No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Is Feeling Better Than Knowing?

“Go with your gut.” I heard that unlikely advice many times in my military career, where you would expect information gathering and careful analysis to drive decision-making. But experienced Army officers know well that at the end of the day, the data only takes you so far.

The reason for that is people. Every plan has to be executed by people. Every goal will be accomplished by people. Leadership is the art of moving people from where they are to a better place.

To do that, you have to leave the world of facts and rely a lot on your feels. Lead by intuition.

And now you’re thinking, “Hey, Greg, your last blog was all about the data.” My point there was you have to know the truth, you can’t let emotions blind you. My point here is that, within the context of the truth, you lead with emotions, not data.

People’s emotions kick in way faster than they understand, and people seek comfort first of all. As Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, put it, “People value feeling over knowing.” And you do too. You’re more likely to follow based on feelings like trust and loyalty than because what you’re doing has a 77% likelihood of helping 50% of your customers.

Once you have all the facts, you still have a choice about what to do. Go with your gut. Look at your people, think about your history together, and do what feels right for your team.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Uniquely Useful

You’ll never be a Colin Powell or Steve Jobs or Jack Welch. But there’s something you can excel at as a leader that none of them can.

What is it? I have no idea. You do, though. You know the thing that makes you uniquely you. It’s up to you to turn that into a leadership advantage.

Uniqueness usually comes from a combination of traits. I’m a weird mix of operator (usually data-drive, efficiency-focused, get-er-done people) and communicator (usually anecdotal and chatty). The leadership advantage I’ve been able to mold from that is a lot of clarity in my organization: I have very clear and concrete goals that I talk about all the time to everyone.

Marcus Buckingham, who helped develop StrengthsFinder, said, “There is no perfect leadership profile. Leadership is idiosyncratic. Techniques are not easily transferred.” In other words, while you can learn a lot by studying other leaders, chances are you can’t do what they do.

The what of leadership never changes: set the vision, communicate and motivate, and nurture your people. The how of leadership is almost infinitely variable. Not only are you free to do your own thing, doing your own thing will make you the best leader you can be.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Just the Facts, Ma'am

I like being with engineers and chemists, because they focus on the data. Sometimes I get really frustrated by engineers and chemists, because all they focus on is the data.

These days everyone is making a big deal out of emotional intelligence, which is your ability to understand people’s feelings. What gets lost in this focus on perception and emotion, though, is the truth.

As a leader, one of your key responsibilities is to find the truth. Despite what you’re told, truth isn’t relative. In any problem, there are a set of facts: times, dates, amounts, test results, process parameters, labor hours, dollars, contracts. If you don’t first of all find out what those are, and know what really happened or is happening, all the touchy-feely in the world isn’t going to help.

My recommendation is that the first thing you do is dig out the facts. Build a timeline. If you can graph it, do that. Anything to make the facts easy to see and understand. The facts will tell you what you’re really dealing with. And, in addition to getting you closer to the truth, focusing on data will chill out the emotions.

Then, when the time is right, you can use what actually happened to guide a conversation about how everyone feels.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How Do You Know What They're Thinking?

There’s a big challenge every leader faces: how do you know what people are thinking?

The problem is, some of your team have ideas you need to hear. Others have objections you don’t know about. You think you have it all because you have meetings. You discuss things. You solicit input.

In any group, there are vocal people and silent people. There are introverts and extroverts. There are articulate people and people with simple vocabularies. And the chances are, what you think you know about your team’s opinions came from the vocal, articulate extroverts.

I once hear then-CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien say, “True leadership starts in the conversation. You have to get the truth on the table. You have to give a voice to everyone.”

That’s your job. At some point, quiet the vocal people and ask the silent ones. Calm the extroverts and draw out the introverts. Give the folks who aren’t fluent time and space to form their thoughts.

Until everyone speaks, you don’t know everything you need to know.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Do It the Way You Want to Tell It

Here’s an amazing piece of advice Andy Stanley, founder of North Point Ministries, gave in a seminar: never make a choice that will make you a liar for life.

See, we make two kinds of choices. We do things we’re proud of, and we do things we don’t want people to know about. When we make the second kind of choice, we want to lie about it. Stanley says here’s the key question when you’re tempted to do the wrong thing: “What story do I want to tell?” Do it the way you want to tell it.

The leader’s version is, “How will I explain this to my team?” If the explanation you come up with is anything less than completely honest, then your choice may not be the best thing for them. Do it the way you’d want to explain it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Uncertainty is Why Leaders Exist

There’s a feeling I vividly associate with my memories of night patrols: total disorientation. Moving in total blackness and as silently as we could, my senses did me little good in providing me with context. Often the only thing I could see was the two little strips of luminous tape on the back of the helmet in front of me. I would lose track of time and direction, and start to think we must be lost.

It’s human nature to want to be able to see what’s ahead of you and have a map and compass for what’s out beyond the range of your eyes. We like traveling familiar routes. We hate the uncertainty of having no idea what we’re doing.

Here’s the deal, though: uncertainty is the only reason leaders are needed. Your team doesn’t need you if they already know where to go

Uncertain times are when you prove your worth. In fact, the more chaotic, the more you’re needed. There are learnable skills that will make you the master of chaos, but first you have to stop fearing it.

So instead of avoiding uncertainty, seek it out. You know it’s out there – key people leave, budgets dry up, customers go bankrupt, laws change. Your job is to know where uncertainty has reared its ugly head, and keep it from making your team anxious.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Lesson of the Ugly Chair

I spent some quality time over the holidays in an overstuffed chair, sometimes with a book and sometimes watching TV or playing a computer game. That chair has been around a long time; I think I bought it when my kids were just tykes; now both are married and I have grandchildren. it fits my behind pretty well, but it has seen its better days.

That chair reminds me of something Andy Stanley, founder of North Point Ministries, said in a LeaderCast presentation a few years ago. Mr. Stanley suggested we try to look at our organizations as our replacement would. Try to imagine, he said, what the guy or gal who comes after you will get rid of, just like a new tenant in your apartment would junk that old ugly easy chair.

There’s a lot of truth there. We all have things we hang onto far beyond their usefulness. Sometimes we just don’t notice them anymore; often we’ve lived with them so long we don’t see how bad they’ve really gotten. Maybe it’s something we started, so it’s precious to us.

So look at your area the way your replacement would. What would he stop doing? What would she change or refurbish? What processes or practices or reports or meetings would be the hardest to explain or justify?

It’s something you ought to do every year, and the New Year is a natural time for evaluation. It will help you answer the question, “What will I do different this year to get a better result?”

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Teams of Equals

There’s some new research that has some interesting implications for leaders and teams. Researchers found that mixing up students by capability when assigning group projects doesn’t work well for any of them.

The smart kids resent it because they think they’ll carry most of the load. The slowest kids expect to be carried, and odds are good at least one of the average kids will decide to skate. As a teaching technique, those teams taught a lot of the bad stuff we see on teams.

Now the smart folks are suggesting a better way: teams of equals. If you put together a team of high achievers, they’ll spark each other; this is where your innovative leaps will come from. A team of average workers will get a lot done, because there won’t be a “smart kid” to lean on. And a team of less experienced people may not get as much work done, but they’ll learn faster because they’ll all be engaged in noodling through it together.

It’s natural to want to put your sharp people with the new guys when assigning group work, but next time try teams of equals. They won’t all perform the same, but I’ll bet overall your team does better, and they’ll enjoy their work more too.