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.