The Illusion of Effectiveness

magician-dove-hat-101206-02In our careers, there are common roads we all must travel.  Some of those roads are rougher than others.  Some are littered with pot holes and speed bumps.  One of those rougher roads is making the transition from doingbeing a high potential individual contributorto leadingmotivating others to perform at their best. 

Whether we like it or not, our role changes as we progress in seniority from being “one of the team” that performs tasks, to being the leader that get things done through others and then finally to a senior leader that gets things done through multiple layers of others. 

The challenge we often face is that throughout our early professional roles, we’re rewarded for our effectiveness as doers, and when we achieve a more senior position we often assume that our effectiveness as leaders will rely upon the same behaviors that have fueled our success up to that point. 

This can lead to the illusion of effectiveness

I think I am more effective and successful because I am ‘getting stuff done’.  Thus the illusion.  The reality is that we live in a world where we are required to churn out more with less.  If we continue to try to leverage the same skills that got us here, we’ll find ourselves being a high paid individual contributor that works around the clock to churn out “more”. 

The further reality is that this not only limits our capacity and potential, but it limits the capacity and potential of the talent that is entrusted to us.  If we always “do it ourselves”, our people never learn, experience, and grow – which is not good for us, for them, or the organization.  Success hinges on being able to effectively delegate and entrust our teams and the teams around us to deliver.

In our journey to become great leaders, we should all take a minute to evaluate ourselves and identify where we are personally doing, when we should be doing (well) through others.  

Below are 6 tips to help keep you out of the business of ‘doing’:

ONE:  Evaluate where you have to compensate for others on your team.  Then address it.  Get to the core of the issue, develop them, and get past it.  Continuing to compensate means that you are working at a level or two from where the company expects you to be.

TWO:  Evaluate your to-do list each day.   Ask yourself if the tasks are things you should be doing or things you should be teaching your team to do.  If it’s the latter – teach them.

THREE:  Entrust others with important opportunities.  There is a difference between delegating and entrusting.  Entrust is a key word in delegating:  It means that you care about the results of what you delegate, and you’re willing to provide the support needed to help the team member achieve those results.  Our job as leaders is to build future leaders, which means that sometimes you have to take a risk so that they can learn. 

FOUR:  Empower your team.  To empower your associates is to do three actions:

  • Give associates the freedom to get a job done (no breathing down their necks).
  • Provide associates with the right level of support to get the job done well, including information, training, resources, and so on.
  • Hold associates accountable to produce the outcomes needed.

All three actions work together as part of the process. Thus, when you delegate effectively, you empower your team.

FIVE:   Identify mentors and trusted leaders that lead well and ask them for input as you develop your leadership style. Ask them how they avoid the pitfall of being an individual contributor when they should be leading. Tip:  Most leaders love to teach / give advice, so just ask. 

SIX:  Copter down, but don’t forget to copter back up.  There will always be times when you need to roll up your sleeves and jump in to help get things done.  You may find yourself in a position where there is no choice but to be an individual contributor.  It’s the nature of our culture. The danger is that if taken to an extreme, the person becomes so involved in doing things the old way that they neglect the leadership aspects of their role.  Make sure that if you dive down, you pull yourself back up and don’t stay mired in individual contributor mode.

The benefits of getting it right –

Think about the leaders you know who lead well and trust, teach and train the team to do their jobs.  One of the common things I’ve noticed about these stronger leaders is that they are generally more available.  Because they are not personally driving each initiative, they typically don’t have to fill their calendars with endless meetings week after week.  They trust their team to attend the regular project meetings and insert themselves when there are broader decisions to be made.  This is a good “gut check” for any of us.  Are we available on regular basis throughout the week to spend time with our teams teaching and guiding?

On your leadership journey, continue to evaluate and push yourself to lead at the correct level.  Empower your team to drive initiatives and be available to teach / train as necessary.

The illusion of effectiveness distorts reality but if we are intentional in our leadership approach, we can unlock our potential, our team’s potential, and lead well.

 Question:  What tasks or projects are you doing now that should be driven by your team? 

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“Hold on Tight” Customer Service

Pay Attention!

You can learn anything, anywhere, anytime, but you have to be paying attention.  Case in point.

I was on a whirlwind trip this last week and found myself at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport with my team. 

We had just dropped off the rental car and caught a rental car bus over to the terminal.  Once we were inside the terminal, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that I didn’t have my backpack with me, which also meant that I didn’t have my wallet, ID, etc.  It was in the bus!  I left my carry-on bag with one of my peers and took off running back to the parking area to see if the bus was still there.

It was.  I ran across the street and jumped on the empty bus and looked around frantically.  No backpack.  I ran to the front of the bus only to realize it was a different bus driver.  Which meant – it was a different bus.

Clearly seeing that I was only slightly panicked, he asked me how he could help.  I quickly explained that my backpack was on board the bus that was just here before him.  He asked me if I had told anyone.  I replied, “I’m telling you.” Again, slightly panicked.

Without batting an eye, he said, “Hold on tight.  I think I can catch him.”  And with that, he shut the doors, put it in drive and took off. I stood behind him and grabbed the overhead bar for support.  For a brief moment, it reminded me of something out of a movie and expected dramatic theme music to start playing.  In case you’re wondering – we were the only ones on the bus.

As we sped past the departure drop off area, he grabbed the mic to his radio and started calling for his dispatch and the other bus.  While dispatch replied, the other bus didn’t answer.  Dispatch then began calling for the other bus, but still no reply.

Then we came to a fork in the road.  He asked me a quick question about whether or not there were passengers for other terminals on our bus.  My “I don’t know” response didn’t help.  But that was okay, because he replied, “Okay…then if I were him, I’d go this way.”  And he jerked the bus to the right.  Up and around the terminal we went.

As we leveled out in the arrival area, we approached a line of buses.  He said, “I believe this is your bus.” and pointed to the one directly in front.  As I jumped off his bus, he said, “I’ll wait here.”  I shouted my thanks as I ran to the bus in front.

I leaped on to the bus in front to discover my backpack sitting there all by its lonesome.  I startled my old driver as I let out a triumphant “Yes!”  He asked me if he could help me.  I told him that I had left my backpack, but everything was okay now.  I’m sure I left him a little baffled as to what had just happened and how I got there.

I climbed off the bus and held up my bag to the awesome driver to show success.  He gave me a smile, a wave, and then drove off.  I waved my thanks to him.

As I walked back to my party, I couldn’t help but think how great of customer service this driver displayed.  He didn’t have to help me.  I’m sure it wasn’t in his job description.  But he did it nonetheless.

Besides not leaving my bag on the rental car bus, here are 3 things I learned that day about exceeding expectations with a “hold on tight” level of customer service.

  1. 1.      Take Immediate Action – when a customer presents you with a crisis or problem they expect you to deal with it – don’t wait You can be anyone’s superhero.  Don’t pass the problem off to someone else.  Take ownership.  You’re action shows them that you are committed to solving their issue.  It shows that you are committed to them
  2. 2.      Include Others – if you don’t know how to solve a customer’s problem or need help – get it Use the resources available to you to find the right people or incorporate others in to the solution.  Leverage them to help. 
  3. 3.      See It Through – Once on the path to solving an issue – see it through to the end.  Like the driver said to me when he found my bus, “I’ll wait here”.   He did this to make sure that what he did solved my problem.  If it hadn’t, I imagine we would have been off on another adventure.  Even if you do pass it to someone else – follow up.

Exceeding a customer’s expectations doesn’t happen by accident.  It takes action.  Take every opportunity to go above and beyond!  There were so many examples of this in my story.  From the initial “hold on tight” all the way through to the “I’ll wait here”. 

I don’t know the name of my driver, but I’ll always remember the impact he made on me by providing awesome customer service!  And this is what we should want for our customers – to remember us and our company this way.

Be known for providing awesome customer service.  And as leaders, be known for teaching awesome customer service!

What “hold on tight” customer service have you provided lately?

Retweet: Three Words That Will Transform Your Career

Today we’re going to take a little different spin.  

Personally and professionally, I find a lot of value in LinkedIn.  I love seeing what kinds of articles people post.  Yesterday, I came across a quick read by Bruce Kasanoff (entrepreneur, writer, speaker) that really has a great message that we need to remember and act on (often).  As it’s short and to the point, I will post the entire article below or you can click on the link here to access it on LinkedIn.  Enjoy!

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Three Words That Will Transform Your Career

Every time you encounter another person, think: help this person. It’s not altruistic. Nothing else can so quickly supercharge your career and improve the quality of your life.

When you walk into Starbucks for a coffee, think help this person about the barista who serves you. Instead of being frustrated that he isn’t moving fast enough, see if you can make him smile. Better yet, tell him to keep the change.

When the phone rings on a busy day, don’t get frustrated by the interruption. Think help this person while you answer the phone. Doing so will change your demeanor, your thought process, and the entire interaction.

If you have a subordinate who isn’t pulling her weight, instead of criticizing her, every time you see her think help this person. This doesn’t mean let her slide, or ignore her shortcomings. It means help her either improve her skills or find a position better suited to her strengths. But don’t just brush her aside; really help her.

But wait a minute – I know what some of you are thinking. What about the people who take credit for other people’s work? What about the rich and powerful who have gotten that way by crushing others? Doesn’t their success prove me wrong?

Not at all. Sure, there are some people who take the exact opposite strategy. But it takes real skill and focus to succeed by being evil, and most of us just don’t have the fortitude to pull it off. For those of us with a soul and a heart, the only real choice is to succeed by helping others.

By first thinking help this person, you will change the ways that others perceive you. There is no faster or more effective way to change your interactions and relationships. You will be viewed as a positive, constructive, helpful and dependable person. People will think you are more perceptive, attentive and understanding.

That’s why this way of thinking is not altruistic; it is selfish, in the best sense of the word. The single best way to help yourself is to always be looking for ways to help other people. Sure, you’ll be making the world a better place, and in the course of your life you will help many thousands of people. But don’t do it because you ought to, or because it’s the “right” thing to do.

Think help this person because you’re selfish, and proud of it.

Graduation Wisdom for the Already Graduated

Photo May 23, 9 21 50 AM

My daughter’s pre-school graduation.

This week, I had the pleasure of watching my children graduate from their varying levels of primary school.  They are moments that bring instant pride to any parent and a few tears as you realize that your children are growing up (too fast) and you can’t do anything to stop it.  As I spoke with many friends that had children graduating high school and college, I was reminded of my own steps into adulthood and the excitement and wonder of the unknown that I felt.

Graduation is a time that is filled with hopes and dreams and potential for what the future holds.  It’s a time that the whole world is at your fingertips and you can literally step in any direction that you want……but which direction?  That’s the big question.

Fortunately, to help you decide, graduation is also an advice filled time.  Advice from parents and family.  Advice from friends and classmates.  Advice from teachers and counselors.  Advice from complete strangers.  Advice from…. [fill in the blank].  There is no shortage of advice during this time.  However, that doesn’t always help the graduate on taking their next step.

As I was reading through some articles this week, I noticed that several authors, CEOs, celebrities, and other famous folk penned “To the Class of 2013” articles.  Filled with what?  More advice.

But as I read many of these, I noticed two things.

First thing, there were several common themes that kept showing up over and over again.    What were they?  Passion.  Risk taking.  Relationships.

  • Passion – Find your passion, chase your passion, and capitalize on your passion.  The number one mention by far in the majority of articles revolved around passion.  You operate at a different level when you are passionate about what you’re doing.  You can feel it.  Others can see it.  It creates a positive impact on you and those around you.  Find passion in what you do – whatever it is.
  • Risk Taking – Stepping out there without a safety net is a terrifying thought, but with risk comes reward – the reward of personal growth.  This is why this topic had the second most mentions of the articles I read.  The authors very much encouraged their readers to step out, stretch and learn, fail forward, and experience.  Success is great, but life isn’t usually a series of successes.  Life is a combination of successes and failures.  How we learn from our failures and grow from them is what defines us – and this is what causes us to grow, evolve, and realize that we can do more than we ever dreamed.
  • Relationships – It’s all about people.  We live in a very connected society – and one that is connecting faster every day.  While we could choose to be isolationists and live alone on a desert island, the reality is that most of us rely on, work with, engage with people every day.  And these actions and interactions define us – how we communicate, how well we listen, how we are perceived, and how we invest in others.  If there is anything I’ve learned along my own journey – it’s that life is richer when shared with others.

Second thing, the advice wasn’t just for graduates – it’s for all of us.   The advice was timeless.  And you know what?  Sometimes we need a reminder to kick us in the pants and get us motivated and thinking right again. One of the worst thing that can happen when we enter the work force is to settle into a rut and stop growing.  Look back at those three themes above.  Regardless of where we are in our careers – we need to still work with passion, still take risks, and still build and grow relationships.  Is this your wake up call? 

If you’re interested in the articles follow the link here.  Of the articles however, one stuck out more than others.  And it wasn’t even an ‘article’ in the traditional sense – it was a slide presentation from Reid Hoffman – cofounder of LinkedIn.  I’ve embedded this presentation below.  In it, you’ll find that he calls out 3 secrets for highly successful graduates, which would be beneficial for you to look at – because again – back to the ‘second thing’ above – it’s for all of us.  Enjoy!

What advice do you have for the already graduated?

The 3 Secrets of Highly Successful Graduates from Reid Hoffman

How to Deliver an Awful Evaluation

Warning:  Sarcasm and Satire Ahead

For all you bosses or aspiring bosses out there, giving annual evaluations is part of our job.  However, I’m sure we each approach this task differently.

So, I’m going to help you out here.  For all of you that like the easy path, believe that “less is more” when it comes to effort, and strive to disappoint and demoralize your direct reports, you’re in luck!  Because you’re about 50 words away from 25 tips on How to Deliver an Awful Evaluation.

Let me start by saying that doing all of the below will certainly get you the “Awful” ranking you desire. However, that’s a lot of effort.   So any combination of the following points should do the trick.

Let’s get started!

  1. Show up late.  What’s 10-15 minutes anyway?  It’s an exercise in patience.
  2. Don’t prepare….at all.  That’s a lot of effort….and your time is valuable.  Spend your prep time on more important things, like micro-managing.
  3. Base the annual eval on the last few weeks’ performance.  Hey!  The past is the past.  What’s important is right now!  You didn’t have time to capture all that other stuff anyway.
  4. Surprise them!  Grade them on things you’ve never told them about or give them scores they don’t expect.   Shhhhhh….your performance is a secret!
  5. Regurgitate their self-evaluation or a previous eval.  For those consistent performers, you shouldn’t have to do more than copy and paste.
  6. Don’t provide them their eval or any info ahead of time.  Why should they get to prepare?  You didn’t.
  7. Talk about yourself and make it all about you.  ….because it is, ALL about YOU!
  8. Talk about everything BUT their eval.  We can always get to it later.
  9. Yawn.  Nothing says “I’m interested in what you’re saying” more than you showing them your tonsils.
  10. Let them starve! – Who needs meat or substance in their eval?  Why should you give them anything actionable or constructive to work on anyway?
  11. Don’t provide specific examples of their behavior (good or bad).  Details, schmeetails.
  12. Gossip!  Talking about OTHER associates/employees performance shows them how much they can trust you.
  13. Be vague and try not to be too specific about expectations.  If they were really “that good” they’d be able to read your mind.
  14. Be insincere.  Callousness, coldness, and crassness show how much you really care about their development.
  15. Multi-task.  Check and respond to all emails and texts.  Maybe play a little Angry Birds too.
  16. Don’t allow them any time to talk or talk over them.  Why should they talk anyway?  This is YOUR time!
  17. Use the time to impress YOUR boss.  Show your boss how good you are by doing all of the things on this list.  They’ll be impressed!
  18. Yell and/or raise your voice.  A little intimidation always makes things go more smoothly.
  19. Roll your eyes.  This is an easy way to let them know what you think about what they’re saying.
  20. Cut them off.  Stopping them mid-sentence keeps the eval from going over the scheduled time.
  21. Read the eval to them…verbatim.   It’s not likely they know how to read anyway.
  22. Misspell things on their eval.   Thar’s no ned 2 spund tim on spalling.  Ur beeeng ufficnt wit ur tim.
  23. Conduct the eval in a public, distracting, noisy environment.  No better place to have a private conversation!
  24. Nod off.  Catching a few Zzzzz’s is okay – we’re only rehashing the past.

And my personal favorite.

25.  Lie.  You know, the opposite of being honest.  What does truth have to do with an eval? It’s all a matter of perspective.

As I’m sure you can tell, this list is not all inclusive.  There are many more things that you can do that will derail and erode your direct report’s confidence and trust in you.

Even better, once you deliver an eval in the manner prescribed above, your reputation will quickly precede you.  This means that any current or future direct reports (and their colleagues, and their colleagues,…) will know what to expect – which (as a disclaimer) – may ultimately help you free up a lot of time on your calendar.

Now, you’re all smart people.  If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be in the position that you’re trusted with.  So, I’m sure that you’ll use the above list wisely.

What else can you think of to deliver an awful eval?

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

It’s been a while since I have posted, so please bear with me as I dust off the cobwebs.

As I normally do, early this morning I was perusing some industry articles when I came across an article about Ron Johnson.  Some of you may immediately know who he is, while others of you may not.  Mr. Johnson, formerly a VP in merchandising at Target, then SVP of Retail Operations at Apple, was elevated to the role of CEO by JC Penney in November 2011.

Ron was a bright star at Apple and was imagined to be “the one” that was going to turn JC Penney around.  Fast forward 17 months and he’s already out as CEO and failed in turning them around.  In fact, there were a few articles that said he may have actually left them in a worse place than they were before.

I’m linking an article from BUSINESS INSIDER called Ron Johnson’s Attempt To Fix JCPenney’s Brand Was Completely Backwards.

While there are certainly many speculations as to what actually happened under Johnson’s watch as to why they have performed the way they have, the thing that caught my eye about this article was the fact that it ties BRAND to CULTURE.  And in this case (as the article outlines), Johnson’s desire to change JCP’s brand failed because he failed to change the culture of the company, build up belief, and rally the troops.

I think this brings up an interesting discussion.  When we make business decisions, where does organizational culture fit into our thought processes and how important is it?

Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart International, penned a great statement about cultural beliefs and behaviors last November.  He said, “Our culture defines HOW we deliver on our purpose consistently over time. People sometimes think that “culture” is a soft concept – but it’s not. Our culture is the set of beliefs that dictate the way we behave.”

Some companies have stronger and more pronounced organizational culture than others (like at Walmart), but back to the question.  How does that play in to our decision making and development of direction?

I believe that when we build strategies it is imperative that we consider and align to our cultural beliefs.  Why?  Read the article about Johnson and JCP. 

When we build visions, strategies, and tactics that don’t align to our culture, the chance of failure is high.  And beyond failure of the strategy, is the damage that causes internally to the organization by trying to run counter to culture.  When we build the same in alignment with culture, we gain the advantage of momentum, belief, understanding, and energy (among other things), which leads to a higher likelihood of success.

One of my favorite cultural statements (I believe originally coined by Peter Drucker, but used often by many), is that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, which is a quick toss back to the fact that if you try to build things that run counter to your culture, you’re not going to make it to the finish line.

Now there is always the question of “can you change culture?”, and the answer is yes.  But there is a very long and deliberate process that an organization must go about to accomplish that successfully.

So where do you fit in to all of this?  You may be thinking, “I don’t build strategies at that level – so this doesn’t apply to me.”

1.        TODAY – Regardless of where you sit today, you likely have the opportunity to INFLUENCE vision, strategy, or tactics.  And I believe it’s important that we always have our eye on whether ‘ ‘why’,  ‘what’ and ‘how’ we do things aligns with who we are as a company and our purpose.  If it doesn’t, it’s important that we raise our hand.  Sometimes we are able to see things from our perspective that others wouldn’t have or didn’t, which can help the company avoid future heartache.  Example:  At Walmart, one of our core beliefs is to Act with Integrity.  Are we building our strategies with the utmost integrity in mind?

2.       TOMORROW – You are our future leaders.  Understanding the importance that culture plays in your decision making, vision casting, and strategy development is critical to your future success, the success of your teams, and the success of the company.

What do you think?  How much does your organization’s culture play in to your decisions?

Have a great week!  Lead Strong!

Happy New Year!

As we enter into 2013, what are your leadership goals for the year?  Any leadership related resolutions?

How will you improve your own leadership prowess?

How will you help others?

We have big plans for the Leader’s Locker this year.  It’s time to kick things up a notch.

So much to do, and only 364 days left to make it all happen this year!

Let’s get a move on!  Lead strong!

 

Seasons Change. Do You?

Here in Northwest Arkansas, the seasons have definitely changed!  It went from being hot to cold, then back to “really nice outside” then to cold again.  So I guess I need to accept the fact that summer is gone and that fall is here.  It’s time to pull those cold weather clothes out of boxes and put away the shorts and flip flops.  Nature is forcing me change with it – or else freeze to death.  J

Our lives are similar, are they not?  We have a myriad of changes that occur all of the time around us.  Work changes.  Family changes.  Priority changes.  Political changes.  Environmental changes.  Health changes.  And so on. 

Some of these changes we control and some we don’t. 

How well do you accept or react when seasons of change enter your life?

I know for me that it depends upon the change.  I generally think I am pretty adaptable, but honestly, there are some places that I struggle more with change than others.

A good example for me is this blog.  When I started it, I had this grand vision of sharing leadership tidbits with folks like you on a pretty consistent basis.  It is something I enjoy doing very much.  I told myself that I was going to devote a certain amount of time to blogging and even went as far as to list this as one of my key priorities. 

I did pretty good for about a year, but then some seasons in my life started changing.  Work priorities increased significantly and some other priorities emerged in my personal life.  Things had changed.  But I was still hanging on to the blog as a priority even though I didn’t have time for it.  I would stress myself out when I didn’t get a post out on time and was worried about when I would get to the next one.  I wasn’t changing with the season in my life.

So, I finally had to let it go for a short while.  And when I made that change, my ability to adapt and devote my energy to the things I needed to improved significantly.  This reprioritization simply was adapting to my environment.

Seasons come and go in our lives.  Some are short.  Some are long.  Some require us to change a lot.  Some require us to change a little.  Regardless, there is one thing you can count on and that is that change is inevitable.

Recently I was reminded that one key characteristic of good leader is a “low resistance to change.”  And this is definitely true as I look across the leadership landscape of the company and organizations I work around and with.  If you can’t handle change as a leader, you might as well hang it up and pass the baton to someone that can.  Handling change properly and adaptability are critical components of a leader’s skill set and responsibility. 

How do you do that?  Here are three actions you can take to be a better leader when it comes to change.

Recognize It.  Leaders have to be able to discern change.  They need to understand the environment that they are in and when change is afoot or is required.  Leaders need to anticipate change.  They need to get ahead of change and prepare for it.  This isn’t always possible, but leaders should always be on the watch so that their reaction is elegant and they are un-phased in the eyes of their troops by what’s about to happen differently. 

Own It.  Leaders are required to understand ‘what’ change is required and ‘why’ to the very best of their ability.  This means that you may have to dig in and research or ask the right questions to clearly understand the direction or situation.  Sometimes things happen rapidly that require an immediate change in direction that the leader can’t explain, and at those times they have to have conviction in their decision making.  They must be unwaverying and not wishy-washy.  This does not mean inflexible.  It means that when your followers look in your eyes, they can see that you believe it, own it and can feel your sincerity and credibility.

Champion It.  Every day, changes are communicated and followers look to their leaders for guidance and understanding.  They are looking for subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) clues as to whether a change is good or bad or if they should support it or rise up against it.  It is not enough for leaders to simply understand and own the change.  They have to advocate it.  They have to lead the charge and do so in a way that is reassuring to those following that “without a doubt, we’re headed the right direction.” 

This also means that they need to be cognizant of the environment around them 360 degrees and encourage and influence others to own and champion the change.  This may mean that you have to take a peer (or even their own leader) aside that is being counter-productive and help get them on the right track.

Being a leader is an action oriented role.  It’s easy to lead when the boat is sailing in a straight line with good winds behind it on smooth waters.  It’s a testament to a leader’s abilities when any or all of those factors change.

As for me and this blog?  The good news is that sometimes the tides come back and the seasons in our life change back.  J

How well do you handle the seasons of change in your life?  What do you do to lead change?

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