lessons learned. It then leads to better performance. Feedback, plus insights, leads to learning. Learning leads to success.

Find the lesson. Accept the feedback. Grow.

-- doug smith

Feedback Is More Than Criticism

High performance leadership is a hands-on enterprise. Communication is essential. It is always worth remembering that communication is more than words. Communication is conveyed on three essential channels: the words, the tone, and the body language. Providing feedback means more than telling someone how they did. It could also include showing them how to do it better.

When I was a young baseball player, when I struggled at the plate my coach would not just tell me how to do it better, he would show me. "Here's a better place to grip the's a better way to step into the ball...if you stand like this you'll see the pitch more clearly..." feedback and instructions.

When I was taking music lessons on my old Lowry Organ my teacher would not just tell me how I sounded -- when it helped she would also show me better ways to hold my hands. When it was useful she would also move my hands to an inversion that made the chord sound more rich and full. She was a tea…

The Work of High Performance

Performance excellence takes effort.

Performance comes from practice, patience, and persistence.

Put in the time. Put in the effort. Enjoy the performance.

-- doug smith

Listen to the Quiet Ones

If your team has more than four people, you may have noticed that some talk more than others. You may have even noticed that about half your team, no matter how big it is, talks less than the other half. Some of us are talkative and outgoing, and about half of us are quiet and reflective. It has nothing to do with intelligence, problem solving, or leading -- some folks are just more quiet.

A mistake many leaders make is giving up the floor to the talkative ones and once they are done talking (which to the rest of the group can seem like forever) assuming that the floor can now be closed. Decisions can be made. Solutions have all been identified. Strategy is certain. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Until you as a leader have also considered the thoughts of the quiet ones you have effectively reduced your possibilities in half. The job of a high performance leader is to increase, not decrease, possibilities.

How do you get the quiet ones to talk? Ask! Allow time to reflect. Allow time to write th…

Get Your Words In Edgewise

Do you know many people who dominate a conversation? It seems like no matter what the topic is, some people have the most to say. And, they insist on saying it. My grandmother used to describe that kind of situation by saying, "I couldn't get a word in edgewise."

Communication is not a broadcast. For true communication to exist, the people involved need to reach some sense of shared meaning. They do not need to agree for this happen, but they do need to understand each other. Sometimes that takes many words, sometimes it takes just a few. Listen, understand, and then speak up to make your own meaning clear and understood. It could take an extra measure of assertiveness with some people. It is worth it.

Just because someone wants to dominate a conversation does not mean that you must allow it. Share responsibility for success.

-- doug smith

The Fastest Way to Improve Your Conference Calls

Do you enjoy conference calls? Despite good intentions, conference calls often end up being train wrecks of epic proportions. People check out. People leave, multitask, or argue. Sometimes one voice will be easy to hear but others are inaudible.

Compounding this is a very common practice. Maybe you fall into this practice. I've seen it over and over and even been a participant myself. The flawed practice is mixing the group, with part of the call all together in one conference room and the rest of the group off site on separate phones. A variation of this, and even tougher to manage, is a chain of conference rooms with groups of people sharing one phone at each location.

What's wrong with this arrangement?

People are then communicating on different levels, in different channels, and on different status plane. In any room you have the issues of status to deal with. When you put some people together in one room, that is one status dynamic to manage. When you mix that with multi…

Get Right With Yourself

How often do you cheat yourself? How often do you say you're not good enough or fast enough or young enough? How often do you defer to someone else's judgment when you know, just KNOW, that they are wrong?

There are times to defer. Humility is a strength. It's also important to take care of yourself and to look out for your own interests. People can only respect you as much as you respect yourself.

Never cheat yourself and you're far less likely to ever cheat anyone else.

-- doug smith


I'm not a good dancer. I used to think that I was, but then I figured out that it was my partner who was such a good dancer that she could also make me feel like a good dancer. It was wonderful. And, when I realized later, when she'd moved on to a new partner, that I was NOT such a good dancer, at first I wanted to stop dancing. It was so disappointing. It was all just an illusion.

And then, I realized. It didn't matter. There are degrees of dancing. Somewhere there are people who dance even better than my former partner. Somewhere there are people who can hardly dance at all. No matter where we start, in dancing or in leading, we can always level up. Start where we are and get better. And, realize that the dance is not about us at all anyway. The dance is, and always has been, about your partners.

Your creative muse likes to dance. It will open up new roads to you. It will light you up and allow blood to flow to the places that make you tingle. Listen to that muse and wa…

Start With Possibilities

How many choices do you have?

We have more possibilities than we know, more than we consider, and far more than we use. Limiting ourselves to two or three choices when we are solving a problem or setting a goal limits our chances of success and (more importantly) joy.

Go for joy. Go for success.

Start with endless, limitless possibilities. Anything less is cheating yourself.

-- doug smith

Ask With Curiosity

In every workshop I facilitate - every one - I share this important piece of wisdom from one of my mentors, Andrew Oxley:

"if you don't like the answer to a question, ask a better question."

That's profound. That's powerful. That's endlessly useful.

Often, people will struggle with that. Sometimes they ask, "How do you ask better questions? What if you can't think of one?"

Here's the answer.

Ask with curiosity and you'll think of better questions.

Stay curious, my friend.

-- doug smith

Solve the Little Problems

Those big problems are tough. Like giant stone walls they overshadow everything around them. How will we ever solve them?

Those walls are made of smaller bricks. What if we tackle one brick at a time, one smaller problem at a time?

High performance leaders find ways to break down the big walls into digestible pieces.

What if our biggest unsolvable problem is really one hundred perfectly solvable little problems?

-- doug smith

Are Interruptions a Hassle Or An Opportunity?

Teams need time to talk. Interruptions into your busy schedule might be annoying. They might even be disruption. What if within those interruptions you could find new keys to better performance? What if in those interruptions were the secrets to solving the problems of your team?

You never know. When a leader gives a team member their complete and full attention, wonderful things happen. Growth, change, bonding, efficiency.

Yes, even efficiency. That interruption that feels like a hassle might end up making your team more efficient and complete, like a fabulous jazz band that improvises without missing, or a sports team that never drops the ball. Cohesive, collaborative teams come from communicating. Why not talk more?

Unless we take time to talk we may not have time for anything else.

Take time to talk.

-- doug smith

When Cultures Clash

Solving a problem is challenge enough. Adding personal and cultural differences to the mix confuses conflict into the situation. Centered problem solvers sort out the interpersonal difficulties and focus on the process behind the problem. Most of the time, when we solve the process problem, the people problems are much less significant. And still we must solve the people problems as well.

Here are some antidotes to the poison of culture clash: respect, clarity, understanding, taking the time to find and create shared meaning. Trust. And, let's not forget the most powerful help: love.

Culture clashes create problems within problems. Understand rather than undermine. Reveal rather than conceal. Heal rather than steal.

You can not only solve the problem -- you could also build better relationships.

-- doug smith

Are You Listening?

I'm not big on screamers. Too noisy. Unnecessary. Let's just talk about it. But, let's think for a moment about what is behind a screamer's screams. What's missing that seems to make screaming necessary? What is going on that has eliminated other more rational choices and made screaming feel like a sensible plan?

Screaming is not a sensible plan. Screaming is not a great strategy. What if it's all someone has?

What if we can stop screaming by listening while the volume is low? What if we did a better job about being clear in our expectations?

Maybe a screamer just wants to be heard.

-- doug smith

Remember, They're People

All difficult people have one thing in common: they're still people.

-- doug smith

Leadership Affirmations: You can do that!

Today you can achieve something you have never done before.

Success is your unofficial middle name. Embrace your inner power.

There are things that you can do that no one else can do. You can do that now.

--  doug smith

Is It Really the Person?

Do you know any difficult people?

I ask that question a lot, everywhere I go, and people usually say yes. Not only do they say yes, but they have someone in mind.

Let me challenge that a bit. Why do you think that person is difficult? Do you think that they are choosing to be difficult?

No doubt, some people ARE difficult to deal with. Some people DO try their best to aggravate, provoke, and poke us in our tender spots. But, for the most part the people we think are difficult are doing the best they know how to do. Sure, they should do better, but they are doing the best they know how to do.

We can help them to do better. It starts with doing better ourselves. When I look at someone at think of them as being difficult, you can be certain that when they look at me they think the same thing. Difficult is contagious. Difficult is reciprocal. Difficult IS fixable.

I don't pretend to ever be able to fix anyone. I can't even fix myself completely. I've learned that when I am at…

Expanding Possibilities

The best goals spark curiosity, which inspires creativity, expanding possibilities.

-- doug smith

Take Care of The People, Too

High performance leaders solve problems. They know that there are no perfect processes and there sure ARE a lot of imperfect problems. Focused on results, we solve problems.

When we do, I've learned to keep this in mind. Whatever your solution, it will affect people. Some will like the change, and many will not. Whether or not the solution works could very well depend on how well people receive it, implement it, and support it.

To win the support of people, keep them in mind. Make sure that your solution is good for the process AND good for the people. Avoid trimming the fun out of a project at the expense of the people, just to save a dime. Avoid cutting organizations so such a lean point that people suffer from the burden. Take care of people. At the end of the day, whether you are fixing a process, developing a product, or even changing the world...isn't it all about the people?

Take care of the people as well as the problem. None of it matters without people.

-- doug smit…

Leadership Affirmations: Like a Butterfly

You are constantly changing -- getting better, faster, and smarter.
Grow each day and float powerfully, like a butterfly, to your new destination.
You have got this!

-- doug smith

Roll With It And Roll It Your Way

Have you recently made a plan that didn't work? I do it sometimes. In those head-scratching moments it's easy to sulk. I have sometimes been a championship sulker. But never did any of those championships produce a trophy. All sulking ever got me was hardship and heartbreak. Enough of that!

When plans fail, we get to make another plan. Or, we get to adjust the plan that's leaking. We get to brush ourselves off and move forward.

If your plan fails, make another plan. Crap happens and leaders respond.

What's your response?

-- doug smith

Leadership Affirmations for Today

When you face today's challenges, no matter how early or late in the day, please remember:

You are just about as good a leader as you want to beYour team will respect you when you lead from your heartYou have what it takes to balance results and relationships - all day long Now go out there and create your best day yet!
-- doug smith

The New Problem

Solving a problem gives you confidence, and that's useful. The challenge is that the next problem is brand new. The previous solution likely won't work. The previous process toward reaching that solution might not even work. The new problem is new.

Stay creative. Stay centered. Focus on what you want and find ways to bring that about.

We may not be able to solve our next problem with the solution that worked for the previous problem.

-- doug smith

Happy Goals

Life's too short to spend all of our time working on goals we don't like. Maybe you have a boss who assigns you goals you don't like. Have you tried changing your relationship with your boss? Have you tried finding more exciting goals?

Find goals that are exciting enough, noble enough, and useful enough and you'll find other people who are excited about them, too. Stick with goals that are stuck to you, and you stay stuck. It, like so much else, is a choice.

What's your happy-face goal? Maybe it's your happy-face goal because it's so preposterous. Maybe because no one else would dream of it. Maybe because it will turn your life around in ways that make you giddy. Go for it.

Always have at least one goal that makes you smile when you think of it.

Giggling occasionally is healthy!

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Consider your current goals. If none of them make you smile, it's time to create one that does!

Offer Hope

Teams get worried. Rumors fly. Competitors take market share. Fear can develop and impact performance in negative ways. It can become a self-reinforcing cycle of lowered expectations, lowered performance, and lowered results.

High performance leaders find the fear points and instead of letting that rest, work collaboratively to overcome the challenge. Retake market share. Raise expectations. Improve performance. Innovate.

Find the fear and offer hope, rather than feeding the fear.

-- doug smith

Stay With Your Team Members

If you abandon any part of your team, your whole team will feel expendable.

That's NOT what you want.

The lesson? Be careful about how you say goodbye to your team members. Be careful about who you ignore. And, be careful about taking anyone on your team for granted.

-- doug smith

The Trouble With Taking A Problem Personally

Taking a problem personally just makes it harder to solve.

You've got the problem, AND you've got the upset.

Shake free of the upset when you can (hint: always) and stop taking it personally. The solution is waiting for you to discover/invent/explore it -- do that instead of making stuff up in your head about how it's all

Taking a problem personally just makes it harder to solve.

-- doug smith

Is Judgment What You Need?

We are all good at judging. We ascribe motives to other people all the time. We judge their driving, their performance, their communication...judging is natural. But how useful is it?

Do you like to be judged? Do you want other people judging your motives, your desire, your intention? Probably not -- and neither do other people want that from you.

We do have other choices. My favorite is to stay curious. Whenever I catch myself about to judge (maybe 99 times a day!) I've learned to pause, breathe, and stay curious. What's really going on? How much of whatever I'm about to judge has anything to do with me? And if it is all about me, how much have I contributed to what I am about to judge? If I've contributed a lot, then maybe judgment isn't what I'm looking for because that means judging myself as well. And, if I haven't contributed a lot, maybe it is time that I did...BEFORE I feel empowered to judge.

Before you judge, see what other choices you have. I gu…

Calls to Action

Values evolve over time. If values are ever true, they refine without denying what once was. They grow. They distill. They find ways to self-generate the results they aspire to.

Here are some values I've refined into calls to action. I don't just agree with them, I expect to do them. To show them. To act on them. Sometimes it goes well, and often I fall short. The journey is a long one, so keep going.

Here are my current calls to action:
Be your bestStay curiousSay yes! Communicate, Connect, Interact!Challenge yourselfReach out with compassionExpand your possibilitiesAppreciatePlay nice, work hard, stay smartLearn constantly What are your values? What are your calls to action?

-- doug smith

No Need to Shout

Have you ever had a boss who shouted? Did you like that? Did it make you work better?

Fortunately, most of my bosses have been exemplary leaders, with no need to shout. I have had a couple who would raise their voice and each time that they did it seemed to do more harm than good. People may respond to agitation with urgency, but at a tremendous cost. Over the long haul, shouting at people wears them out.

High performance leaders establish expectations far ahead of any crisis. They conduct conversations on goals, on performance, on the mission, on customer experience, on the plan. Gentle reminders are necessary, of course. Direct feedback on behavior is a given. But shouting?

The better leaders need not raise their voices.

-- doug smith

Catch The Shortcuts

Change can be slow. We plod along. Or, increasingly so, things can change abruptly fast, spinning our heads, altering our internal landscape.

Problems give us a window to a better way. Left unaddressed, most problems will just get worse. But, give attention, focus, and a new direction, problems can send us toward a better way of doing things. Maybe we don't need better gas milage -- maybe we need new ways to fuel our transportation. Maybe we don't need tighter immigration laws --  maybe we need to solve the problems that send people away from their homeland. Maybes abound, and certainties are hard to find. Still, every problem is whispering in our ears, "solve me and see how good it can be."

Problems are shortcuts to a better future.

Take those shortcuts.

-- doug smith

Practice Courage

It's not courage until it's tested. Before the big test it's all intentions. We go thru life with great intentions. When those noble intentions are tested, it takes energy to stay true to our values. It takes courage.

Have you defined and clarified your convictions? Is what you believe so firmly rooted that it can stand against any storm?

Mean well. Stay strong. Define what matters. Stay true.

All of this is easier said than done. The doing takes courage, and courage requires convictions.

To quote a line from a great movie, "The Untouchables" delivered by Sean Connery, "what are you prepared to give?"

-- doug smith

Take Care of Your Team

The job of a leader is to take care of, not advantage of, team members.

-- doug smith

Speed or Distance?

I ran on the track and field team in high school. We had runners who were fast and skilled at short distances. We had runners better equipped for mid to long distance. I usually ran the half-mile, which is a mid-distance race.  In those days it was unusual for anyone to run both short and long races. You trained for one or the other, because the stamina was different and the mental approach was different.

Leaders make a similar choice with their work teams. Are you going to push for short term results, whatever the cost? Or, are you going to build for the long view and develop your people even as they make some mistakes along the way?

I'm a strong advocate of the long view, of building for going the distance. In the mean time, leaders still must deliver short term results.

Like modern track athletes, leaders now must ask: are you running for speed or distance? -- knowing full well that it's not a choice. You must deliver both.

That's the tough news. The good news? When yo…

We're All Gifted

Do you want your team to be the best that it can be?

First, you may not achieve that for quite a while because teams keep growing and changing. Second, when you do that it will be because you've been able to utilize the gifts everyone on your team has to give. Everyone on your team is gifted -- even that person who drives you to distraction. When you help each team member to discover their gifts, you've built capacity and potential on your team. Where you take it is up to you and your team -- and when you've found it, you can build on it.

You're skills are not in question (although, like everyone else, can be developed more.) Your intention is your intention. What your team becomes, though, is largely due to what you can do to build them up even as you develop yourself.

Make the most of who you are without making less of anyone else.

-- doug smith