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That’s Just an Excuse!

Manager: “Why didn’t you finish the report on time?  We really needed that information to move forward in the next phase!”

Employee: “I am sorry but the influx of orders, as well as our team members out because of the pandemic has made it impossible to take care of our customers AND analyze what was needed for the report.”

Manager: “That’s just an excuse…”

“That’s just an excuse” is uttered way too many times from leaders in all industries.  While it may be intended to motivate an employee, it is demoralizing and dismissive!

Do not misunderstand, there are times that employees will have actual excuses and need to be called out when they do.  Unfortunately, though, leaders often default to quickly dismissing employee concerns by labeling them as excuses.

Responding with “That’s just an excuse” is, in itself, an excuse for lazy leadership.

Great leaders know that active listening is the first step to bridge a connection with their followers.  Taking the time to listen and then deciphering between an excuse and what may be an actual reason is the mark of a true leader.

Reasons do exist and are often legitimate as to why something does not get accomplished.  The key is to recognize and understand the differences between excuses and reasons.

My daughter, for example, is learning to play the guitar.  She practices several times a week and does so without prodding from her mother and me.

Let’s say one of her guitar strings breaks – this would hamper her progression in learning to play.  If I were to ask her why she is not playing well and she told me about the broken string, it would be heartless for me to respond with, “Well, that’s just an excuse…why don’t you go get another string?”

She would undoubtedly remind me that she is not old enough to drive herself to the store and would need me to take her.  In this scenario, the broken string is not just an unwarranted excuse; it is an actual reason why she was being limited in her progression as a musician.

If I were practicing servant leadership, I would proceed to the local music shop so we could buy her a new package of strings. 

Leaders should learn to listen first.  Hear what the employee is saying as to why they struggled to complete a task.  Then, without jumping to conclusions too soon, seek ways to provide resolution.

Jumping to conclusions and firing off with “That’s just an excuse” will create barriers and your employees will stop coming to you for coaching, mentoring, and resolving issues altogether. 

Seek to understand, carefully decipher between excuses and reasons, and provide servant leadership.  Your employees will appreciate it and you will find them wanting to get it right more times than not!

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Crisis Amplifies Character

Whether personal, national, or global – we all experience crisis at one time or another. 

As we continue to work our way through the current crisis of Covid-19, it has caused me to reflect on how troubled times seem to amplify character.  Both good and bad character highlight our morals and what we deem important. 

In other words, crisis has a way of bringing us back to our core.  Our values, ethics and morals are all foundational to our character and all three are magnified in our actions when times get tough.

This is true for individuals, for businesses, and for society. 

Working in the retail sector has allowed me to observe human behavior from a distinct point of view.  I have seen both customers and employees do wonderful things for others and I have seen others seemingly “lose their minds” over insignificant matters.

For example, a customer came into our store after going to several retailers in the area trying to find cleaning supplies for her elderly neighbors.  This selfless person reacted to the crisis by serving those in need within her community.

As our store was shattering single-day customer count records, another customer lost his composure and begin shouting because we had not retrieved his online purchase as quickly as he would have liked.  He was so focused on himself that he failed to see the massive number of other customers our team was working frantically to serve.

There are so many other examples of individual actions I have observed that reinforces crisis amplifying character, but it would take a book to point them all out.

In March, when it became apparent that we as a nation needed to take some drastic measures to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, many businesses leaped into action.  It was apparent what companies valued most by the precautions they implemented.

For example, some major retailers announced they would close several hours earlier than normal to allow time for proper sanitization and cleaning of their stores.  They also made other decisions that focused on the health and wellbeing of their employees before profit.  This was proven when annual sales events were cancelled because holding them would entice more people to enter their stores.

On the other hand, some major retailers waited a couple of weeks before they began closing early.  They also ran with annual sales events that drew record numbers of people into their stores.  It was obvious that profit was more important than the health and wellbeing of their employees.  These companies have since made efforts to protect their workforces, but crisis has shown that turning a buck outranked the importance of their employees early on.

Society has also been amplified throughout the Covid-19 era.  Many businesses, for good reason, are labeled as “essential”.  For example, everyone still needs to purchase food to feed their families and, therefore, grocery stores remained open.

Many customers have gone to stores by themselves to purchase genuinely essential items.  They are careful to not get too close to others and they quickly gather what they need, checkout, and leave.  I have noticed, however, that not everyone goes to the stores to purchase only essential items.

Many customers come in to just browse because of boredom or to purchase materials to work on non-essential projects.  Ignoring the recommendations of health professionals and disregarding the safety of other customers and employees, they boldly show up with their entire families and wander around stores for hours. 

Whether individuals, companies, or society, crisis has a way of bringing out and amplifying character.  We have seen great acts of kindness and selfishness within all three.  It will be interesting to see what defines our new normal in the weeks and months going forward and the character it will amplify.   

Now more than ever, we need servant leaders who step up and let their character amplify compassion, empathy, understanding and love to employees and customers.  Leaders will shape the new normal…let us make it a great one!

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Red-lining Your Team

In today’s crazy pandemic world, we have witnessed many people who have been furloughed, laid-off, or just simply told not to come to work until things are back to normal. 

We have also seen other companies not only get to stay open but tremendously increase the products and services they provide.  From healthcare providers to emergency services to production lines to retail, essential businesses have doubled and tripled their workloads, thus making their teams run at or beyond the red line.

“Red lining” refers to moving the needle past the red line on your car’s tachometer, which measures the engine’s revolutions per minute (RPM).  Anyone who has pressed the accelerator while the transmission was in neutral has observed the needle move closer to, and even past, that red line indicator as the engine revs higher and higher.

Keeping an engine at the red line over an extended period will greatly increase wear and tear which can lead to serious problems.  Thus, the red line is there to warn the driver that the engine is hitting maximum output.

Essential employees are being red-lined every day and have been for a couple of months now.  It is more important than ever that leaders keep a watchful eye on the RPMs of our employees.

Like a mechanic monitoring an engine’s performance, leaders must watch for the signs of trouble and make corrections before it is too late.

These signs include irritability, exhaustion, an increase in mistakes, calling out sick, and/or safety incidents, and a loss of motivation.

Knowing the individuals on your team is the surest way of spotting these signs early.  You must intervene and provide caring leadership before the wear and tear destroys the engine all together.  When you spot the warning signs, take the time to adjust accordingly. 

This might require you to get out of your office, roll up your sleeves and help your team perform their tasks.  It shows that you not only care, but that you are in it with them.  It may simply mean that you just need to listen to them vent their frustrations and provide genuine, gracious responses.  Even a simple word of appreciation goes a long way. 

How you respond to your team plays a critical role in leading them through this unprecedented and difficult time.  Remember, servant leadership from a caring heart is like precious oil to an overworking engine! 

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Expect…Then Execute

As leaders, we must hold our teams and ourselves to higher standards at all times. Communicating those expectations is vital to success.

Your team must first understand the mission and what you expect from them. If you fail to communicate to them, they will fail to execute and failure will become your team’s culture.

Great leaders layout what successful implementation and completion of a plan looks like. Their teams know what is expected of them and the standard their leader expects.

Enhance the quality of your expectations with your team by clearly communicating with them. Hold them to a high standard and watch them excel!

We should take the same approach with the expectations we set for ourselves. Communicate your expectations for personal growth and what success looks like for you.

Plan out your goals and set high expectations of yourself. Write them down and hold yourself to those higher standards. In doing so, you will set a fantastic example for your team.

A leader’s expectation must remain high for their team to succeed. The team will feed off of the expectation the leader has set for their personal success. If the leader expects little of him/herself, their team will not be inspired to achieve much of anything.

Be the leader that holds yourself and your team to a higher standard. Become a champion for greatness by expecting it from you and your team!

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The Sacrificial Leader

From August 1996 – June 2000, I was assigned to the 22nd Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.  I was a jet engine maintainer in the Specialist Flight, responsible for the upkeep and repair of the squadron’s F16s.

During my tenure in the 22nd, I learned many leadership lessons from two contrasting squadron commanders.  Both were fighter pilots, both had been in the Air Force for quite some time, and both had earned the rank of lieutenant colonel.  This was the end of their similarities, however.

The first commander led from his position and relied heavily on his title.  We had the sense that he was in it for himself, and never really earned the respect of the squadron members.  This was especially true for the enlisted corps.  We respected the fact that he was an officer, and held the title of squadron commander, but he never inspired us to follow him for any other reason.

The second commander happened to have been our operations officer who promptly received command when the first commander was relieved of his duty.  It was this second commander that I learned what sacrificial, servant leadership was all about.

From the first day our new boss made it his personal mission to get to know each of the squadron members by coming to us.  He took off his flight suit and wore our uniform – the battle dress uniform (BDUs) – at least once a week. If you know anything about the egos of fighter pilots, you know this was huge! 

In fact, in the evening right after the change of command ceremony, he walked up to us on the flightline wearing his BDUs and hacky sacked with us while we were waiting for the planes to land!  It was these interactions that endeared him to us and made us want to give him our all.

I had later learned that when he took over as commander, he postponed his appointment to go the U.S. War College, which was a virtual guarantee for promotion to colonel.  He knew we had been without good leadership from his predecessor, so he sacrificed an important moment in his career to serve the men and women in his unit by providing us true servant leadership.

During his tenure, I watched our unit go from disillusionment, disengagement and despair to an engaged, ready-to-fight, above-and-beyond team.  Our leader inspired all of us to do more for each other and for him.  He earned our respect by simply showing how much he cared for us!

Much later, in 2011, I found out that this servant leader had made the rank of major general, having far exceeded the colonel rank he sacrificed for us.  It really didn’t surprise me because he was such an effective leader. 

The best way to lead people today is to sacrificially serve them.  Followers are perceptive when it comes to sizing up whom they choose to follow.  In order to make deep connections with your followers, actively seek ways to serve them better.

Your title will only carry so much weight.  Learn to lead beyond your position and into the hearts and minds of your followers.  When you do, they will respond by giving you so much more than you can imagine!

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Keep Moving

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a rut? I have numerous times throughout my life. One of them was while I was working to complete my master’s degree.

I had just graduated with my bachelor’s and knew I still had plenty left over from my G.I. Bill to pursue my master’s. So, I jumped right into the program at school and chipped away, class-by-class, until it was completed.

During the process, however, I was growing more and more disenfranchised with schooling. After all, I had just finished cramming a four year degree into the last 20 years of my life (off and on throughout my military career)!

The thought of another class began taking its toll on me and at times I toyed with the idea of quitting.

That age old question, “How do you eat an elephant”? Followed by the inevitable answer, “One bite at a time”, kept repeating in my heart and mind. That is when I decided to simply focus my thoughts on the task at hand, and not the entire goal of graduating.

Instead of staying in the rut of indecision and delaying my education, I decided to keep moving in pursuit of graduating by focusing on the next assignment. Breaking it down even further, I planned daily goals to ensure weekly assignments were met.

For example, if I had an essay due that week, I would set a daily goal of how many paragraphs to write. By the end of the week, the essay was completed and I could focus on the next week’s assignments.

If you are faced with a decision in life, like a career change or whether to finish your degree or not, just keep moving! You can do this by asking yourself what you need to accomplish today in order to chip away at your goal. The key is to keep moving forward in your pursuits, professionally and in life!

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Train Well/Treat Well

The secret to long-term employee loyalty isn’t really a secret at all. In fact, it is age old advice that is as relevant today as it has been for thousands of years: Train your people and treat them like they matter and they will!

The year we reduced employee turnover by 20% came down to two very important factors: Training and inclusion.

Every new employee received the absolute best we could give in terms of their onboarding and training. They were allowed to train at a pace they were comfortable with during their first week. The next several weeks were spent in their departments with a mentor.

The mentors were selected from our team of established, seasoned employees who were really good at their jobs and who enjoyed training others. This created a deeper sense of purpose for the mentors and they knew they were making a difference.

During this time, our management team also began studying, discussing, and putting into practice servant leadership techniques that changed how they approached leading their teams. Engagement, inclusion, comradery and service to others became the culture.

When training and treating our employees well became the priority, the vast majority of our team looked forward to coming to work. Loyalty and engagement were really high and work became fun!

If your place of employment is struggling with engagement, take a close look at how you are training, what you do to include your long-term employees, and how your leadership team interacts with their people.

A little tweak of improvement in those areas can greatly improve your workplace culture!

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Realigning Priorities

No doubt about it, the Coronavirus has pushed the pause button on our daily lives around the world! People are told to stay home, hunker down, and avoid what was considered normal routine just a short while ago.

While the majority of us are eager to getting back to the way things were, I also feel this is a great time to slow down and take a long look at what’s truly important in life.

Stephen Covey had it right when he said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on the schedule, but to schedule your priorities”!

We have to be intentional in this, because too often we allow our schedules to dictate our day. By scheduling our priorities, we order our own lives and control what gets our utmost attention.

If you are one of the many who are not going to work, meetings, appointments, sporting events, movies, and/or restaurants…forced to stay home with your family – breathe it all in while you can. Connect with your spouse and kids during this time and analyze, truly analyze, life before lockdown and the opportunities you have right now to create wonderfully meaningful memories!

My hope is that when this is all over, and it will be before long, the whole experience will have been a time of reprioritization for us…a blessing in disguise, if you will.

By realigning our priorities, we will come out of this with our priorities in order! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, everybody.

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Tale of Two Workcenters

Workcenters A and B are in the exact same industry, under the same corporate ownership, but in two geographically different locations.  Both provide a service to customers and are nationally recognized because of their corporate affiliation.

Their products, processes, policies and talent pools are the same.  They provide their employees with identical compensation, benefits, and training.  Their building décor is identical, as is their parking lots.  Even the bathrooms are in the same locations inside both buildings. 

Each of these workcenters have operated for a long time and have experienced the ebb and flow of doing business throughout the years.  Recently, however, workcenter A has far exceeded the output of B in terms of production…but why?

Why does one workcenter outshine the other when the playing field is so even?  It really comes down to the one thing that is distinguishable between both places of employment: Leadership!

Every industry can trace its success and failure back to leadership.  You can see it in the military, business, government and the sports world, just to name a few.

In professional sports, for example, certain teams seem to always make the playoffs and the best ones pile up championship after championship.  Despite having the exact same levels of player talent, rules, and equal amounts of games to play, the coaching is often what makes some teams excel and others get pounded every season!

Workcenter A has better coaching and this has produced a better team.  The leaders know the value of their people and act accordingly.  They care for their employees and seek to serve them.  They create a safe culture that inspires its workers to give their absolute best every day.  Thus, the employees come to work excited and are inspired to perform above and beyond.   

Workcenter B has employees (including mid-level managers) who dread coming to work because they are demoralized and dejected.  The leaders sit in their offices and only come out to spew their negativity.  The employees, therefore, perform their jobs in a self-preservation mode in fear of upsetting leadership.  They have given up on going above and beyond and are just wanting to survive another day.

With over 30 years as a working adult, from military units to the business world, I have personally experienced both workcenters.  The difference between fantastic places to work and the horrible ones was always leadership. 

Author and leadership expert, John C. Maxwell, points out that, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  The truth of this statement can be seen in business, the military, the government, the sports world, and so on.  When you think about it, successes and failures in all endeavors can be traced to a leader who was responsible.

The good news for workcenter B is that they don’t have to stay there!  Improving the culture will only occur when the leadership team commits to changing how they lead.  They should take an honest inventory of their effectiveness and implement self-development measures.

Paramount to those measures should be regular and ongoing leadership development and training.  I have witnessed leadership teams turn work cultures completely around in a relatively short period of time because they first focused on improving their own leadership skills. 

If you are in a workcenter B environment, start by developing yourself first.  No matter your position, true leadership is influencing others.  We can influence our peers, subordinates, and bosses by our actions and attitudes (which are often the most effective way to do so)!

Get a book on leadership and commit yourself to reading a chapter a day. Also, watch some leadership talks, develop habits of leadership improvement and encourage those you work with to do the same. 

When you do, you will see your workcenter start to resemble A more than B!

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Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is the fuel that powers our internal drive!

When I was in the military, we used to tell our newest troops, “Either you discipline yourself, or someone else will”.

Personally, I found it easier and far more desirable to make myself do what needed to be done, rather than have the consequences of slacking off, or taking the easy way out.

Disciplining myself to run and exercise on my days off, for example, allowed me to pass fitness tests with flying colors. Staying up late and studying when I would have rather been having fun produced more promotions for me.

Create the habits of self-discipline in your life. No one I know has ever regretted doing so. It will bridge the gap between your goals and accomplishments!

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Diversity Dynamics

At the midpoint of my military career, I had the privilege of teaching jet engine maintenance to brand new airmen at Sheppard AFB, Texas.

After eight years of service in the field, I volunteered and was selected to become a training instructor.  This was such a rewarding and enriching time because it not only gave me the opportunity to positively impact over 500 new Air Force members, it also taught me the importance of diversity.

Thousands of airmen go through basic training every year and when they get to their technical schools, they are placed in classes with other new airmen, that often don’t know each other.

The classes I taught varied is size, usually from 5 to 15 airmen.  It was so cool to teach these teams, as they spent the first few days learning the differences between a wrench and a screwdriver, to overhauling fighter jet engines just 3 months later!

The trainees were from all over the country.  Different backgrounds, races, religions, genders, even accents (it was fun watching a young person from Dallas working alongside a young person from New York City)!

In the military, you learn quickly to get along with people different from you.  In extreme cases, your life may depend on it!  Diversity immersion for these young people starts day one at basic training, continues into technical school and throughout their careers.

Having gone through basic, technical school training, and eight years of service, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to teach that I realized how important diversity truly is.

Whether the military or the corporate world, whenever we get to work alongside someone different from us, it stretches us and causes personal growth.  Recognizing our differences and setting them aside to focus on accomplishing a task or goal makes us realize our own unique strengths and weaknesses.  

The beauty in our diversity happens when teammates recognize how each person’s strength fills in the gaps for each person’s weakness on the team.

Take a football team, for example.  The six-foot tall, lean and speedy wide receiver should not be placed at center to hike the ball and block for the quarterback.  That would be disastrous!  Likewise, the center should not line up and run a post route to catch a 20-yard pass.

The physical diversity between a wide receiver and a center make them wildly successful in their respective positions on the team.  They complement one another by each playing within their strength zones and the team has a better chance of success.

Getting young airmen to realize what their teammates can contribute was much the same.  Working together to accomplish installing turbines (a multi-person task) caused them to appreciate each other and what they brought to the team.

Some were physically stronger than others, some were better at reading and interpreting the technical manuals, and some were more mechanically inclined.  The point is, they discovered their teammates’ strengths and used them to become successful together.

As each class neared the end of training, they developed deep and meaningful relationships with each other.  They would often exchange contact information so they could stay in touch after graduating as they prepared to go to their first duty assignments. 

It was so rewarding to help these young adults realize that it is wonderful to work with people different from themselves.  Little did they know how much they taught me about the importance of diverse team dynamics!

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Accentuate the Positive, Tweak the Negative

Have you ever worked for a person that seemed to find negativity in everything?  You know the one: you and your team fight tirelessly to reach a goal or solve an issue and just as you start celebrating your success, in walks the boss with a “Great job, but…” And then seems bent on explaining how you could have done it better, or why it should have been done another way. 

Nothing will sap the energy of a team quicker than its leader not recognizing the positive things they have accomplished!

Don’t get me wrong…there are times when negative messages must be presented.  They should, however, be the exception and not the norm if you expect your team to move in a positive direction.

Leaders who are prone to finding fault or who constantly point out a “better way” of doing things think they are helping their team members improve.  What they fail to realize is they shape a negative culture by projecting constant negative expectations.

If the leader sees success and fails to show gratitude and praise or laces it with negativity, the workers become disingenuous and disengaged.  After all, why excel if only faults are pointed out to you after you have given it your all?!

The best leaders build momentum by presenting positive messages more than negative ones.  They understand that praising people for seemingly insignificant tasks done well will lead to confidence to accomplish bigger things.

So, how do you accentuate the positive and only tweak the negative?

Let’s say you have an employee who has restocked the glass cleaner in your store.  You walk up as they are just about to finish and you notice they took down the overflow stock, packed the shelves, and ensured the price is correct. 

The surest way to reinforce that behavior is to immediately acknowledge what they have done by thanking them and praising their efforts.  Point out how great the packed shelves of glass cleaner look and how this will appeal to the customers.

Even if you notice some minor errors, such as one of the bottles facing a different direction than all the others, refrain from pointing this out.  Remember, you just walked around the corner and into the cleaning aisle as the employee was finishing.  You don’t know if they are aware of the bottle and plan to turn it to align with the others as soon as you leave. 

Granted, you could make their 95% great job 100% by pointing it out and turning the bottle around right then.  But, in so doing, it may deflate the employee enough that next time they will simply ignore the empty shelves.  That 95% great job just turned into 0% effort!

The point is, if you are the type of leader that drains your team by constantly overlooking what they have done right, they will soon give up trying at all.

Try a little experiment – see if you can give out at least ten positive messages for every one negative.  With a little self-awareness in how you communicate to your team, you should start forming a great habit within a week.  In less than a month, your team will respond with positive work as they have noticed the change in you!

If your employee continues to display one of the glass cleaners backwards, address it after you have given them at least ten positive messages about their performance.  They will be open to accepting the criticism and more likely to change their behavior.

By accentuating the positive and tweaking the negative, you will build a culture of employees who are excited to be there and more willing to go above and beyond to please their leader – you! 

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Fortune Favors the Bold

During my military career, I had the honor of being assigned to the 366 Fighter Wing, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho from the fall of 2007 until my retirement in 2012. 

The Wing’s motto is, “Fortune favors the bold”.  The Latin, “Audaces fortuna juvat” was at the bottom of the Wing patch that we proudly displayed on our uniforms.

During the Vietnam conflict, the motto was evident when pilots reported missed opportunities to shoot down enemy MiGs because their F-4s didn’t have a cannon and their missiles were only capable of long-range shots.  The maintainers responded by mounting Gatling gun pods on the F-4s and in under one month, the 366th pilots had shot down four MiGs.

The bold actions of the pilots and maintainers resulted in the fortune of successful response to enemy aggression.  It also earned the 366th the nickname still used today: “The Gunfighters”.

Fortune favors the bold is so profoundly true.  And, it is not solely for a military unit.  It is also true where you work.

Leaders display boldness every day.  Decisions are made that affect many different factors, from your people, to your customers, to the direction of the departments you lead.  Obviously, the higher up the ladder you are, the more impactful the decisions.

But what if you are not in a management position at work?  Can you still display the boldness of leadership?  Absolutely!

Like the maintainers who understood the need of their pilots, they boldly presented the solution of attaching the Gatling gun pods to their F-4s.  The pilots (in the leadership positions) agreed and the rest is history!

Leaders often rise in an organization because of their ability to find solutions.  The best ideas of how to find solutions, or make the working environment better, usually come from within the ranks and not from the top.

If you have an idea to make your team more successful, line up the details and explain how it will make things better.  Be bold in your convictions and share the idea with your supervisor. 

Leaders at all levels should encourage team members to share ideas and be bold in their implementation.  True engagement occurs when employees feel they are positively contributing to the betterment of their workplace and not just droning through the day.

A winning work culture is one where boldness of ideas can flourish.  Encouraging solutions and better ways of doing things creates a strong workplace.

Remember, a leadership title does not make a leader…action does.  Leaders, learn to listen and encourage ideas from within your teams. 

Fortune favors the bold!

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Daily Habits

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Chinese proverb. 

Our hopes, dreams and aspirations are extremely important to our success.  Whether we are discussing work, student, or home life, we all have a picture in our minds of what success looks like. 

With that picture in mind, you have probably set some goals to achieve your definition of success.  If you just started crafting your goals, please see the post from a couple of weeks ago entitled, 2020 Vision.  You can access it here

Many people set achievable goals and flame out before reaching them.  Why?  What is the difference between those who succeed and those who give up? 

A goal is only as good as the person who is going to see it through to completion.  And this is only accomplished through developing the daily habits, or steps, it takes to cumulatively reach your destination.

No matter how big the goal, you have what it takes to reach it!  Too often, however, people set grandiose goals and never take the daily actions required to meet them.  I am convinced that by taking your goal from the finish line back to the starting line will greatly increase your chances of victoriously completing it!

Let me explain.  For example, a freshman in college has entered the higher education domain with a goal of one day achieving a bachelor’s degree.  When first starting, it seems massive and overwhelming to imagine four years of study, work, and finals in order to graduate. 

So, the freshman learns quickly to focus their energy on passing each semester.  To get through the semester, they must succeed in each of their classes.  Breaking it down even further, the freshman must focus on the assignments and expectations in each of those classes.  Finally, the successful student figures out the daily habits required to complete the assignments for the classes of each semester that ultimately results in obtaining their desired degree.   

We can take the same approach with any goal.  Want to lose 50 pounds this year?  Want to out produce what you did last year at work?  Want to have a closer relationship with your significant other?  Think about the finish line, while focusing on each step that will get you there.  What are the daily actions you must take to help you reach your goal? 

Our sales team is busy laying out their goals for this year and we are taking the same approach.  They determine their annual goals and then we spend time breaking them down into what daily actions must occur to reach them.

For example, one team plans to produce 208 quality sales leads for FY2020.  We are now working to focus not on 208, but simply what it will take for each of the team members to produce just two leads per week.  Two people getting two leads for 52 weeks equals 208 leads for the year!

Taking it one step further, we talk about the daily habits required to produce a minimum of two sales leads per week.  Doing so has caused our team members to analyze their day and help them determine how much time and effort they will require to capture those leads.

This simple, yet effective, way of focusing big picture success into manageable daily habits is the key to obtaining any goal.

Remember, your goals must be positive, purposeful, measurable and attainable.  No matter the goal, work backward and break it down into monthly, weekly, daily and/or even hourly action steps that you can focus on completing.

Those steps will compile over time and will produce your desired goal.  Now get to work, one step at a time!

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Course Correction

Corrective action is something we as leaders must face at one time or another.  Whether you are giving or receiving corrective action, it can be uncomfortable or even down right demoralizing.

Think about it – if you have ever been called to the office to meet with your immediate supervisor because your actions deserve a course correction, it can elicit some negative emotions. 

Likewise, if you have ever had to discuss behavioral issues with a subordinate, it too can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth – especially if you are the type of leader that thrives on seeing your people succeed.

However, it does not have to be a negative experience when it is presented in a positive light.  As leaders we do have control over how we handle presenting corrective action.

For example, if we come into the meeting angry or upset and allow our emotions to control our presentation, the recipient’s defense mechanisms usually flare up and our desired outcome (a behavior correction) will be lost.  Therefore, it is a best practice to wait and rationally evaluate the reasons for meeting with the employee instead of doing so immediately. 

During the meeting (which should always be done in private and away from the employee’s peers) focus primarily on the negative behavior and not the person.  Keep the discussion on what specific action or inaction is causing you to meet. 

Throughout the meeting, encourage the employee to come up with solutions to correct their behavior.  This will produce better buy-in from the employee and, thus, a greater likelihood they will change.

If needed, schedule a follow-up appointment if the initial shock of being held accountable is too overwhelming for the employee.  Remember to keep calm and stay in control of your emotions, no matter the reaction of the employee.

I recently had an employee that needed corrective action because he was not completing daily tasks.  After several coaching sessions from his immediate supervisor, he was still not performing at the expected level.  The next step was to hold him accountable through the company’s corrective action process.

During our meeting, I sensed he was upset and emotional.  I told him that we would follow-up in a couple of days to discuss solutions.  A couple of days later we met in an informal setting in his department, away from his peers.  He came up with several great solutions and since then his work behaviors have dramatically improved. 

Had I approached the meeting as a “one-way conversation” and berated him for his poor performance, it would not have produced what was needed:  an employee willingly contributing to the success of the team.

Remember, you are the leader and therefore have control over the tone of the meeting.  Ensure the employee that you believe in them and only want to see them succeed.  Corrective action can produce positive results if it is done with the spirit of helping the employee become better.

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2020 Vision

It is hard to believe, but 2019 is almost finished!  This past year was filled with its share of challenges, opportunities and hope.  As I reflect on it and our team’s successes, it fills me with a sense of accomplishment and that familiar feeling, that all leaders share, of needing to achieve more.

Yes, believe it or not, 2020 is upon us and will be here in less than a week.  Leaders across the world are thinking about the new year and making plans to lead their teams to greater heights and achievements.

What about you?  Are you planning your team’s success for the new year?

Before deciding what we want our teams to accomplish next year, we should set our own personal goals first.  Setting your personal goals first will get you in the correct mindset for leading your team to set theirs.

Personal Goals

Start by focusing your personal goals on three categories:  Personal Growth, Relationships and Professional.

Personal Growth goals fall into three specific categories: Spiritual, Mental and Physical.

Spiritual goals should focus on your core self, your values and purpose in life.  What do you deeply believe in?  How does what you believe in give you purpose?  Where is your spiritual journey taking you?  These are some questions to start with as you formulate your spiritual goals for 2020.

Mental goals may include certain books you plan to read or classes/seminars you plan to attend.  Set a goal for learning and stretching or reinforcing what you already know.  Commit to read a certain amount of leadership or self-help books.  Look for seminars in your local area or sign up for classes designed to help you become better.

Physical goals may involve starting or changing your exercise routine, a change in your diet, a certain weight target, etc.  Staying fit and active will only enhance the other areas of your life, so make it a priority in the upcoming year.

Relationship goals should focus on your immediate family.  They can also include extended family, dear friends and coworkers.  Relationships are vitally important to our overall wellbeing and health.  Focus on tangible ways to strengthen those relationships, such as taking up a hobby or learning a new skill together.  When setting your relationship goals, ask yourself, “What do I plan to contribute to these relationships to help enrich them in 2020?”

Professional goals are what you are planning for yourself and your team at work.  Think of goals that will stretch you and enhance your specific job, such as learning a new skill or receiving a certification.  As for your team, you should guide and coach them as they set their own goals.

Team Goals

For your team to be successful in reaching goals next year, you must include them in the planning process.  Have a meeting with your team to set goals as a group for the new year.  Doing so will create solid buy-in and make achieving those goals more likely. 

Where I work, we have already started planting the seeds about this meeting within our individual department sales teams.  With a minimum baseline, our team will decide their goals for the upcoming year.  The team will collectively set their department goals while the department supervisors and I are available for coaching and advice.  When we conduct our goals meeting in January, they will have some well thought out, specific goals ready to bring before the entire team.

As you work through your personal and team goals, make sure they are positive, purposeful, measurable and attainable.

Positive goals bring joy and excitement to you, especially when you think about accomplishing them.  Each of your goals need to have an element of positivity.  If they do not, they are not worth trying to reach.

A purposeful goal describes what you are trying to accomplish.  In other words, when you write your goal you should see the purpose behind it.  For example, you may have a physical goal of losing 20 lbs. in the first three months of the year.  The purpose is to become healthier, feel better, and look amazing.

Goals must be measurable in order to stay on track and provide motivation for accomplishment.  As you work toward your goal, have checkpoints along the way to measure how far you have come.  The 20 lbs. you are working to lose can be measured weekly as you weigh-in.  When you see positive movement, you are likely to keep the course in reaching your goal.

Above all, make your goals attainable.  You want to make sure the goals stretch you and your team, but they also must be realistic.  For instance, I have a goal to maintain my physical fitness level in 2020.  This is attainable.  It would be unrealistic for me to set a goal to become so physically fit that I could play professional football, however!  Your goals, and your team’s goals, must be something that can be attained.

Yes, we are less than a week from the new year and it promises to be an amazing one.  I wish all of you nothing but success and prosperity in achieving your personal and team goals in 2020.  Remember, set your goals first and then lead your team well in setting theirs!

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Rigid Flexibility

When I was in the military, our leaders would often use the term “rigid flexibility” to describe how we should handle change.  Admittedly, I had no idea what they were talking about every time I heard this oxymoronic phrase.  It wasn’t until I obtained leadership positions that rigid flexibility became clearer and more than just military jargon used to inspire troops dealing with change.

Rigid flexibility means being flexible enough to make changes as circumstances dictate while remaining true to our beliefs.  In other words, there are times we must bend when circumstances require but we should never let those circumstances break our core values.

When our military leaders informed us of a change, they expected us to remain flexible enough to make the necessary adjustments but stay determined to go about it without changes to how we prepared and executed the mission itself.

I discovered that our leaders did not want our core values to ever flex, but to remain immovable, or rigid.  This meant that as circumstances changed, we were to execute those changes within the guidelines of our core values.  In the business world, we should never compromise our core values, beliefs, and ethics.  If a change is needed, we must be flexible enough to implement the change without flexing ethical, moral or legal lines.

Rigid flexibility is a great tool for leaders to model while an organization is going through a period of change.  The leaders I looked up to in the military did a fantastic job of showing their resolve in handling change the right way.  They remained true to their core values and their example helped us change course when the mission dictated, but to do so with our core values, beliefs and ethics intact. 

The next time you are facing change in your workplace, remember your own core values, beliefs and ethics.  Become a change agent with rigid flexibility in mind as you help your teams navigate the change.  Lead by example as you personally show your team members what it means to bend, but not break.  Remember, change may be inevitable, but our attitude toward change is completely within our control.

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Attitude of Gratitude

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”                   – William Arthur Ward

In 1863, during the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November should be designated as a day of Thanksgiving.  He knew the importance of remaining thankful, even during arguably the worst crisis in American history.

Ever since, Americans have celebrated this cherished holiday with family and friends across the country.  People gather in houses and restaurants for feasting, fellowship and football for this beloved American holiday.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it highlights the importance of gratitude.  Life is short and we can easily get so wrapped up in our day-to-day activities that we forget to pause and reflect upon all the good things in life. 

Study after study has shown that those who practice gratitude on a continual basis are some of the happiest people around.  This does not mean that thankfulness always brings happiness, but ungratefulness surely won’t either!  Adopting an attitude of gratitude is one of the best ways to get your mind in a positive state and that is always a wonderful habit to maintain.

Leaders should adopt an attitude of gratitude not just at Thanksgiving but throughout the entire year.  When we continuously express thankfulness to our followers, they get a real sense of appreciation and most respond by striving to do more for you.  Leaders should thank their people often and with sincerity.

True thankfulness must come from the heart and not out of insincere obligation.  In other words, don’t treat thanking your employees like something else to cross off your daily schedule.  Whenever an employee does something that positively impacts the team and/or the bottom line, let them know that you noticed it and are thankful for their efforts.

Don’t just limit your attitude of gratitude to the office.  When your spouse or children do something that positively impacts your family, let them know how much you appreciate them.  By practicing thankfulness at home with your loved ones, you will reinforce the habit and it will bring positive benefits in all aspects of your life.

As you gather with family and/or friends for Thanksgiving this year, tell each of them how much you appreciate them and what they mean to you.  As John C. Maxwell points out, “Remember, man does not live on bread alone: sometimes he needs a little buttering up”.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Bryan

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7 steps to a better C.U.L.T.U.R.E.

Culture is a leader’s best friend!  A workplace with a great culture provides fuel to get the momentum machine moving!  Companies that have great cultures make coming to work a joy instead of a dread.  Excited, positive employees have less absences, cause less drama and produce more.

If the collective attitude of your workplace needs an upgrade, start by following these simple suggestions to better your C.U.L.T.U.R.E.

Create an inclusive atmosphere – Start by celebrating diversity and create a feeling of openness to share ideas and suggestions for improvement.  It’s one thing to hire for diversity, but the best leaders understand the treasure of ideas and creativity that comes from having people with different backgrounds on their teams.  Encourage all ideas to be brought to the table and you’ll be amazed at what you get!

Understand the pulse – Learn to observe the attitudes and rhythms of your teams.  This will help you better assess engagement and needs for intervention.  Watch the mannerisms of your people as they interact with each other and customers.  Do your employees move with a sense of purpose and pep in their steps?  Is there a natural willingness to serve others?  Leaders in tune with their team’s pulse can identify when culture needs to be tweaked.

Love your employees – Think about the sacrifices as well as the contributions they make for the team.  Most of your employees do not wake up with the desire to come to work and goof off all day.  They want to succeed and rely on you to help them do that.  As a leader, you should desire for them to be as successful as possible and this desire comes from a love for them.  The best leaders love their employees because they genuinely care about them.

Treat everyone with respect – Respect everyone as not only a team member, but more importantly, as a human who is there to make the team a success.  Respect must be earned and, as a leader, it is up to you to lead by example.  The most effective way to increase respect is to model what it means to give it.  Think about your tone when you address your employees and be mindful of showing them respect.  Remember that respect must be given for it to be reciprocated.   

Unify the team – Help team members understand how their contributions serve their teammates as well as the company.  Unification comes through service to the team, from the team.  When teammates help each other, productivity goes through the roof and excitement builds.  Watch any documentary about a championship sports team and you will discover how unified they are through their service to each other.  Talent and coaching are important, but not as much as unification. 

Rely on each other – Trust is a must with regard to culture.  Learning to rely on each other is the catalyst for solidifying a team into a family.  When the team is so unified it becomes like family, it becomes easier to trust each other.  Leaders should always stress the importance of relying on each other and look for creating opportunities to do that.  Team projects and exercises are a great way to help increase reliability.    

 Expect excellence – Expect excellence of yourself as well as your team.  Raising your level of expectation based upon your belief in your employees will cause them to elevate their game.  One of the U.S. Air Force’s core values is, “Excellence in all we do”.  Along with integrity and service, excellence was permeated into everything we did in the military.  When excellence becomes a pillar of your team’s culture, great things will happen.

Following these suggestions to a better C.U.L.T.U.R.E. has proven itself to be a game changer in my experience.  I have been on teams that have gone from dysfunctional to wonderful in little time because leaders focused on bettering the culture.  Those teams, in turn, produced more, increased engagement scores and significantly reduced turnover.

What are your suggestions to help create a better workplace culture?  Please comment and let us know what has worked for you.

Hope this helps, everyone…lead well!

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The Sweet Spot

What is your leadership style?  I have been asked this question too many times to count.  If you are in a management position, I’ll bet you have been asked the same thing.  It is a great question, because it causes us to do some self-reflection and analyze how we tend to lead.

As you ponder this question, think about leaders you have worked for.  What did you admire about their leadership styles?  What did you dislike about their leadership approach?  What worked and what didn’t work?  How did you and your coworkers respond to how they led? 

I have found that the vast majority of poor, ineffective leaders land on one of two ends of the management spectrum: micro- and macro-management.  The best managers recognize the spectrum and land their leadership style somewhere in between the two.

Webster’s dictionary defines micromanage as, “to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details”.  As I think about all the micromanagers I’ve worked for, the words excessive control fits them like a glove!  They were overbearing and tended to hover critically over those who worked for them.  They left their followers feeling inept and negative towards their work.  Micromanagement dissolved any desire to follow such leaders and the team’s will to succeed suffered.

At the other end of the management spectrum is the macro-manager.  These leaders are so hands-off that you wonder if they actually do anything other than collect a larger paycheck than yours!  Macro-managers lead from so far out that they cannot see obvious opportunities or pitfalls ahead.  They view the workplace like someone zooming as far out on Google Maps as possible.  They can see the country where their neighborhood is located, but not the roads and businesses unless they zoom back in.  Macro-managers view the workplace the same way.  They are rarely seen and often provide little direction to their employees.  Like micromanagers, macro-managers also dissolve the desire to follow them.

Leadership is the art of influencing people.  This is best performed by finding that sweet spot between micro- and macro-management.  If you think of the best leaders you’ve followed, didn’t they land somewhere in-between micro- and macro-management in the way they led?  The top leaders I have worked for were close enough to provide support and coaching but did so without hovering and nitpicking every detail.  They led by getting out in front, but not so far ahead that I never saw or heard from them.  The most influential leaders lead their teams by finding the sweet spot between micro- and macro-management.

As you lead your teams, keep consciously aware of your leadership style.  Ask yourself whether you are providing too much direction or not enough.  Knowing your followers is essential to leadership because it will help you better pinpoint where you need to land on the spectrum.  You will discover that your people will respond to varying degrees of your style. 

For example, the newest employee on your team may require more micromanagement from you at the very beginning.  Be keenly aware of how quickly they grasp concepts and perform the skills needed to get their work completed.  It’s a lot like teaching a child to ride a bike.  As I taught my children to ride, I held onto the seat and handlebars as they sat on the bike.  Running beside them as I held on and they found their balance gave them the security they needed while learning how to keep their balance.  As their confidence grew, I would let go while still running beside them.  Eventually, they no longer needed my constant micromanagement as they hopped on their bikes and took off.  Look at your employees in the same way by providing up close direction and coaching at the beginning, but also recognize when to let them go it alone.

For more seasoned employees, you must learn to trust in their ability to perform tasks and get the results needed for the team to excel.  Experienced employees will appreciate you not hovering and constantly criticizing their performance, but they also expect you to notice their efforts.  The only way you can do this is if you stay involved enough to see how effective they are.  As my children grew in their abilities to ride, I continued to provide encouragement and only coached them when it was necessary for their safety.  Macro-managers never encourage their employees because they are too focused on the big picture to notice the efforts of their team members. 

Influencing people truly is an art because everyone on your team needs different levels of encouragement from you.  As a leader, it is up to you to know your followers well enough to provide the exact leadership style to properly influence them.  As you go through your day, analyze how you are leading and keep aiming for that sweet spot between the micro- and macro-management spectrum based on what your team needs.  Your team will appreciate it and your leadership will become more effective.

Dr. Eric Perry

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

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