3 Lessons from Walking Across the Office

Yesterday morning, I was reminded of some very important leadership lessons.  The funny thing is that they all occurred in a walk across the office that took less than 5 minutes.

On this particular walk, I was in heavy thought.  I was trying to process some complex information before getting to my destination.  As a result, my head was down, my eyes were on the floor, and I was walking briskly.  I wasn’t my normal friendly, approachable self.

And in that short walk from one side of the building to the other, this is what I learned:

Lesson 1:  Eyes on the floor and walking briskly are not a good combination.  It’s a recipe for disaster.   In my brief journey, I successfully ran in to another person coming around a corner,  ran in to a box of marketing materials,  and nearly ran in to a structural column.  Where was my “Danger, Will Robinson, danger” alarm? Simply, I wasn’t paying attention.  I was lost in my own world and was not cognizant of my surroundings.  Besides being a physical threat to myself and others, the lesson is a great leadership metaphor. 

Leaders need to keep their eyes on the horizon to successfully navigate changes in their environment.

Lesson 2:  I am a pretty friendly person and am a strong believer that a leader’s attitude is contagious, which is why I am quick to greet people, give a smile, or slap a high five.  With my head down and lost in thought, I was not acting like I normally do.  And as I walked by a colleague without looking up, he said, “Good Morning, Jason!” in a friendly, yet challenging tone.  I say hello to this guy every time I see him, but this time I didn’t – what was I thinking?  I’ve set a standard and expectation for my behavior, but failed in this moment. He realized it and said something.  I stopped, went back to him, shook his hand and apologized saying, “I’m sorry.  I was lost in thought.” 

What’s worse is that he wasn’t the only one that I did that to on this walk.  I was no more than 50 feet from him before the same situation repeated itself.  And I found myself apologizing in the same fashion.  “I’m sorry.  I was lost in thought.”  What a pathetic excuse.  It really didn’t matter why I didn’t say hello, the fact is that I failed again and was called on it again.  How many people did I pass that didn’t call me on it?

People not only pay attention to your actions, but also to your inactions. …and they hold you accountable.

Lesson 3:  A little later in the day, well after my brief walk, I was back to my normal self.  At our office coffee bar, I greeted an associate and asked her how she was doing.  Instead of responding to my question, she said, “I saw you this morning.”  And then softened her voice and turned her eyes down and finished, “…but you didn’t see me.”  Those words cut me straight to the core, “you didn’t see me”.  It’s every leader’s nightmare.  I asked her, “Where were you?”  She responded, “I walked right by you.”  Ugh! What was I doing?  I asked her why she didn’t say hello.  She responded that she thought I looked really busy and didn’t want to bother me.

I pulled my lame apology back out for the third time.  She said, “It’s okay.”  But I finished with, “No.  It isn’t.  And I am really sorry.”

People not only pay attention to a leader’s action and inaction, but they are impacted by them.

That was a lot of learning for such a short walk.  It goes to show that leaders are “on” all the time.  Whether you realize it or not, people are watching your every move and are impacted by what you do and don’t do. You don’t get “down time”.

While this may seem like a tough concept for leaders to accept, the fact is that more is required from you because of your position – whether formal or informal.  My favorite bible verse is Luke 12:48 because it speaks such truth for leaders –  To whom much is given, much is required.

I appreciate these associates for calling me out and helping me get back on track, because as leaders we are judged by our weakest moments.

So, keep your head up, eyes on the horizon, and make sure your actions positively impact others.

What lessons have you learned while walking across the office?

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17 Truths from Above and Below

Inc. Magazine is one of my favorite “pick up and reads” when I have a little down time. I always seem to walk away with a few nuggets that I can tuck in to my own leader’s locker.

And then as I go through varying experiences, I’m able to pull those nuggets right back out of the locker and use them.

In the last 48 hours, I’ve had four different development discussions with mentees and colleagues, each of which centered around awareness of what was happening above and below them.  Meaning – situations that involved their boss, their employees, or both.

Often in these discussions, a number of questions surface – like “Why doesn’t my boss understand me?”, “Why am I being micromanaged?” or “Why won’t my folks listen?” and “Why can’t they just get it done right?

To get to their answers, some times all you have to do is sit and listen and they work it out themselves. Some times they need a little prompting or encouragement. And some times (albeit few) they need to be told that they are causing the problem.

Regardless, the solutions usually revolve around them being more aware of the people they follow and the people they lead. Where you sit on the bus offers you a different perspective as compared to where someone else sits. Taking the time to understand where they are coming from or their perspectives often cures a lot of ills and misconceptions.

These discussions reminded me of an article I read in Inc. Magazine last month by Jeff Haden called 7 Things Your Employees Will Never Tell You. This was a great article chalked full of right-on-spot information. So, I set out to find it for you.

As I searched, I came across another Inc. Magazine article written by Haden a couple days ago that was trending in social media called 10 Things Bosses Never Tell Employees. As I read it, I was like, “This one’s true. Yep that one too. True. True. Oh, that’s just funny – but true.” Haden is a genius! In two brief articles, he provided the answers to many of the questions that were asked during my discussions – as well as many more.

So, my suggestion for you is to check out the two links above to the 17 truths inside Haden’s articles and get a good perspective of what’s going on above you and below you. Then use your new found knowledge to improve your understanding of your own work environment. You’ll also find that in your own role today as both boss and employee that you probably have these very same thoughts yourself.

What are some other things that a boss or employee will never tell you? (but should)

Don’t Spill the Milk

Have you ever had those days or weeks when the momentum of the day has you in a crazy frantic state?  There’s just so much going on that it becomes noisy, confusing, and stressful.  Too much to do.  Too little time in the day.

It’s kind of like taking a cup and filling it up with milk.  At some point, you can’t put any more in to the cup without it overflowing and spilling over on to the floor.  And as my 4-year-old says, “We don’t spill milk on the floor, Daddy” – usually after she’s already spilled it on the floor.

But that proverbial cup is our own capacity to deal with life and the milk is the demands of the day that come at us from all directions.  And when we can’t deal with anymore?  Our cup runs over and spills on to the floor.

The latter is messy.  And even my 4-year-old gets it.

So, what can we do to keep from spilling our milk?  One strategy is to lessen the amount of milk flowing in the first place.  Another would be to consume the milk in the cup faster, so that you can fill it with more.  A third would be to get a bigger cup  (perhaps something with a handle or a backpack attachment).

In this post, we’re going to tackle the milk flowing in because it’s a great starting point.  But how do you do that?  Slow or reduce the demands of life.

 The simplest answer is to create filters to ensure that the right amount of milk is flowing in to the cup.  We call these filters ‘priorities’.

Setting (and adhering) to personal priorities can often make the difference between dealing with outright pandemonium and at least a controlled chaos.

Case in point – over the last couple weeks, I’ve received several emails and questions asking why there haven’t been any new posts on the Leader’s Locker recently.

My answer is simple.  Priorities.

Just like you, my life gets crazy from time to time with demands coming from all directions.  So, I fall back on my personal priorities to help slow the flow so that the things I am focusing on are done well.

This blog is an awesome project, but it is not the most important thing in my life.  So when push comes to shove, my higher priorities take precedence and I reduce the amount of time I spend blogging.

Personally, I use my priorities as a guide to which activities I engage in and where I spend my time.  Example:  I am a huge stickler around attending my children’s special events.  I rarely ever let work or another project keep me from them. 

Why?  Because my kids are a greater priority than my career or other projects.  Obviously, there is a life balance to that because (in the big picture) I have to make a living somehow so that I can buy milk for the ones I love and hold most dear.

So how do I determine my priorities?

For me, understanding priorities really boils down to three things:

1.  Knowing yourself. 

Everyone has different motivators in life.  No one can set your priorities for you, so you need to set them for yourself.  This is a conscious task and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  After all – your priorities dictate your time and your time is valuable. 

Try rattling off your top 5 priorities right now.

Mine are easy – My faith, my wife, my kids, my career, my immediate family/close friends.  I can recite these in a blink of an eye, because I’ve put thought in to them and use them as regular fence posts during my week.

If you have never written down your priorities, find some quiet time and sit down with a blank sheet of paper and work it out.  Start with the top 5.  What is important to you?  Try to think beyond what is important today or tomorrow.  Think in the context of your life.  Think bigger picture.

Once those are written, then determine what is most important.   Work through scenarios in your mind to help you get to the right priority order for you.  Once you get the top 5, subsequent priorities become easier to define and order.  Once done, file your list away or save it on your hard drive to revisit later.

SIDE NOTE:  This is also a good exercise for couples.  It’s good when you’re on the same page about your life priorities!

2.  Establish Reminders. 

It’s important to find ways to remind yourself of your priorities.  This could be notes on your office wall, a note on the bathroom mirror, or something as simple as a picture on your mobile phone or computer desktop. 

One trick I learned from one of my SVPs about a decade ago was to take a business card sized paper and write your priorities on one side and your goals on the other. Laminate it and put it in your wallet.   If you ever find yourself struggling with what to do, take out the card for reference.

The picture here is my first personal card that I made about 9 years ago.  You can tell by the wear and tear that it has been put to good use.  The other side has my 5 and 10 year goals on it.

3. Revisit your priorities. 

Life is dynamic.  Things change often.  And we as individuals change and evolve over time.  Which means our priorities change too.  A given priority may rise or fall in importance, be new to your list, or may fall off your list altogether.

So, it is important to constantly re-evaluate your priorities to ensure you have the proper filters in place to help guide your path.  As you can see from my card above, some of my priorities have shifted over time.  When they do, make a new card.

I suggest purposefully revisiting your priorities at least once a year or at any major life change. 

If you did #1 above, then this is as simple as pulling that list of priorities back out of the file or up on your computer and evaluating if you are in the same place as you were before or not.

Setting personal priorities is critical to limiting the flow in to your life, which helps you deal with the momentum of the day.  The absolute key to success though was mentioned briefly above – adherence

Once your priorities are set, you have to use them to guide how you spend your time.  This means you will have to say ‘no’ to some things and stick to it. 

If not, you’ll always have more than you can handle and your cup will end up running over …and no one wants spilled milk.  Just ask my daughter.

Do you know your priorities?  How do you set them?

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