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?

When I Do Dumb Things

I am not perfect.

I’ve known this for quite a while.

I have no delusions that I am.

This means that I am going to make mistakes, just like everyone else.

My guess is that you aren’t perfect either.  If you are, you might as well stop reading now because you clearly don’t need any help.

For the rest of us, this means that we are going to make many mistakes in the course of our personal and professional life.  That’s just part of who we are.  What differentiates us from others though is how we deal with those mistakes.  Did we learn from them?  Did we figure out what to do differently?

Personally, I have a process that I go through when I do something dumb to make sure I don’t do it again.
But to make this entertaining, let me tell you about one of my recent dumb episodes.

Yesterday, I was scheduled to update several of our senior leaders on a project I am working on.  As time drew near, I ran from the printer, across the building, up a flight of stairs, and over to the meeting room.   I sat down in the lobby to wait my turn only to be told immediately, “you’re up”.  So I jumped up quickly (my first mistake) and walked in to the room.

I immediately began passing out copies of my PowerPoint, but noticed I was feeling a little light headed (clearly I stood up too quick).  I pushed through the feeling and began my update while walking to the front of the room.

As I approached the front of the room, I realized my light-headedness was becoming worse and I was struggling to catch my breath as I stood in front of my leadership.  I continued my presentation anyway (my second mistake).

At about a minute in, I started seeing black spots.  At this point, I knew that this was not going in a good direction.  While I typically like to stand and deliver, I said, “Just a second.” and grabbed the chair in front of me, sat down, and continued my presentation.  It got better – once I had oxygen.

Could you imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t sat down?  My career trajectory may have become flatter than me laying passed out on the floor.  Stories would be told for years around the water cooler about “that guy”.  I would be a legend…and not in a good way.

When I finished and left the room – I said a quick prayer of thanks for not passing out in front of the senior group and for being able to deliver the message.

I checked in with a couple of the attendees later and they said that they could tell something was up in the beginning, but that the update was fine.

I realized, though, that what I did was dumb and I only have myself to blame.  Was I as effective as I could have been?  No.  Was I distracting in the first few minutes with whatever behavior I was exhibiting? Perhaps.  Could it have been a lot worse?  Definitely!

So what did I do?  In the minutes following the meeting, I walked through my “Gee Jason, that was dumb – don’t do that again” process.

Here’s how it works.  I ask myself three simple questions – Why, What, and How:

  • Why did it occur?
  • What should I have done differently?
  • How will I ensure that I don’t do it again?

So, let’s take my episode as an example and walk through this.

WHY did it occur?  As I thought about it, it all began because I was rushing.  I shouldn’t have been because my presentation was done well ahead of time.  But I was in a hurry, waited until the last minute to go upstairs, and then ran to my meeting.  I sat down and stood up quickly, which made me light headed.  But instead of taking a moment for my head to clear, I pushed ahead – probably because I’m stubborn.

WHAT should I have done differently?  For starters, I should have printed my materials sooner (in the case that something delayed me).  I should have arrived at my meeting with such an important group well before the meeting started.  And I should have stopped at the first sign of trouble and taken a second to catch my breath.

HOW will I ensure that I don’t do it again?  Two things.  First, I will set a reminder to print my materials at least one hour prior to the update meetings.  Second, I will set a calendar planner to arrive at the meeting 15 minutes prior the start.  This should keep the whole episode from happening again.  It is important to be specific in determining your actions for next time.

This is a really quick process to run through and you can use the formula for a multitude of situations.  But the key is being resolved to ensure that you follow the actions you outlined in the HOW – or else you are doomed to repeat yourself.

Now, there is one possible additional step in some circumstances.  If you do something dumb and insult, upset, or disappoint someone – you should ask yourself this additional question, “How do I make it right?”  And then act on that quickly – as in – before the sun sets.

Now, in hindsight, my dumb episode is kind of comical, and I hope you found some humor in it.  But it’s only funny to tell because it had a relatively positive ending.  The important thing is that I learned something from it. And that you learn from the mistakes that you make.

So, how do you learn from your mistakes?  What process do you go through when you do dumb things?

Leadership Resolutions: 2012

It’s a new year!   And with the new year comes a slew of promises, goals, and resolutions to “be a better you”.

So, what resolutions have you set?

As I’ve listened to several people this week, I’ve heard much of the same rhetoric that you hear every year at this time.  I’m going to lose weight.  I’m going to eat better.  I’m going to be healthier.  I’m going to read more.  I’m going to spend more time with family and friends.

Now, these are all noble goals.  But let’s be honest.  How many times have you set these goals for yourself at the beginning of the year and actually followed through on them as you had intended?

If you’ve achieved your goals in the past then kudos to you!  Unfortunately, you’re probably in the minority.  Often, our resolutions go by the wayside before we get out of January.  And then at the end of the year we wonder where the time went and vow to be more resolute the next year.

My wife and I were talking about our goals and resolutions for 2012 this last week.  And if I learned anything (which I learn a lot from my wife), it’s that everyone views resolutions differently and has different motivators to get them to succeed.

For me, I need pretty clear goals that outline what I want to achieve.  So instead of saying, “I will lose weight.”  I say, “I will lose 20lbs by May 1st by working out 4x a week, watching my caloric intake, and eating low fat foods.”   The latter goal for me is SMART (simple, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) and is something I can accomplish.  Now, not all pursuits and resolutions can easily fall in to that SMART format (e.g., I want to be more friendly.  I want to listen more.), but it does work well for many and I encourage the use of those concrete goals when possible.

Another interesting observation of this week is that many of the resolutions that people talked about this week revolved around their personal life (e.g., weight, health, relationships, etc.).  I didn’t hear anyone say, “I want to be a better leader.”  Nor did I hear anyone talk about their professional life in any form.

So, I want to focus here.  Because I think it’s important to that we set goals in all aspects of our life; personal, professional, spiritual, etc.

Since our focus is on leadership topics, let’s look at your leadership goals.

What do you want to do differently as a leader this year?  Have you set any goals or made resolutions?

Resolving to do things different here isn’t much different than any other area of your life.  It’s merely identifying the areas that you’d like to improve in, setting a goal, and then driving towards that goal.

To share a personal example, for 2012 I resolve that I will be a better leader by ‘talking less and listening more’.  Now, this is hardly a SMART goal, which for me means that I will have to be even more deliberate and diligent in my pursuit of this goal.  Why is this one of my goals?  Because this is a trait I see that makes other leaders great.  And frankly, is an area that I can improve upon to improve my own leadership presence and skills.

One of the most profound statements I heard over the last few weeks came from a visiting pastor at my church.  He said, “One of the rost things you can do is be successful at things that don’t matter.”

So, back to you.   What can you do differently this year to become a better leader?  Are you focusing on the things that matter?

Here are 10 good examples of leadership resolutions I pulled by scouring the internet:

  1. Talk Less, Listen More
  2. Be Deliberate (in what you say and do) – have purpose behind your action and words
  3. Cut the Crap – Eliminate unnecessary clutter in your life (e.g., meetings, emails, etc.)
  4. Work Out! – Getting in to a regular workout routine improves stress management
  5. Focus on One (thing at a time) – be present and pay attention
  6. Grow Your Network – Build stronger relationships and make new ones
  7. Find Quiet Time (to think and focus) – don’t get sucked in to the momentum of the day
  8. Get Organized – find what works for you to make you more efficient
  9. Learn Something New – continue expanding your skills and knowledge
  10. Focus on Teaching Others – the actions of those under your influence is your legacy

What other resolutions can you think of?  What are YOU going to do?


Happy New Year!

Thanks for a Great 2011!

Thank you everyone for a great 2011!

This was the first year of the Leader’s Locker! And its been a great time!

After plenty of posts, thousands of views, tweets on Twitter, followers on Facebook, and links to LinkedIn – I can honestly say…we’re just getting started!  There are big plans in store for 2012 to help you be a more insightful, impactful, and audacious leader!

As a quick recap – the top 5 posts of the year were:

  1. Are You Wasting My Time?  – March
  2. Is That the Best You Can Do?  – July
  3. How Do They Describe You?  – July
  4. When a Great Leader Leaves  – April
  5. Calling an Audible  – November

Thank you for taking time to read and contribute to the Leader’s Locker!  I wish you successful leading in 2012!

Happy New Year!

~Jason

Put Some Jingle in Your Jangle!

I love this time of the year!  It’s so much fun!

Festivity abounds through the sights and the sounds; the giving and goodwill; the camaraderie of colleagues, family, and friends; and, well…..this time of year just makes me feel really good.

And for many of you, I bet this time of year makes you feel good too!

However, the holidays are not time to sit back on our leadership laurels and simply soak up the merriment and cheer.

It is the time for leaders to lead more than ever!  It’s time to put some pep in your leadership step.  Some extra glide in your leadership stride.  Some jingle in your leadership jangle!

“How do I do that?” you ask?

Here are 4 ways:

  • Set the Tone!  All year long, your teams look to your example for how to act.   I was about to say that this time of the year is no different, but that’s not true.  It’s very different.  This is the time of the year that is filled with all kinds of extra activities and demands on time – and quite frankly, your folks are going to be looking to you even more for what’s acceptable and what isn’t.  Should they go to the Divisional Christmas party or do they stay at their desk and work?   Should you go to the team charity event or not?  Should they pass out Christmas cards and gifts to each other?

You (the leader) need to set the tone for how to act and engage during the holiday season.  If there are rules to be followed, then say so and be clear and consistent.  Demonstrate the acceptable behavior.  For the good of the group, you may have to get outside of your own comfort zone to set the proper example (e.g., go to the department holiday party so that they know it’s okay to attend – even though you’d rather sit alone in your Grinch cave drinking eggnog by yourself).

  • Don’t get distracted!  While everyone may be worried if Santa Claus is coming to town or not, it’s not time to lose focus on what needs to be accomplished at work.  Set expectations and clearly communicate with your teams what needs to get done (and when) during this frenzy of activity, parties, parades, events, and vacations.  Without being Scrooge, help guide your teams to find the balance in their hectic schedules to make it all work.  Lead by example and make sure that you are getting your work done too!
  • Be highly observant!  While the holidays are generally a time of joy for most, there are those that may be struggling.  It could be that they miss their friends or family.  Or they have lost a loved one that won’t be there this year during the holidays.  Or maybe they are struggling financially to make ends meet for their family.  Regardless of the circumstance, you as their leader need to discern the situation and be sensitive to their plight.  It’s time to show compassion and care.  It’s time to provide encouragement and support.  Be a good shepherd and keep watch on all of your sheep!
  • Spread Joy!  This is one of the most important components of holiday leadership!  It is time to inspire and spread joy!  One of the best things you can do during this time of the year is share a smile, laugh, or word of encouragement or appreciation with those around you.  I wrote an article this last April that fits perfectly here.  Click here to learn 5 Ways to Spread a Little Joy!

What other ways can you step up your leadership game during the holiday season?

Get Out of Your Seat!

Day after day, I talk to lots of folks who are looking to improve any number of work place issues.  Whether its resolving a dispute, gaining performance out of others, understanding what people are thinking, or simply building relationships, people are looking for the good ‘how to’ answers.

While there are no silver bullets, I do believe that there is one simple way to solve the above issues (and more).

Simply, get out of your seat.  Go ask.  Go listen.  Go talk.  Go engage!

It’s amazing what a little direct interaction can do to solve your ills.  Back in the day, we didn’t have email, instant messenger, text, or other digital mediums to communicate through (or hide behind).  We actually had to talk face to face with each other.

While that may sound archaic, it’s extremely effective.  And those that do it well reap successful rewards.

So what can ‘getting out of your seat’ do for you?  Check out these three benefits.

Improve your health.  Really!  Instead of sitting and typing an email, get up and go talk!  I was recently reading an article by Michael Hyatt that highlighted the dangers of sitting in your seat for prolonged periods.  There was an infographic that stated that sitting 6+ hours per day increases your likelihood of death by 40% as compared to others that sit far less.  That’s a pretty compelling reason in and of itself to NOT rest on your laurels all day.   Make sure to read through the infographic  – it’s pretty interesting!

Solve issues faster.  More than once today, I talked with colleagues and was asked, “How should I deal with this person?”  My response each time?  Go talk with them.  Stop speculating, trying to interpret emails, and/or listening to the scuttlebutt dished by other people.  Take the initiative, be proactive, and go get face to face with the source.  If approached correctly, you will get to the root issue much faster and gain resolution much faster.

Expand your influence.  One of my favorite leadership tenets at my company is that of Coaching By Walking Around (CBWA).  This is an intentional activity where the leader engages with the troops where they are.  But more important than coaching, is listening.  A leader will learn far more about what is going on in the business, how employees feel, and what’s concerning them by getting out from behind the desk and asking.  The added benefits of this critical exercise, if done sincerely, are that you become more approachable, more appreciated, and more influential – which makes your coaching (when necessary) more readily accepted.

As with all things, you have to use common sense and know when to communicate in the right manner.  Learn to use your tools appropriately.  But when it comes to those issues listed in the first paragraph – get up and go!

So what are you waiting for?  Get out there!

A Conscious Legacy

Last night, I was doing some blog surfing when I came across a blog by a gentleman named Rick Forbus.  In one of his posts, he was recanting the recent loss of his father and the importance of the legacy that he left.

Rick made a great statement in his post, “Leaders are conscious of their legacy.

As the night went on, my mind kept drifting back to this statement.

I think there is real truth and power in this statement.  I have one small tweak though  – “Good leaders are conscious of their legacy.”

And not only are they conscious, but they are also deliberate, passionate, and diligent when it comes to the legacy that they are creating.

They realize that they have the power to build up, grow, nurture, develop, encourage and inspire others; just as much as they have the power to do the opposite.  The question though is, “What will they choose to do with their time?”

One of my favorite leadership quotes is from baseball hero Jackie Robinson who said, A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” 

As stated by Al Duncan, what Jackie meant was “Do something to breakdown a barrier or carve out a path for someone else, not once, but as often as you can.”

Leadership is not about one time; it’s about as many times as possible.

There are many types of legacies that leaders can leave, but what I want to focus on here are four words for those of you aspiring to be good (or even great) leaders.  In thinking about the legacy you will leave, be:

  • Conscious.  Be aware of what you are doing.  Know what your words, body language, and actions really say.  Know how they impact others.  Be self-aware of the message you send – always.  Leaders are always “on”.
  • Deliberate.  Be intentional about growing and developing others.  Seek out opportunities to nurture others – don’t be a passive bystander.   The greatest legacy you will leave behind is that in which you have invested in others.   Purposefully and actively think through how those within your sphere of influence will best be encouraged – and then act on it.
  • Passionate.  Be fanatical in your advocacy and support of other people.  Clear their path, give them the tools, and then get out of the way – and not just once – do it over and over again.  When they don’t think they can do it, lend them your energy and inspire them to new heights.
  • Diligent.   Be tenacious.  Developing others is hard work. It may take you many attempts with some people, but I promise you that the reward of seeing them blossom is absolutely worth it.

Leaving a legacy is not something that happens after you’ve left this earth.  Leaving a legacy is about now.  It’s about the investments that you made yesterday, today, and the one’s you’ll make tomorrow.

So, be conscious – be deliberate – be passionate – and be diligent in the legacy that you are creating in others.

What are you doing about your legacy today?

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