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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Be Choosy About Choosing

For a long time, I thought one of the great benefits of being the leader was freedom of choice - I get to decide. With a little more life context, I don’t think that anymore. The best thing about leadership, if I do it right, is I get greater freedom from choice. 

There’s some great science out there that shows we can effectively make a limited number of good choices in a day. That’s why, at the end of a busy day, it can be hard to decide what to have for dinner. 

The key, then, as a leader, is to make sure you spend your juice on the choices that really matter, in terms of vision and goals. 

How? You have to create the context, and give permission, for your team to decide other things. Let them figure out schedules, decide how to serve a customer or client, resolve conflicts over radio stations and thermostat settings. That lets you focus on choices that move your team from here to their brighter future. 

There are two key parts of enabling. First, you have to coach your intent, the way you look at life and the organization and your goals. That enables them to know, at a minimum, which choices you probably wouldn’t make. Second, you have to clearly set their boundaries, so they know when they need to get you involved. Then, let them run.

If you can get there, you’ll find that making fewer decisions means you make better ones.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Choosing Like Your Team Would

You may struggle with the same thing I do. I’m often confident I know the right thing to do, and see leadership as convincing others I’m right. 

A couple of years ago at a seminar I heard Dr. Sheena Iyengar, of Columbia Business School, say this: “Effective leaders see choice through others’ eyes.” That quote guilted me into a lot of self-reflection. It has helped me take the time for some key questions.

What will this sound like to the team? Often what it will sound like is, “Great, someone else screwed up and we have to pay the price.” Or “No one cares how much work their great ideas cost us.” I need to make sure what they hear is “We’re needed for this, and valued because we can do it. We can really make a difference here.”

How does this reflect what the team values? Leadership is always more effective if it taps into mutually-agreed-upon goals. 

Does what I’m asking honor the team? I should never put the hard thing on them just to help out a peer or look good to a higher-up. Instead, I need to make sure the direction I want to go makes the team better in some way too.

It’s hard, but always take a minute before you speak to turn things around and imagine you’re standing there with your teammates hearing your boss say this to you. How would it make you feel? It’s an essential step to making sure what you do is actually leading.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Not Preparing to Succeed is Preparing to Fail

I once heard Urban Meyer, a fantastically successful football coach, say something that has stuck with me. He said, “I have yet to be in a game where the most prepared team didn’t win.”

That statement challenges me, because I readily fall into the trap that most leaders do: I work my team, I don’t prepare it. I think that the best use of today’s time is to do today’s work. I don’t like to pull them away from productive tasks to train them.

When we prepare our teams, we usually do it for disasters or audits. We practice fire drills and emergency response actions, we brush up paperwork. How much resource do we allocate to getting our co-workers ready to exploit success, to innovate instead of react to change?

Preparation requires anticipation. What will my team need to do in the future? What skills will keep us effective as customer needs change? How can I get them ready for hard times?

Here’s my challenge: Find out what your organization’s near-term and long-term goals are. Then evaluate what capabilities your team will need to meet those goals, and to do business once they’re met. A simple gap analysis will show you where you need to start preparing them now.

Then boil it down to concrete skills. For example, if the goal is to support twice the sales volume through your warehouse, team members will need velocity and flow management techniques.

If Urban Meyer is right, not preparing to succeed is just preparing to fail.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Use Your Calendar For Success

In my last post I included the John Maxwell quote, “Success lies in your daily schedule,” and I promised to share how I use my calendar. So here’s what my weekly planning, which I do on Friday afternoons, looks like.

First, I have critical self-management activities permanently blocked on my schedule. These include times for planning, review, reading, and my faith. 

To start planning next week, I review the calendar to make sure all events are on it. I include my personal and family schedules. I also scan over the next month, to make sure this week prepares me and my team for what’s coming.

Next, I review and tweak the priorities of my work. Two of my top priorities are always coaching and what I call evangelizing, which is repeatedly reinforcing my vision for the future. I schedule time for my top priorities during the first three days of the coming week, including walk-arounds and time I want to spend with line employees on the plant floor. I leave Thursdays and Fridays as open as I can, because Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday won’t actually go as I planned, so I’ll need time to catch up.

Last, I review the calendar to be sure it’s appropriately balanced. To make this step easy, I use color coding to ensure that all of my team and my family have the right amount of time on my schedule. 

At the end of each day, I spend ten minutes reviewing what actually happened against what I’d planned, and I make necessary adjustments to the next day.

Here’s why it works for me: I don’t have to think about what to do or how to fill time. Every hour is blocked for something. If I just follow my calendar, I’ll do all the right things for success. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Those Ordinary Days

There are a lot of great leadership lessons to be drawn from the military, and from athletics. Here’s one that’s true in both of those arenas that I have to remind myself of daily: I become a leader when nothing’s going on; I prove I’m a leader when the crisis hits.

The ordinary days are when we develop our habits and train our skills. In his seminars and books John Maxwell often says, “The secret of success is in your daily schedule.” By that he means that what you habitually do, every day, determines what you become as a leader.

Here’s how your calendar can help you: it can reinforce daily habits. It can provide the framework to develop discipline. It can ensure you don’t forget things. And it can prompt you to take time for your own development. So if you don’t already use one, you should start. I’ll write later about how I use mine.

Here’s the bottom line: train as you’ll fight; train the way you’ll actually play the game. Use those ordinary days to develop and reinforce the habits of coaching, communication, planning and vision-setting that you’ll need on the bad days.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

You Are What You Do

You can’t be something different than what you do. You can say you love the environment but if you don’t recycle and monitor your carbon footprint you’re still an exploiter. You can say you’re healthy but if you smoke and eat too much, you’re not.

And you can say you’re a leader, you can want to be a leader, but what are you really doing? How do you choose to spend your day?

If you don’t spend time with your team, you’re not leading. If you don’t show them a vision of a better way, you’re not leading. If you don’t coach and model, you’re not leading. Bottom line, if they aren’t becoming something different and better because you’re there, you probably just supervising or administrating.

John Maxwell says, “The choice you make, makes you.” If you want to be a leader, or you have that responsibility, then choose leadership actions. Choose people over paper. View people as the priority, not the interruption. Be out among your team, not in your office.

A lot of people who claim to be leaders aren’t, because they don’t. The only way to be one is to get out there and lead.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Your Culture Isn't What You Say It Is

Our Safety Administrator at the plant just reminded me of a critical leadership truth. In challenging me on our safety record, he said, “You can’t say you have a safety culture if you’re not doing things safely.”

There’s a lot of chatter about culture, but what it comes down to is what are people doing? You can say you have a customer-first culture, or a family-oriented culture, but if people ignore a phone call because it’s break time or are afraid to ask for time off for Grandparents Day at school, you don’t.

Culture is defined by both saying and doing. It’s important as a leader to clearly state what the desired culture is. But then you have to coach it, you have to model it, you have to hold people accountable for it. You can’t ever allow a breach of culture to go unchallenged.

That’s the hard thing about culture: molding culture requires you to spend a lot of time with your people. But that’s what you should be doing anyway, if you’re really leading them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Speaking Social

Young leaders have an advantage over me. They are fluent in social.

What I mean by that is they can communicate as easily on Twitter, Snapchat, or whatever the new thing is that I haven’t even heard of yet. That’s an advantage, because every year a larger slice of the workforce communicates that way. Already nearly a third of our team members are Millenials or Gen Z. They may not use social media for everything, but they use it for enough things that you’re going to miss something if you don’t.

More critical, though, is the mindset behind it. They use social media because they want to always stay in touch. They fear missing something, and four hours is too long to go without an update.

Being fluent in social doesn’t just mean understanding social media. It means feeding that desire to always be connected. You have to start being just as chatty about your expectations and their workload as they are on Hangouts.

You can choose not to, but you’re going to lose the people who are your future.