Friday, December 10, 2010

A Wine Tasting Gone Bad

I was with one of my clients the other day who had attended a wine tasting event at a local restaurant. The wine was delicious, the food it was paired with was appropriate, and the attendance was great. Guess what? She HATED it. I am sure you are as curious as I was as to why. Her initial account sounded like the restaurateur had put together a great evening, but little did I know it was quite the opposite. The “sommelier” for the evening was reading off of sheets of paper he had printed off of the web, his transitions were pretty rough between wines, and finally they didn’t get to sit in the restaurant’s special wine room. Now that last issue sounds kind of picky don’t you think? Unfortunately the “sommelier” had told the group in the beginning that they would end there, which sounded pretty cool…oops.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the problems:

Expectations – I can guarantee you that my friend and her husband had specific expectations for how the evening would flow. When the train started to go off the tracks they tried extending some grace, but as the evening wore on, their disappointment grew. Many times our clients have certain expectations of how we will execute, communicate, deliver value, etc. When we miss the mark we lose credibility and ultimately customer loyalty. Few things lose business more than mismanaged expectations.

Preparation – This part just makes me want to slap some reality into the “sommelier”. If you honestly think you can engage clients with a “show up to throw up” level of preparation, I hope you also have purchased some sweet parting gifts because they won’t bother to buy from you for very long. When you don’t come to an engagement prepared, you are telling your client through your actions how meaningless they are to you. You’d rather do other things than invest time in building the relationship, understanding industry impact factors, listen to their needs, and ultimately provide innovative solutions. Lack of preparation = Lack of prioritization – plain and simple.

Integrity – When you tell someone you are going to do something, you have to deliver. If I told you about something extra special I was going to provide for you and then not deliver, how would you feel? You would at least prefer a feasible explanation as to why I was unable to provide what I agreed to, wouldn’t you? Part of the problem is that, whether it’s with our clients or our own people, when we talk up something cool and exciting, they don’t automatically think, “This might not happen, so I need to be flexible.” What they actually hear is, “I promise with my-hand-on-my-heart-pinky-swear-on-the-life-of-my-first-born-child-that-what-I-am-talking-about-right-now-WILL-happen-no-matter-whether-it-is-against-all-acts-of-war, acts of God, or acts of the impossible. Now, we don’t normally promise, but that’s what others hear and we need to be cognizant of that little fact. Bottom line – do what you say you’re going to do.

So here’s the punch line, I am also friends with the restaurant owner. The plot thickens! Do you think he knows about this? Maybe….but in all actuality, probably not. What do you think he should do? What would you do? I would argue that we would all have a discussion about expectations, preparation, and integrity, don’t you think?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Right Seat on the Bus Makes the World Go Round and Round

Years ago Jim Collins in his book Good to Great wrote about getting the right people on the bus. I love that idea, but what I love even more is getting them in the right seats. In 2010 I “upgraded” my team and we now have the most talented team in the history of my business. Why? Because we not only got the right people, but also put them in the right seats.

So what happens if you put the wrong person up by the driver? Well, he gets annoyed and may not get the bus to the right spot because of his incessant distraction. Now, that person may fit better in the in middle of the bus where he has a broader audience to work his magic.

What happens if he has the wrong person in the back of the bus next to that great emergency door? You know, the door that always gets opened “by accident” on field trips so that it starts buzzing? The whole bus could get distracted by the door opening, or worse, in an emergency not everyone could get out timely.

What about the people by the windows? Those windows can be pretty tough to open if you’re not strong enough. Who wants to roll down the road in a hot, stuffy bus? Not I. If those people aren’t strong enough, you’re in for a LONG, HOT ride. In an emergency those windows may also come in handy. Maybe the weaker people need to sit on the inside by the isle until they are strong enough to handle the responsibility of working next to the general public.

So take some time during this wonderful season of performance reviews to not only assess your team’s overall talent, but also whether they’re in the right roles. Having your crew in the right seats will give you an instant advantage and jumpstart 2011.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Four...Almost Five-Year-Old's View of Life

As I write this blog entry I’m sitting on a flight headed to PHX. Doesn’t sound too different than normal, does it? This is a very special trip. My youngest son Jackson is sitting beside me. If you were to ask him his age he’d tell you he’s 4 and will be 5 in a few days. He’s proud of that fact.

On the way to the airport we dropped the car off at an offsite location and took a shuttle in. We sat down and he reminded me that I needed to wear a seatbelt. That’s funny because I don’t remember the busses having seatbelts. I had never noticed that before.

While we were riding in the bus he pointed out all the different offsite parking shuttle busses to me. “Look! That one’s black with yellow spots! Look! That one’s yellow with black spots!” I had never noticed all the different colors of shuttle busses. I knew they were there, but not at that level.

When we arrived into the airport he yelled, “Daddy, we’re going into door 2!” Every time I get to the airport I never look at the door number I enter. “Daddy, this side is different.”

“That’s right.” I said. “It’s red on this side and you’re used to the blue side. “

I must say that each of us get lulled to sleep day after day and miss the details, the extraordinary, and incredible opportunities. We’ve driven the same route to work, went to the same lunch spot, visited the same websites, and on and on and on. We’re left finding very little variety in our day-to-day existence.

It reminds me of Jim Carrey’s character in the movie Yes Man. He lived a very similar life where everything was predictable, ordinary, and lifeless. Later in the movie he chooses to start saying, “Yes” to every opportunity presented to him and finds how exhilarating life can be.

Why do we allow ourselves to get into these mundane routines? Is it because we’re afraid to get out and do something different? Are we intimidated at the thought of tackling hard, challenging things? Or maybe it’s because we live in a culture whose heart is set on comfort and convenience? What is holding you back?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

To Terminate or Not to Terminate - That is the Question

Did you see the movie Up In the Air? My wife and I saw it when it came to the theaters last year. She wasn’t a big fan but I enjoyed it. If you haven’t seen said movie, I’ll break it down for you real quick. The main character, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), works for a company which is sourced to terminate people when their bosses don’t have the guts to do the dirty work. In the movie, you get to see him terminate many people and the plethora of different reactions.

Unfortunately in the movie you see “leaders” who don’t have the courage or commitment to their teams to make the tough decisions. What happens when there are people on a team that are not pulling their own weight, don’t fit into the culture, or are just plain weak performers? The reality is that the rest of the people typically figure this out well before the leader does. If the right people are terminated, the team should never be surprised.

When the leader figures out they’ve got a bigger or painstakingly repetitive problem with an employee they have a decision to make.

1. Try to assist that employee through consistent performance discussions and purposeful development.

2. Do nothing.

3. Terminate them.

Unfortunately what happens is usually 1 or 2 and the leader sacrifices some of their leadership equity resulting in losing the respect of their team. Valuable employees today don’t have a lot of patience and typically want to do well. When they feel they are being held back due to the performance of the person next to them, they typically want them “kicked off the island”.

Earlier this year my lead team and I made the decision to terminate a few people. Once we made the decision, we began mapping out our strategy to backfill the roles and ultimately upgrade our staff. Now, we didn’t just meet and then turnaround and start terminating people. We made good decisions regarding process, ideal vs. acceptable timing, and how we would backfill their rolls. In a matter of six weeks all the targeted employees were gone and we had already backfilled one with a second one a week later.

The results were astounding. The remaining employees were not shocked AND were motivated even more. Yeah, yeah, you think it was because of fear. Good guess…but wrong. What they were motivated by was the fact that they got to see again how inspired my leaders and I were by the compelling vision of the future for growth and development. After only a week, one of my employees said, “I can’t even tell you how different our team feels now. It’s amazing. I love it!” We haven’t looked back since. Today, our team is more cohesive, focused, and driven than it has ever been.

What would have happened if I hadn’t terminated anyone? My employees would have less respect for me and our growth wouldn’t be at the same pace. The team’s motivation would be far lower, and I think it’s safe to say both our internal and external customers would be less satisfied.

So ask yourself, “Who do I need to terminate?” I can guarantee there’s someone on your team that needs to go, but you continue to chicken out. Take a shot of courage and let it rip. You’ll be glad you did…and so will your team.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hopeful - The 5 Hope Fillers (Part 2)

A few days ago we talked about the first Hope Filler – Filler Leadership.  These leaders rock!  They bring it and fill their shops with hope every day by how they lead and live.  Filler Leaders inspire those around them believing that a better reality is right around the corner.  It reminds me of the Carousel of Progress at Disney World.  Do you remember that ride? You go from one scene to the next over about 25 minutes.  Each scene shows what life was like during that point in time and how mankind had worked to make life easier and more efficient.  When the scene was over it would transition to the next and the characters would sing the same song with the line, “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.”  That’s the idea, and it’s the anthem of Filler Leaders everywhere.

Fixate on “The Controllables”

Many leaders get bent out of shape and worried about issues that are outside of their sphere of influence.  You can’t control whether a customer goes bankrupt, a key employee leaves for a different opportunity, or the economy tanks, but you can decide your attitude and how you handle those blows internally.  Hope can be mined in virtually any situation as long as you choose to do the heavy lifting to go after it.  Your team looks to you as the barometer of hope and will base their feelings off of how you handle challenges; especially ones that have the potential for deep, negative impact.  Fixate on “The Controllables” – not what’s out of your hands.

Fight for Balance

This is an area my team and I have battled through together over the past few months.  In order to have a positive environment and get the most out of everyone, you must fight to give your team the tools for a healthy work-life balance.  This means that you are staffed appropriately and you’re being as efficient as possible so Johnny Worker isn’t there till 11pm every night trying to stay caught up.  At the same time, you can’t make personal decisions for people, but you can create an environment that encourages it.  Now I understand this is completely counter intuitive in today’s business environment, but sometimes you’ve got to flip some things upside down to get a better result.  Your people need you to model, and stress balance.

Fan the Flame of Unselfish Teamwork

Reward the behaviors you want to see repeated.  A big one is unselfish teamwork.  People want to work in environments where everyone is sold out and serving each other.  Pat Lencioni highlighted this beautifully in his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  When people exchange their personal agendas for the results of the team, their level of hope begins to sky rocket UP.  How can you help drive and reward that kind of teamwork?

Face it! Your Smile Makes a Difference

Believe it or not, your facial expressions go a LONG WAY.  When I walk around my office with a scowl my crew immediately thinks there’s something wrong.  Many times I’m intensely focused on a task or a thought; so I don't even realize I'm doing it.  I have to make a conscious effort to display my positive nature on my face, make a few people laugh, and embody other upbeat signs because it puts my team at ease, which directly impacts their effectiveness and ultimately their hopefulness.  Smiling isn’t that hard is it?

So there you go – the 5 Hope Fillers.  How many do you use today?  How many do you need to start using?  Hope is a powerful tool.  Don’t be concerned about being perceived as soft, touchy-feely, or clueless.  Use it and be the beacon of hope your team needs in the toughest of times. They’ll thank you for it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hopeful - The 5 Hope Fillers (Part 1)

In the last BLOG entry we looked at Hopelessness and the 5 Hope Killers. Just to summarize – beware, they’ll literally SUCK THE LIFE OUT OF YOU! Hopefully you were able to identify with them and draw some conclusions. So let’s go! Let’s kick these nasty, little leaches to the curb and focus on how to move forward and get FILLED with hope. That’s right, it’s time for the 5 Hope Fillers.

Filler Leadership
Killer Leadership and Filler Leadership couldn’t be any different. Filler Leaders engage both their own hearts and the hearts of others (I know talking about emotions is dangerous and I may lose a few of you, but come on for the ride. It’ll be fun.). This brings us back to John Maxwell’s Law of Connection. He says, “You’ve got to touch a heart before you can ask for a hand.” Guess what? He’s completely right. When you connect with people at the heart level you build trust and GENERATE HOPE!

Filler Leaders relentlessly cast vision because they know that an often, well-communicated vision fills people with hope. The crew must understand where they’re going, the benefits of the sacrifice needed for the journey, the direction you plan to take, and how you plan to get to the final destination. People want to be part of something special that makes a difference. Your vision must pinpoint that difference.

Small wins are big. One of the things I’ve been told I am known for in my organization is celebrating wins. When something great happens – large or small, we celebrate it. That positive energy builds momentum and in the words of Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) “makes the flywheel spin faster and faster.” Don’t miss out on those little opportunities to make a big deposit of hope.

Some decisions are easier than others, but it is the tough ones that are made timely and courageously that electrify hope in your team. Many times those tough decisions center on your staff and overall performance management. Your top performers know who is invested and dedicated to your team’s success and who’s not. You make the tough staffing decisions to grow and move forward. The first day leading my team I interviewed each person and one of the questions I asked was, “If you could make one change, what would it be?” Anyone want to guess what I found? Yes, you in the back! That’s right; each person said they would get rid of someone else. No one said anything about money, status, hours, or perks. The problem was that their former leader struggled with making the tough decisions in order to grow.

The bottom line is it’s either them or you – that’s what one of my mentors told me years ago. You either make choices that benefit you understanding that those decisions also must be good for the business. The moment you make decisions solely based upon peoples’ desires – you’re dead. You can’t make everyone happy. Good people want you to make good decisions. Therefore when you do belly up to the bar and terminate a mediocre performer no one on your team should be surprised.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old proverb, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime". Filler Leaders teach their crews how to fish. These rock stars are relentless about developing and equipping those around them. What typically gets lost in the process and doesn’t get a lot of press are the feelings of the student. The learner develops a true appreciation, connection, and deep hope because of the Filler Leader’s investment in them. Wouldn’t you feel more hopeful if you had someone pouring themselves into you?

We’ll hit the other 4 Hope Fillers in Part 2, but I want to be clear that working for Filler Leaders who generate hope make you feel like the sky’s the limit and nothing is impossible. Hopefully you either work for a leader with some or maybe all of these qualities or you ARE the leader with some or all of these qualities. Either way, hope is out there. Go make it happen and fill up!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hopeless - The 5 Hope Killers

The topic of Hope continues to dance around in my brain. I see its application everywhere I look. As I have been paying attention to life and taking notes I have come across what I call “The 5 Hope Killers”. Take a peek:

Insecure Killer Leadership
Now I’m not talking about the work killer in the sense of “Killer wave dude! When we’re done let’s go to Sharkeez and get some killer fish taco’s!” I am using it in the context of people who kill other peoples’ hope. Seriously…it’s not a cool thing. Killer Leaders have no vision or anything that would go with it like milestones, strategy, etc. They don’t try to connect with their people because they see no need for it. When it comes to timely, informative communication and encouragement Killer Leaders feel it’s a waste of time. These people don’t think it’s their job to equip people – that’s HR’s role. Finally, making the tough decisions needed to grow provides them too much discomfort and they’d rather live with the dysfunction. John Maxwell was right when he said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” If you work for one of these priceless gems, hope is a vapor floating around in the atmosphere. Good luck ever finding it. Sorry.

Intense Burnout and Fatigue 
When there is little or no hope you get tired…tired of the grind, tired of the people, tired of the bad jokes, tired of the bad numbers, tired of being short-staffed, and tired of the long hours. One of the best things you can do is eat right and stay fit. Your physical fitness plays a major role in your outlook and energy level. Feeling fit will allow you to defend against the onslaught of hopelessness.

Invisible Improvement
Have you ever felt like you lose more than you win? If you could just catch a break things could turnaround. It is in those times that little victories become monumental. When hope is getting crushed there are things that can plug the leak and begin to turn things in the right direction. The problem is that most leaders fail to celebrate those small wins and they remain invisible to the team and those little nuggets of hope are lost forever.

Individual Results Overshadow Team Success
I asked someone a question the other day, “If you could have anything come out of adding a new person to your work group what would you pick?” Without hesitation she said,

“That the person would care more about the team’s results than their own and that they would view the group’s collective work as their own.” Wow! What a powerful statement! You see she could have talked about less of a workload, or some financial benefit, but instead she sees success defined in a selfless team who cares about each other first and foremost. When people care more about themselves a loud sucking sound can be heard miles away removing hope from the work environment and replacing it with anger, frustration, resentment, and politics. Pat Lencioni cited this idea in The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team when he put it as the last part of his dysfunctional pyramid.

When I am part of a team that’s losing hope, one of the worst things that can happen is to begin to feel like both you and your team are the only ones who can’t get it together (cue Barry White – cuz he can get it together for sure!). Other business units, teams, churches, and companies are finding success but as hard as you work nothing changes. This feeling of isolation slowly extracts hope from the environment and replaces it with a debilitating attitude that can result in losing your people completely. “Poor Me” and “Poor Us” dominates the conversations at team meetings and performance reviews. The longer these feelings of isolated failure and decline go on the more hope seeps out of the team.

Take a moment and see where you and your team stand. Don’t worry though, my next entry will be the positive side of the equation addressing how to build hope. You’ll need this in order to right the ship and start heading in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hope - We All Need Some

In today’s world there is elephant-sized pressure on cutting costs and being competitive.  Whether or not you believe that the economy is truly recovering or just wandering through the economist-believed “W-Curve”, it’s there.  Many are choosing to reorganize.  I have seen good re-org’s and bad ones.  The good ones have clear vision and direction, strong leadership, timely and concise communication, and well thought-out milestones.  The less successful ones lack all of the above.  The secret ingredient that the less successful re-orgs and any other major organizational changes miss is HOPE.  It may not be a strategy but it sure is the fuel needed to accomplish it.  Unfortunately, change can rob people of HOPE, especially if the leader failed to get adequate buy in.  Without HOPE people turn into depressed, angry, frustrated workers.  No one wants this, yet most people head down that road in the absence of HOPE.

When I think of HOPE I picture my wife’s former hair stylist whose name was HOPE.  Would you go to a hairstylist named HOPE?  My wickedly sarcastic brain couldn’t because I'd end up saying something, and I’d be afraid what my dome would look like when finished.  It’s like starting a parachute company named MAYBE.  Or how about seeing an ER doctor named Optimism?  “Don’t worry Mrs. Smith, Dr. Optimism will be in to see you in a few minutes.”  No way.

So what is HOPE?  It is the wish for something better than the current reality that generates energy to get through today.  Without HOPE you are left with the immediate and in many cases that is like suffering through an eternity of Monday’s – nothing to look forward to and no indication positive change is on its way.  Have fun grinding through each day because the land of burnout is on its way.

How do you embrace and establish HOPE?  The first step is accepting that not everyone has the ability to give HOPE.  Line workers can try hard and focus on their own attitude and generate a little bit of HOPE, which equates to addition – one by one.  Ultimately it begins with the leader.  I’ve seen leaders pull HOPE out of thin air and inflate people to the point of bursting.  When leaders cast vision, connect with people and communicate timely they build HOPE and re-establish trust.  The leader has the ability to generate HOPE, which equates to multiplication – many are affected at one time. Have you ever seen a clip from a movie where the leader rallies the troops?  Braveheart, Gladiator, 300, Hoosiers, the list goes on and on.  What are those leaders doing?  They’re building massive quantities of HOPE.

No one chooses to feel HOPEless.  If you are a leader reading this BLOG, I challenge you to find ways to establish and drive HOPE.  Every team needs it, but only you can give it.  I HOPE this helps!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Endings: I HATE Them

In the 1970’s William Bridges wrote a monumental book entitled Transitions, which focused on its three phases – ending, neutral zone, and beginning.  As I read the book, I found myself uncovering many of my own tendencies and struggles with transitions.  Since that time I have wrote and taught on the subject in order to help others deal with their own transitions.  What I find is that I still battle with certain aspects, but knowing my tendencies helps me to navigate the process in a more purposeful way.

Transitions begin with endings.  I hate endings.  I really mean it – I HATE them.  I’m a nostalgic sucker at heart, which is aided by a weird knack at remembering details about events which normal people would gloss over.  I think that’s one of the reasons I like Disney World in a sick way.  As a child we used to go during off peak times, which also meant missing school. I still feel bad about that…yeah, not really.  I remember much of those trips, and guess what?  I hated leaving.  Each year we finish at my business is bitter sweet because I don’t want it to end…most of the time.  Our extended families live in Michigan and each time they head back after a visit with us the house seems oddly quiet and guess what?  I’m not a fan.

Now let’s be clear.  Change and transition are two different things.  I love change – the excitement, the possibilities, the potential, the newness.  Changes are driven to reach a goal.  Transitions, however, start with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to your life stage.  When my first girlfriend dumped me she was saying that we no longer fit together.  Guess what?  I hated that too.

Focusing on the past prohibits you from moving forward.  You have to let go of something internal because it is the inner ending which initiates the transition.  The hardest part for me is embracing the ending to move forward.  I don’t like moving on, but also don’t want to be a depressing curmudgeon who continuously spouts, “Well it was better before because…” I fully recognize that in order to truly transition I must be willing to accept the ending and MOVE FORWARD.

Recognize your tendencies and manage them in order to propel yourself forward.  What are you still hanging on to?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What Do You Do When Things Go Wrong?

In today’s economic environment things are going financially wrong everyday in virtually every office in the world. Whether it’s being behind in your budget, not generating the amount of revenue from current clients you need to, or failing to land new customers; you’re behind – we’re behind. So, what do we do? Let me rephrase the question, what do leaders do when the chips are down? Good question. I’d love to tell you to sit down and make some lists, become very logical, suck the emotion out of the situation, and go forward but that’s just stupid and useless. You want REAL advice?

In my time I’ve had my fair share of disappointments like lost bonuses, nasty bankruptcies, missed revenue goals, etc.  What I have chosen to do is look at historical figures that have beaten the odds or have come back from heart breaking shortcomings to succeed when it mattered most. I love the comeback story because it offers up a dump truck-sized load of hope showing that it can be done and things can get better. You’ve got to find an example of significance you can hold on to. Hope is what both your people and you need “when the breaks are beating the boys”. Hollywood almost deifies the comeback story. If you really want to find one it won’t be too hard. I’m a Notre Dame fan so Rudy works just fine for me.

The next part is sharing your feelings and thoughts with your people from your heart. I can guarantee you that they would love to know what you think and feel. When you choose to open up and share they will begin to bond with you, which creates a tighter-knit team. It’s kind of like the whole “Us against the world!” mentality. Most leaders aren’t fans of this approach because they’d rather be the one with all the answers who has perfect faith in the company and the corporate office to do the right thing. Unfortunately that does little good and in some cases creates more issues like driving people away. Your crew needs you to identify with them. If you take the non-emotional, dead fish route you might as well trade your people in for robots because they won’t work for you like they could, which may make things worse. It’s crazy, but when you identify with your people and share your own feelings you give them hope. You are the key to a brighter future.

You don’t have all the answers and neither do I, but I can tell you that this is not a time to give up. Things will get better and there’s a good chance you’ll be around to see that happen. In the mean time, hold your people close and help them get through it because they need you and you need them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Can I Vent A Bit?

I understand that not all leaders have type-A personalities and that rah-rah speeches don’t always come natural. Really…I get it.  But can someone please explain to me why leaders are so reluctant to reach out to the troops, cast vision and rally them toward greatness?  Whether you’re in middle management or occupy a seat on the executive team, it is part of your job to open your mouth and motivate your teams.  I honestly don’t care if you are multiple levels above the people executing or if you are in a relatively flat organization.  Your people need to SEE and HEAR you.  They need to know what matters to you.  What keeps you up late at night?  What do you talk with your spouse about as it relates to your team?  What do you dream about? They need to know YOU – not some pathetic, cellophane likeness.

I am sick and tired of leaders sitting up in their corporate offices and not truly engaging with the people who give them a job. This is part of the reason that the show Undercover Boss has been so popular. Leaders are figuring out the truth that Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan communicated years ago in their book Execution. The only true way to lead, motivate, and execute at the highest level is to be engaged in such a way that you understand reality across the business and can use your knowledge, people skills, and leadership to drive it in the right direction. In the book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell calls this “The Law of Connection”. He says that you’ve got to touch a heart before you can ask for a hand. Craig Groeschel talks about the same thing in ministry and calls it “The Pastor’s Mystique”.  God forbid you actually connect with people in a real way!  Connection will never happen if you continue to choose to disengage from those who matter most.

I challenge each one of you to reach out to one person, a team, a department, a division, or even your whole organization today and do something which will create ripples in the pool.  Cast vision, motivate, encourage, share your heart and truly CONNECT…and then do it again next week and the week after that and so on. Now walk out of your office and make it so!

To Annihilate or Not to Annihilate - That is the Question!

As leaders, everyday we face the challenge of negotiating between giving grace and driving accountability. Let’s face it; it’s hard to figure out when to let someone’s mistake slide and when to drop the hammer. I believe that once you understand that they can both co-exist, you can begin to use them advantageously.

Pretend that one of your crew members makes an honest mistake and goes too fast or gets too distracted and their error ends up costing you money. Your first option is to take them aside and completely berate them making them feel embarrassed and stupid. This type of approach obviously leaves a lasting memory, which unfortunately costs you a fair amount of chips of trust from the leadership poker table. The error-maker will clearly understand that you could care less about them but more their result. Is this bad? It surely is debatable because this is a play in many leaders’ playbooks. The only motivation stirred up in this example surrounds not getting yelled at again. There is no real change – only temporary improvement.

Let’s start this crazy train over. Johnny Too-Fast makes a mistake and instead of completely burying him you choose to take him aside and ask some questions surrounding what happened. “Tell me what happened.”, “What prevented you from catching the mistake?”, “Are you aware of how this type of error affects the team?”, or “How could we change our system to avoid this type of shortcoming in the future?” Some may say that this is a weak approach, but look at what happens. The employee sees that you care about the error and you respect them enough to treat them like a human being to dig deep through the layers uncovering real issues while partnering with them to create a solution.

In our business we call this “training money at work”. Good employees will not make the same mistake twice, and we all know that we learn more from failure than from success. Regardless of what bucket in the P&L you realize the loss, whether gross profit or training expense, it is still an opportunity to learn and grow.

I would argue that this type of approach also shows grace. Grace is giving someone something they don’t deserve. Johnny didn’t earn nor deserve this type of response, but you can still give it to him anyway. People usually feel bad and embarrassed when they make a mistake. Addressing issues like this are always golden opportunities for the leader to build greater leadership equity.

Part two is the next challenge because accountability can never end. If problems continue to repeat themselves, I believe there is a different problem. It’s either a bad internal system or a mismatched employee. Either way, you will be faced with a handful of tough decisions as you look at your business. The point though is to drive grace-filled accountability. Therefore the next time you have a chance to really light someone up, push the pause button, think it through, sprinkle some grace on it, and see if you get a different result. The outcome may surprise you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Have a Gift!

So my last post had something to do with the enjoyment of sitting up front while flying in a plane. I knew I was flirting with disaster by putting that in writing, and last week the disaster struck. It started snowing in Atlanta and I was headed to Phoenix. Our flight was delayed about 30 minutes, which wasn’t a big deal. Upon checking in at the gate I found that my wonderful junior first class seat (a.k.a. the exit row) was somehow reassigned and I was given a normal seat on the aisle - don't ask, I don't know. Honestly I was a bit perturbed because I wasn’t feeling too hot and was looking forward to attempting to sleep it off. I found myself next to two large guys and my knees were digging into the back of the seat in front of me. I was trying to figure out if I had just won the lead roll in the remake of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
It was time to take off and the captain advised us that we were delayed another 30 minutes due to needing to de-ice.  I didn’t quite understand this as the snow was not sticking to the ground. Over time he pushed our time back farther and farther while opening and closing the boarding door to let people off. We finally closed it once and for all and headed toward the de-icing area. Oh happiness!

Upon arriving to de-ice we were told it would take several minutes….it only took 3 – no joke. I am forced to pause and ask a question, “What type of ice did we have that could have made us waste an inconceivable amount of time to be melted in 3 minutes?” I digress. We finally took off four and a half hours after we boarded and flew four more hours to Phoenix.

When we got in the air we found out that the plane didn’t fully stock their for-purchase food and that there wasn’t going to be enough for everyone. AWESOME!!!! Needless to say, I was relieved like a lion having a splinter removed by a mouse when it was time to land.

In the midst of this lovely aerial ordeal I couldn’t help but think about my dad.  When I was growing up and unplanned bad things would happen, he consistently had a phrase to sum it all up – I have a gift!  My brothers and I would either laugh at him or just roll our eyes in that “here-we-go-again” style. The phrase is still used to this day and those closest to him can sense it coming from 1000 miles away.  Please understand that he is a positive person...most of the time :)

On the plane I started breaking down the choices that had led me to that moment in time. We had just closed a large deal and needed to meet with our client…that week…in Phoenix. We were having dinner with them that night and chose to fly in early to head off any potential travel delays (if we would have waited for another flight it would have been disastrous). I didn’t control the snow, nor did I control the de-icing procedures or the fact that ATL traffic control was diverting and delaying flights for hours. What I did have control over was my ATTITUDE. I had to choose to distract myself and smile at the people around me.  I had to choose to treat the flight attendants with respect – not sarcasm. Would I have dealt with it better if I had been sitting in my original seat or better yet been upgraded to first class? Do cows advertise Chick-Fil-A?

Regardless of what happened I had to choose my attitude. You too have the same choice to make each day and to choose to at least pretend you sit in first class. You can decide to be buried by unplanned issues and let everyone know about this amazing gift you have, or you can choose to overcome the obstacles and do what my high school English teacher Lynn Rudd used to say, “Proactively choose your attitude.” Therefore I challenge you to let someone else lament over their gift of unfortunate circumstances while you choose to share your bag of smiles, laughs and contagious attitude.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

So I'm on a plane...

Over the past few years my air travel has increased significantly.  I’m no George Clooney who was banking 325,000 air miles a year in Up in the Air.  I only knock out about 55,000 miles a year.  One of the perks that come with being a frequent flier is status.  You see status is the golden ticket to traveling the right way, and last year I had it for the first time with a certain airline whose headquarters are in my lovely town of Atlanta.  One of the best parts is the free up grades.  I sit up front about 60-70% of the time now and absolutely love it. I get to board first, deplane first, enjoy actual leg room, get unlimited beverages, a much better menu of food and snacks, and have unlimited access to movies on domestic flights (after my work is done…of course!).  First class is where it’s at.  Therefore as I sit here sighing and relaxing with delight, I can’t help but think of the parallels of this great perk and leading the right way.

Leadership is service (Check out James Hunter’s classic The Servant. It’s a great leadership fable of what is at the heart of true leadership).  What I love about sitting up front is the fact that I get served like a Greek god.  Whatever I want I receive along with a, “Certainly sir” or “Absolutely, right away sir.” which just turns my crank. In fact the flight attendant just walked by asking if I want any more snacks.  I declined because I already had a banana and a Twix bar….I really don’t need another one…right?  Anyway, if we are truly leading we’re serving.  I don’t mean doing things for your crew because we have to but instead because we want to – it’s our heart’s desire.

So what would happen if I served my team like they were clients sitting in first class?  What would it look like?  I am not saying we give them what they want all the time.  What I am saying is we encourage, equip, and engage them as if they are silver, gold, platinum, or diamond status holders.  We give them our best and refuse to treat them like they sit back in coach.

Therefore I challenge every reader of this blog to do something special for their crew over the next two weeks which illustrates this powerful idea of treating people like they are airline status holders.  Please share what you did and how it was received on my Facebook page: Leadership Edge.  Good luck and happy serving!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

People Love to Love their Leader

Have you ever met someone who loves their job? Sure, we all have. Some love it because of the work – it’s what they’ve always wanted to do and they’re good at it. Others enjoy their jobs because of the flexibility it affords. But most of the people who love their jobs feel this way because of their boss. I’ve never met someone who loves their job, but hates their boss. People want to love their boss. Face it, you would love to brag to your friends and family about how cool yours is wouldn’t you? Repeat after me, “YES I WOULD!”

Odds are if you’re reading this blog you have some sort of leadership role today – someone is reporting to you or more accurately, someone is being influenced by you. Do you realize that those people want to love you? They want to enjoy coming to work each day to interact with you and make you happy. Michael Scott once said, “I want my people to love me. I also want my people to fear me. But I really want my people to love to fear me.” Okay, loving to fear you is not what I’m talking about – sorry Mikey.

This sounds so backwards doesn’t it? You can’t make your people happy all the time. This is true, but I’m not talking about pleasing your people. Do you know what draws people in? Passion, heart, honesty, vulnerability, humor, and integrity are all things that begin knitting your shop’s heart to yours. People don’t want to follow a statue and they don’t want to work for someone perfect who knows all the answers either. My boys asked me last weekend during dinner if my crew calls me, “Mr. Boss” or “Boss”. I told them that my team calls me, “David”. My boys are only 9, 5, and 4, yet they already have some preconceived notion that the boss is someone high above the people who look down on them with some pretentious title. What have I been teaching them???!!! When a team can identify with their superior and recognize (as my friend Dave VanderMolen says) their chronic humanness, bonds begin forming, and it is those bonds that aid in establishing deep-rooted motivation to perform and win every day.

What is keeping you from being a boss your people love?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gold and Experience

Have you ever panned for gold? I have and I can tell you that it’s not the easiest endeavor. We’ve got a gold mine about 20miles from our house. It is old, dusty and has a tremendous amount of history. We brought some of my family members there over the summer because they have some gem mining as well, which is more targeted toward kids.

Panning for gold takes hours and hours of dedicated work. You fill your pan with silt and continuously swirl it around while letting more and more water and sand wash out. When you get to the bottom of the pan it’s normally covered in gold dust. Aficionados will collect the dust in small vials. Once in a while someone will come across an actual “chunk” of gold. This piece could be as big as the head of a pin but worth a fair amount of money. We came across a guy whose goal was to mine a whole ounce. He figured that would earn him a few thousand dollars.

The bottom line is that in order to actually make money at gold mining you must put in the time. Very rarely can someone find a few thousand dollars worth on their first attempt. The same is true with experience. I know only a few people who have been wildly successful in a short amount of time without experience. We all wish we could be instant winners and prevail in the success lottery – unfortunately that’s not reality.

In order to be taken seriously you must have a certain amount of experience. One of my mentors says that after ten years at something you can do anything. So what is it about experience that opens the doors to new horizons? People don’t listen to, trust, or take advice from someone who’s never been through some pain, and odds are if you’ve only been at it for a short time your pain threshold is pretty low. You have to pay to play.

The frustrating part is going through the process. I interned at a large office furniture manufacturer in the Learning and Development arm of HR focusing on improving team performance on the shop floor and facilitating high level leadership training for managers. I LOVED my internship and wanted to continue doing it after I graduated. Unfortunately I had little to no experience and my boss reminded me that very few people would actually listen to a young, twenty-something teach them how to be a better leader. I needed experience. Looking back I definitely understand his point. There’s no way I would sit down and listen to some young kid whose biggest challenges the last 10 years were controlling his acne, getting his dad to let him borrow the car on the weekend, and showing up to his Marketing 101 final on time after a major kegger the night before. Experience is king – period.

So, my young, idyllic friends, what do you do if you’re on the short end of the experience stick? You work and work hard. Your time will come, and when it does you’ll be more prepared than anyone else for your moment of greatness. Keep fighting and failing and learning because before you know it, you’ll have enough gold in experience to cash in and do what you want to do.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

They is YOU

My team is not perfect. In fact, we’re far from it. A few things drive me crazy, and one of them is passing out faxes and seeing paper pile up on the office printer. You see, we work in an open environment where everyone is in the same room without the barriers of tall cubicle walls. You know how it works. Everyone goes to the same office machines every day and sorts through what’s theirs while leaving the rest piled up. It’s very Cogger-like if you ask me, and I’m not a fan. Of course the 80/20 principle applies to this where 20% of my people pass out 80% of the offices faxes and completed print jobs. Guess what? It drives the 20% crazy that the other 80% can’t figure out how to do this correctly, much less find it in their being to actually put forth the effort to knock out this simple task. Finally it came to a head about a year ago and I had to address it. Below is the email I sent to my crew (the names have been changed to protect the innocent). Take a peek.

It’s been awhile since I’ve sent out a lovely reminder, so here goes. When you print something, stand up promptly, turn, walk toward those machines against the blue wall. The document you selected to print is coming out of the cream colored machine. That machine is our PRINTER. It is not electronic paper storage, a document organizer, or Jarrod’s girlfriend. When you have retrieved said documents, turn and return to your seat, have a conversation with a teammate or have a thumb war with Greg (he’s got freak-like thumbs). If the printer does not produce your document, check to see if it is out of paper. If so, look in the cabinet under the machines, select a package of paper, and begin to fill the printer. If you are unsure about the paper filling procedure, one Jon “Paper Samurai” Smith would love to take you through his 3 part training course Paper Filling and You: Grip It, Rip It and Stick It.

The other machines, which are more of a darker gray are our fax machines. Those are 1990’s high-tech communication devices. They not only allow you to send documents electronically but they also receive documents as well. When you go visit the machines on the blue wall look to see if either fax machine has documents waiting to be retrieved. If so, take them gladly and begin to distribute them to the team. It not only helps those around you, but it also helps you get to know our business a bit better and saves Jack the effort of actually needing to get up and move around. If the fax machines are out of paper, please perform the paper filling procedure outlined in the paragraph regarding the printer. Ironically Mr. Smith has a follow up training course entitled The Fax Machine Needs Paper Too: 3 Ways for Fax Machines to Establish Zen-like Status. .

Unfortunately we are seeing these tasks performed by a small contingent of our crew vs. the whole team. Having the attitude of “THEY need to hand out those faxes” or “THEY need to get those documents off the printer” is actually acceptable if you can decipher the true message, which is…THEY IS YOU. That’s right, all of us have another name and that name is THEY. Let’s try it together. Sarah says, “They need to grab those faxes” translation, “I Sarah Jones need to grab those faxes and I will gladly do it because after all, my name is THEY”. See how that works? Yeah, that’s right, it’s magic! So, let’s get our heads screwed on straight and do the right thing.

Happy Wednesday,


Friday, January 8, 2010

Well are you or aren't you?

Are you a Cogger or a Commando? Here's some more help:

Coggers fight change – Commandos change in order to fight

Coggers cling to their box – Commandos blow up theirs

Coggers have tunnel vision – Commandos detonate the tunnel

Coggers experience Sunday night blues – Commandos have never heard of Sunday night

Coggers embrace mediocrity – Commandos raise standards and expectations

Coggers satisfy the minimum standard – Commandos drive extraordinary results

Coggers expect the predictable – Commandos expect the unpredictable

Coggers are a part of the machine – Commandos constantly improve the machine

Coggers live in a safe environment – Commandos reside in an environment of risk and unpredictability

Coggers define themselves by throughput – Commandos define themselves by results

Coggers enjoy limited responsibility – Commandos thrive on endless impact