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Monday, 08 January 2018 16:55

Becoming a Two-fer Leader

Becoming a Two-fer Leader

As managers we are responsible for seeing to it that the right things go well. That involves keeping extraneous things off our team’s plate, putting more W’s than L’s on the scoreboard, and finding ways to identify and correct (or prevent outright) the things that contribute to team losses.

Looking back over my career, and at the habits of some of the leaders I’ve coached, there have been unmistakeable periods when we’ve allowed ourselves to get too mired in the mud, concentrating on errors of the past, present, and future.

It’s easy to understand how we get in that mode. Mistakes and losses sting, sometimes a lot. A couple of really big ones, or a long losing streak can take us out of the game, or at least bring beatings from on high. Yet, when we get stuck in “Loss-Prevention Mode”, we’re often doing so at the expense of clear and present opportunities to get some things right. As importantly, when we get stuck for too long in firefighting mode, it has a negative impact not just on our own outlook, but the people around us as well. They don’t want to be in the same zip code (never mind the same boat)  with us.

Here are four suggestions for maintaining an appropriate sense of balance:

  1. Always be looking for opportunities to create a win, even little ones.
  2. Don’t become a negative person, and don’t let negative people (or thoughts) take up rent-free residence in your head. As Australian businessman Robert Tew, put it, “Raise the rent...Kick them out.”
  3. Make it a point to always have some truth-tellers on your team, people who care enough about you and the team’s mission to come in, close the door, and level with you… to tell you, for example, that you are in need of some attitude adjustment.
  4. Become a two-fer leader by trying, as a general rule, to always be feeding at least two opportunities or identifying things done well for every problem you’re working to smother.

If you've got more to add on this subject, or care to take the discussion further, we would be glad to hear from you.

Make This Your First Business Conversation in 2018

 

Lots of people are now deep in the process of resolving to do a few things differently over the coming New Year. Many are resolving to join the growing crowd of Americans who are quitting their jobs (about 100,000 daily) and taking their talents elsewhere. A few of them perhaps work for you. The question is, which ones? Rather than waiting to find out, my suggestion is that you take a proactive measure to let some of your very best people know that you truly appreciate them. Try this:

 

Make a list of the three best people on your team. Do it today. Then, adjacent to each person’s name, write the answer to the question, “Why does this person stay… with me, with our organization?” If you’re like most leaders, coming up with the three names is the easy part. Figuring out what keeps each person where they are is a bit more difficult.


Having done that, quietly have a conversation with each person individually to let them know that they mean a lot to you and to the organization. Tell them that they are special - not privileged, special. Then, go ahead and ask them what makes them stay with you, and the organization. (This wouldn’t be a bad time to take a few notes.) Ask them what, if anything, they need more or less of in order do their best work every day, and to feel appreciated for doing so. Listen, really listen, then, as best you can, make sure those things happen. 

This just might be the most beneficial thing you've ever done to start a New Year. Godspeed!

***

Make this the year that you take solid steps to improve your leadership skills, by working with a coach. I would be happy to hear from you.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017 04:24

Stop Un-Recruiting

I read with interest a recent NY Times piece about the growing Brexit-inspired labor shortage spreading throughout Britain, as foreign workers across the breadth and depth of the workspace are deciding in droves to take their services where they feel more welcome.

Something similar is happening in the U.S., as borders are tightened, nationalist interests are rising, and key talent reservoirs are shrinking in the face of a warming economy.

My business partner, Richard Hadden recently keynoted for North American dairy farmers gathered in Las Vegas for the MILK Conference. How cool is it that a guy who has spent the last 20 years writing and speaking about “Contented Cows” gets an entire room full of dairymen and women, as an audience?

Guess what their #1 concern was. Not unlike the Scottish fruit farmer profiled in the aforementioned piece, they were concerned about the shortage of labor, and the concomitant difficulty in getting the wash, ‘er milk out daily at a cost they can afford.

Saturday, 09 December 2017 22:08

You're Fired!

You’re Fired

by Bill Catlette

12/9/17 Memphis

Everyone who accepts a role with responsibility for providing leadership to others must accept the reality that it will eventually be their duty to tell someone, “You can’t work here anymore.” Let’s accept the notion that doing so is a solemn but necessary part of the deal, and if you can’t or won’t do it, you need to find something else to do for a living. Similarly, if the day ever comes when this stops being gut-wrenching for you, get another job.

Following are four premises that I have worked my way to over a forty-some year managerial career and more corporate executions than I care to think about.

About forty years ago, before anyone had heard or even contemplated the term, “FedEx”, Federal Express marketing guru, Vince Fagan worked with the company’s ad agency to create one of the most effective brand tag-line’s in history:  Absolutely, positively, overnight. In just 3 words, they focused like a laser on the very essence of what the young, startup company meant to convey to the world:  Speed, reliability, and Commitment with a capital “C”. This tagline was used successfully in a series of hilarious commercials that brought the firm out of the shadows, and created a new term and an idea: FedEx.

What they didn’t envision was the impact that having those 3 words plastered on television screens everywhere would have internally on the purple-clad FedEx workforce. You see, what people inside the company knew was that our still meager assets and operating systems were capable of doing the overnight thing usually, but with seemingly uncontrollable factors like weather, mechanical breakdown, and shipping capacity, the Absolutely, Positively part was a real push.

Thursday, 02 November 2017 19:22

There's No Hacking Leadership

There's No Hacking Leadership

One of my new least favorite words (along with “handcrafted” and “curated”, but that’s another post altogether) is the word “hack”. Not in the old sense of a taxi driver (remember taxis?), or even the newer sense of criminals who steal our online stuff. Or the even newer meaning, as in the Russians, and the, well, you know…

I mean hack, as in shortcut. How to make the inherently difficult easy. Or as one online source put it “A quick job that appears to produce what’s needed, but not well.” (By the way, that’s not real research. It was just a hack.)

I’m hearing it all the time. Ten hacks to make better coffee. How to hack your abs workout. Conversational Spanish hacking (which is a good way to say the wrong thing in the streets of Buenos Aires. I speak from experience.) Even Dr. Oz touting health and nutrition hacks.

Well guess what. When it comes to Leadership, there are no hacks.

And yet, in a day and age when leadership development at work is more likely than ever to be a do-it-yourself job, we’re seeing more and more people in leadership positions failing to do actual leadership.

For Better Leadership Communication, Put a Different Device in Your Hand

The fact that each of us has continually at hand, if not in hand, devices that practically beg to announce our every thought or emotion immediately upon conception represents one of the greater latent dangers to our reputations, if not careers. Put simply, the fact that we can emote nonstop doesn’t mean we should, particularly if we occupy a leadership role and have others looking to us for guidance and good example.

Though we have more communications capacity at our disposal than ever, most of us do a poorer job of actually making meaning. This occurs at a time when institutional knowledge is leaving our organizations at an unprecedented rate. (According to the BLS, about 100,000 Americans quit their jobs daily!) And it shows.

For a small proof of concept, ask a representative sample of your workforce to list the organization’s three (3) top priorities. Then, compare their answers. They won’t match!  To wit, how are you ever going to accomplish those things if people don’t know what they are? Your people want to read mysteries, not live them! We can, and must do a lot better.

Friday, 20 October 2017 18:46

Good Leaders Delegate Into Their Weaknesses

Good Leaders Delegate Into Their Weaknesses

At the risk of adding fuel to a fire that’s burning pretty much out of control already, I will submit that, for those interested in learning, there are a plethora of leadership lessons currently being taught daily on the national stage. Some of the lessons come from good examples, while others involve some pain, ‘er tuition. One of the more recent ones involves the President, and it relates to areas where managers (any of us) lack skill, or perhaps sufficient interest in a given aspect of our job function, even a vital aspect.

It’s no secret that President Trump frequently runs into difficulty when he ventures anywhere near tragedies, people who feel aggrieved, or nationally sensitive moments, and the need to console or be appropriately respectful of people who are hurting. There are often live wires just beneath the surface of those situations, and he has demonstrated a remarkable propensity for finding and stepping on them through poor word choices, bad optics, poor preparation, or the felt need to add too much value to the situation.

Before anyone gets their red or blue knickers in a knot, let’s stipulate that we ALL have our own demons and shortcomings. In fact, this happens to be a shortcoming that I share with the President. Lucky for me, my job doesn’t require regular presence near disaster scenes, Gold Star families, or flag-draped coffins. If it did, at an age that is within a pitching wedge of the President’s (that’s two things we share), and some pretty well-worn habits, I likely would lean a lot harder on my Vice President to represent me / the Nation in such matters, not just because he’s available, but because he’s better at it than I will ever be.

Making No Decision Is a Decision, and Usually the Wrong One

Last week I spoke for a group of college students in a management course. Corresponding with a chapter of the text currently being studied in class, the subject of my remarks was,  “You Get Paid to Think.” 

As a contemporary template for encouraging the class to do exactly that, I challenged them to assume the position of the San Francisco 49’ers head football coach, team CEO, and NFL commissioner at the precise moment in the 2016 season when the team's quarterback, Colin Kaepernick first chose to sit rather than stand for the singing of the National Anthem. Despite a somewhat nervous look from the professor when I lit this candle, the students took the challenge in stride and put forth a variety of fairly thoughtful options ranging from talk, make that listen to the player (AFTER the game) to discussing with the team potentially more effective and less incendiary ways of making the point.

The most impressive part of their response was that no one argued for doing what the team, and subsequently the league have essentially done over the last year… nothing. As a result of this inaction, the demonstrations have spread to other teams, sports, venues, causes, a good portion of the league’s fan base is inflamed, @VP saw fit to fly 3200 miles round trip this past weekend purely to do his own demonstration, and you-know-who is practically wetting his pants.

Borrowing a lesson learned thirty years ago from FedEx founder, Fred Smith, we then discussed the fact that leaders don’t just get paid to think, we also get paid to decide, and we must bear in mind that the failure to decide is in itself a decision, and quite often the wrong one. All in, it was a great experience and, as usual, I probably learned more than the students did. (Thanks, Dr. T)

One thing I would ask you, our readers, many of whom hold pretty senior leadership positions to do is to encourage your teammates to thoughtfully react to episodes like this in a timely manner, pursue a reasonable decision process, and, in a work environment already too beset by fear, to pull the trigger, knowing that if they’ve done all those things, you will support them regardless of the outcome.

When I begin a new executive coaching engagement, my due-diligence process usually involves conducting focused interviews with a representative sample of my client’s peers, direct and indirect reports, other close associates, sometimes their spouse, and of course, their reporting senior.

One of the questions I ask is, “Does this person enjoy the benefit of the doubt with you?” The implications associated with the answers to this question are material. If a significant portion of the people within my client’s sphere of influence are unable or unwilling to give them credit for trying and adopting new behavior, our task becomes more difficult.

This same principle applies for each of us as leaders, and on a broader basis, within our businesses and other organizations as well.

As leaders, our ability to get people to embrace change, overlook our imperfections and errors, endure hardship, accept unpopular decisions and occasionally leap before looking is tied directly to whether or not we’re getting the benefit of the doubt.

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