We live in a VUCA world -- which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity -- where the pace of change is staggering.
Given this environment, how can you as a leader possibly expect to have all the answers, all the time?
The truth, of course, is that you can’t.
The solution is to create leverage; leverage in the form of a team that can troubleshoot and solve problems, take initiative, contribute ideas, evaluate opportunities, etc.
In short, you need a team of leaders (regardless of their titles), where the emphasis is on empowerment and growth, not creating a legion of dependents.
Cultivating leaders not only develops a more engaged and motivated workforce, but also gives you the freedom to focus on areas of the business that are most meaningful to you, thereby improving your own job satisfaction, performance and opportunities for career advancement.
Embrace this concept and use it to guide your personnel decisions -- how you hire, train, assign work, provide feedback, promote and incentivize.
Be prepared for some bumps along the way as people grow accustomed to a new set of expectations, but stay the course and the results will be worth it.
Albert Einstein was once reportedly asked, “If you had one hour to save the planet, how would you spend that hour?” His reply: “I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.”
When faced with looming deadlines or pressure from a client, it’s tempting to rush headlong into solution mode without first gaining a comprehensive understanding of the nature, scope and context of the problem.
This may be effective in the short-term for putting out fires, but in the long run, you risk wasting time and resources by paying inadequate attention to clarifying the root cause.
Instead, be analytical and open-minded and consider different perspectives, since the actual problem may have multiple dimensions that aren’t readily apparent.
Such an approach was formalized at Toyota Industries in the 1950s by its founder, Sakichi Toyoda, who invented the “5 Whys” technique, which later was also incorporated into Six Sigma (a methodology for process improvement).
As the name implies, this technique involves asking “Why?” five times in order to expose the essence of the problem, challenge faulty assumptions and avoid jumping to conclusions.
Whichever strategy you choose, clarifying the problem increases the odds that your solution will be on the right track.
One of the recurring themes in these posts is the power of mindset; that is, how you frame a particular situation or experience determines whether and the extent to which it has a positive or negative impact on your life.
By adopting a growth mindset and seeing the world through a lens of curiosity, you can find a valuable learning opportunity in every circumstance, even the seemingly bad ones.
Personally, I find it helpful to make small tweaks in the words I use when engaging in self-talk.
For example, instead of saying (rhetorically) “Why did this [negative event] happen TO me?”, I’ll ask myself, “Why did this happen FOR me?” and then look for positive outcomes that ensued from it.
Similarly, a complaint such as “I HAVE to do this project” is replaced with “I GET to do this project,” accompanied by a mental list of all the reasons to be grateful for the experience.
These tactics are not intended to trivialize such difficulties in any way, but rather to open your eyes to perspectives that aren’t necessarily readily apparent.
Taking the time to reflect and reframe life’s challenges will bring you greater wisdom and appreciation than you thought possible.
It is a common myth that in order to improve productivity, you need to learn how to multitask better.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Unlike microprocessors (the “brains” inside computers), humans are simply not suited to focus on more than one thing at the same time without significantly compromising the quality of each.
Yet with so many distractions vying for our attention, how can we concentrate on the task at hand?
The answer, according to entrepreneur and best-selling author Gary Keller, is to make a habit of regularly asking yourself the following so-called “Focusing Question”:
What’s the ONE THING I can do that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
and then prioritizing the completion of that one thing before moving onto the next.
The Focusing Question can be applied to nearly every facet of your life, at both a macro and micro level.
Master this habit and you’ll experience the power of accomplishing more by doing less.
I invite you to give it a try the next time you find yourself struggling to focus when there are too many balls in the air.
What’s stopping you from trying that new thing or taking that big leap?
Often the answer is fear -- fear of rejection, of getting hurt or hurting someone else, of the unknown, of looking or sounding foolish, of failure, of success.
So we choose the path of least resistance because it’s safer and causes less discomfort.
But innovation and progress don’t happen in your comfort zone.
That requires courage, which is not the lack of fear.
In fact, our emotional brains are hard-wired to feel afraid, and the very survival of the human race over the millenia is a testament to the utility of fear.
The modern day challenge is to train our rational brains to recognize and overcome the automatic biochemical response to scary stimuli when the actual threat is far less severe than, say, a saber-tooth tiger.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” said Nelson Mandela. “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
How would your life be different if you were able to conquer your fears?*"Choose courage over comfort." - Brene Brown
The source of most conflict is the failure to appreciate another party’s point of view.
Furthermore, your ability to influence others is dependent on establishing a meaningful connection.
To work through conflict more effectively AND elevate your influence, try this three-step process (acronym “LUV”):
The LUV technique can be used in both professional and personal settings, with work colleagues, business associates, family members and significant others.
People crave the feeling of being heard, and they will be much more likely to engage in a productive dialogue if they think you “get them.”
So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re not on the same page with the other person, show them some LUV. You’ll achieve a better outcome for both of you.
According to a 2019 study by IDC Research, 80% of smartphone users check their mobile devices within 15 minutes of waking up each morning (I suspect that figure may be even higher today).
As you may have experienced firsthand, this often leads to stress and overwhelm, which can set a negative tone for the remainder of the day.
How can you overcome this impulse and instead start your day with a healthy dose of positivity and self-care?
Establish a morning routine that comprises one or more activities BEFORE checking your device.
It doesn’t have to take a long time, and you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment and create positive momentum for whatever challenges you face next.
Some suggestions include:
Not convinced? Just listen to Naval Admiral William H. McRaven discuss the benefits of making your bed first thing in the morning during his inspirational 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r71L9PAIwRQ
What will YOU do differently tomorrow morning?
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school varsity basketball team as a sophomore.
Fred Astaire was told he “couldn’t act, couldn’t sing... and could dance a little.”
Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.
Sara Blakely went door-to-door looking for a hosiery mill that would agree to manufacture her shapewear products.
All went on to become icons in their respective fields due to their unwavering determination to succeed in the face of setbacks and discouragement.
It takes more than just hard work to reach legendary status, of course.
But the ability to persevere in pursuit of your dream, especially when circumstances and people conspire to knock you off course, is a true test of character that will serve you well in the long-term.
In fact, according to University of Pennsylvania professor and author, Angela Duckworth, perseverance and passion (a combination she defines as “grit”) are important predictors of future success.
How can you apply this principle to your goals and aspirations?
It is said that a healthy person has 1,000 wishes, but a sick person has only one.
Among the many lessons this pandemic has taught us is that your physical well-being is critical for accomplishing anything else you want in life.
A healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, frequent hydration and making smart choices about alcohol and recreational drugs are all strategies for maintaining your body so you can function well physically.
Just as important, however, is your mental health. Even low levels of prolonged anxiety and stress, if not addressed, can interfere with your work and personal life.
In order to stay on top of your game, take the time and give yourself the space to nurture your emotional well-being on a regular basis. Encourage your team to do the same, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if needed.
For the next week, I invite you to commit to one new daily habit designed to improve your physical and/or mental health. The week after that, add another.
Even small changes in behavior can generate massive benefits over time.
Your future self will thank you.
There are many modes of communication available to us today. Whether you’re giving a speech, meeting with your team, sending an email, text or tweet, or talking on the phone with a client or vendor, be prepared to answer the question, “Specifically, what am I trying to accomplish here?” Too often we find ourselves rushing to respond to a message, rambling on without a clear point, pontificating to show how smart we are, or speaking just to hear ourselves talk. The reality is that people generally have a limited attention span, so be purposeful with your voice -- verbal, written or digital -- to increase the likelihood that the impact of your communication matches your intention. Particularly if you’re seeking information or requesting that an action be taken, be sure to spell out your ask with specificity and clarity.
The first half of this principle is similar to the popular maxim, “What gets measured gets done.” Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) is an effective way to monitor progress and motivate your employees to hit their designated targets. These metrics, when used properly, provide a tangible feedback loop that can easily highlight areas that need attention so incentives can be structured accordingly. However, if you really want a workforce that is engaged and committed, one that consistently goes above and beyond their stated job functions, one that brings passion and energy to every task, articulate your mission in a way that offers a shared purpose, a cause that is bigger than each individual. This, according to author and inspirational speaker @Simon Sinek, is your organization’s WHY.
Think about it: virtually every decision we make somehow involves an element of trust. How we eat, shop, vote, travel, parent, research, communicate, invest, socialize, teach, govern, manage, resolve conflict – our choices in all of these activities are impacted by the level of trust we have in another party. Low levels of trust lead to excessive amounts of time, effort and resources that are needed to overcome people’s fear, uncertainty and doubt (what author @Stephen Covey called the “trust tax”). By contrast, high levels of trust generally result in more streamlined decision-making, because such energy can instead be focused more productively (a “trust dividend” in Covey’s vernacular). Establishing a foundation of trust and transparency with our colleagues, as well as with external stakeholders, helps build credibility, promotes loyalty, improves morale and increases productivity, all of which are good for business.
The mind is an incredibly powerful force. It can propel us to achieve the seemingly impossible, yet also destroy our self-confidence and leave us wallowing in despair, and everything in between. How we approach a situation is what Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl calls “the last of human freedoms: the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances.” There are numerous techniques to help you intentionally adopt a mindset that serves you best in a given situation (e.g., meditation, power poses, daily affirmations, mantras, mindful breathing, prayer, coaching, etc.). Choose one (or more) that speaks to you and begin to harness the power between your ears. You will be amazed by the results.
There’s a lot to unpack in these three words. For starters, approach a situation or problem with intention and thoughtfulness. Give adequate consideration to alternatives and potential consequences. That said, be aware of the “analysis paralysis” trap, which leads to indecision and procrastination. As leaders, we sometimes must make decisions based on imperfect or incomplete information. Be decisive and take action -- or deliberately choose not to take action. Either way, check the box and move on to the next issue you face.
It seems only fitting to start this series of leadership principles with the inspiration for my coaching practice, a saying whose first letters form the acronym for our company name, SAGE. As a leader, it’s important to recognize that people observe how you behave often more intently than they listen to what you say. Especially if there is an inconsistency between the two, your actions will leave a lasting impression. Therefore, be sure to model the behavior that you wish to see in your colleagues and team members. This approach is far more impactful than the alternative: “Do as I say, not as I do.”