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Somebody Ought to do Something

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I’ve read with interest about a quandary facing the candidates who are running for President of the United States. They just don’t know how aggressive to be when talking about using ground troops to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

They face that quandary because polls indicate that the American people have two competing interests. The want ISIS defeated but they don’t want much in the way of American assets involved in defeating them.

In others words, U.S. voters want it done but they don’t want it done enough to do it themselves.  That’s not a proven path to success, in fact, throughout history that mindset has almost always resulted in failure. 

Successful people have developed the habits of doing the things that less successful people are simply unwilling to do. It’s not that successful people always enjoy doing those things, they just know that if it’s going to get done it is going to be up to them to do it. 

So they do it. 

This post isn’t about a war, it isn’t about radicals or terrorism. It is about you and what you know needs to be done. It’s what you know needs to be done that you’re waiting for someone else to do. It’s about waiting for someone else to do something to help you succeed. 

Don’t wait.

When you accept responsibility, 100% responsibility, for your own success then and only then will you stop waiting. When you stop waiting then and only then does progress start to be made. When you stop waiting for others to do something that needs to be done then you’re only choice becomes to do it yourself. 

Everyone is better off with a little help and the most successful people certainly got some on their journey to success. But they didn’t wait for it, they kept moving forward and found it along the way. They didn’t wait for the help to find them, they went out and found the help. 

Waiting for someone else to do something to help you succeed is a surefire way to ensure that you DON’T succeed. Even making mistakes along the way is better than doing nothing because doing nothing to help yourself succeed is the biggest mistake of all. 

Don’t be a “somebody ought to do something” kind of person. Be a “if it needs to be done then I’m going to do it” kind of person. 

That’s the kind of person who succeeds!

Write Better Emails, Not Bitter Emails

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Any idea which letters are the most dangerous letters in all of cyberspace? They are the ones which when strung together spell SEND! The most dangerous icon on some computers may be the one that looks like a little paper airplane. When you click on it you hear a little whooshing sound that lets you know the email you’ve just sent has permanently been placed into cyberspace. 

That’s why you should never hit send when you’re angry, what you send stays sent. (Yes, I know about that recall thing and I know how often it doesn’t really work)

Angry emails are almost always bad emails. 

You may feel better temporarily because you “got it off your chest” but you’ve just damaged a relationship, possibly your integrity or worse, both. So the first rule of sending better emails is to never send a bitter one. My mom used to always say “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” and it took me a while (still learning) to understand what she meant. She meant you’re better off being nice, in any situation, than not being nice. 

So be nice when writing emails. 

One way to be nice when writing emails is to write “better” emails. Better is a bit subjective but here are a few widely accepted ideas on what “better” looks like in real life.

Be concise. On average we spend about 25% of our workday messing around with email. Many, actually most, are filled with just one or two (if we are lucky) highly relevant points and the rest of the message is just filler. Don’t write like that!

I think it was Mark Twain who said, “If I’d had more time, I would have written you a shorter email.” Okay, he didn’t really say email but the point is the same, don’t be a lazy writer, put some thought into your emails with the goal of writing nothing more than needs to be written. 

Get to the point. Delete adjectives and adverbs. It’s absolutely unnecessary to add lots of additional words that make even your most important emails seem overly lengthy and too long and not short enough. Say what you mean and say it in as few words as possible, remember, when it comes to a well written email, less is more.

Reread before sending…twice. A great reason to keep your emails short is because the first person who has to read them is you. I’d be willing to bet that when you reread your emails you’ll likely just delete some of them after deciding they don’t really add value to anyone. Or you may just decide the tone is too harsh, or the whole thing is too meandering or that you’re repeating yourself or that your repeating yourself. 

End at the beginning. Most people begin an email by filling in the “to” field. That’s likely the last time they look at that critical field. To help ensure your email is received by the person you intended to receive it fill in the “to” field last and check and recheck the recipient’s name. NEVER assume the auto-complete feature can really read your mind. Be certain you know where your message is going because once it’s gone it’s gone for good…or bad. 

It’s a sad reality, at least it’s sad to me, that the majority of our communication today is of the electronic variety. That reality makes it imperative that we pay as much attention to what we write as we do with what we say. If you wouldn’t say it then absolutely don’t write it! 

 

Where Money Comes From

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If you’re employed by a for-profit business then all your money comes from the same place. The money you spent on dinner last night, the money you use to pay the rent or mortgage, the money you invest in your retirement, that all came from the same place too.

It did not come from the company that employs you. It didn’t come from the boss. It didn’t come from HR and it didn’t come from the payroll department.

All of your money, every penny of it, comes from the customers who CHOOSE to do business with your company. The money you receive in the form of a paycheck is not your company’s money, it is the customer’s money, they simply allow your company to use it. The better the job a business does for their customer, the more money the business is allowed to use.

Businesses that employ people who understand that simply fact are businesses that do well. 

Sometimes businesses and their people get so caught up doing urgent things that they forget what’s truly important, the customer. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should be more important to a business than the customer. 

If you’re a for-profit business then your business cannot afford to be focused on measurements, a process or policy. The focus must be on the customer 100% of the time. Never allow yourself to be fooled into believing what you think is more important than what your customer thinks.

There is no metric, no policy, no spreadsheet and no problem that is more important than meeting and exceeding your customer’s expectations. When you forget that don’t be surprised when your customer forgets you. Measuring, surveying, accounting, and planning are all important to a business, but none of it should ever become more important than a customer.

It’s mere busy work when compared to the one vital task of every business interested in making a profit, meeting and exceeding the needs of the customer. They, the customer, that’s where the money comes from. No business, and no person who works for a business should ever allow themselves to believe that the business exists for them, it exists for the customers.

When you’re too busy to take care of customers don’t worry, that situation will rectify itself soon enough. 

Think about that the next time you’re annoyed by those pesky customers. 

 

The Courage to Confront

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Authentic Servant Leaders have courage. This allows them to make tough choices, it allows them to take calculated risks. Courage is their “secret sauce,” it’s what often separates them from lesser leaders. 

This courage also helps them confront people who need to be confronted. Because they are Authentic Servant Leaders when they confront someone they will do it with compassion. They confront people for two reasons, there is a problem that needs to be corrected and they care enough to want to help the person correct it. 

Sadly, Authentic Servant Leaders are few and far between so this post on confrontation is not about them.

It’s about your everyday leader, what I’d call an average leader. They are by far the largest occupier of so-called leadership positions within organizations both large and small. They do a lot of things right and some things wrong, I guess that’s why they are average.

Confrontation, or rather lack of confrontation, is one of the biggest shortcomings of an average leader. They are just as clear-eyed as any leader in that they see the same problems as anyone other leader. It’s just that they don’t deal with it.

Some of these average leaders are just lazy. Some “hope” it will just go away, some figure “the next guy can deal with it.” A few just put their head in the sand and pretend there are no issues worth confronting. 

Some are just afraid. They lack the courage to confront.

Fear holds us back! Make no mistake about this fact, fear has kept many very talented people from succeeding. Fear has kept many people will the skill to succeed from using their skills in the pursuit of success. Fear greatly limits success.

The great Dale Carnegie once said the only place fear is real is in our mind. The point was that the only way to really eliminate fear is to change our thinking. In his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” he writes that one way to overcome the stress of fear is to consider the situation you’re in and accept the worst that can happen. Once you’ve accepted the worst then you can begin to try to improve upon the worst in a much more clear-headed fashion. 

If you’re a leader who lacks the courage to confront then consider the worst that could happen. You could completely screw it up. Perhaps someone’s feelings will be hurt, maybe they will like you less. They may talk about you behind your back. You may fail miserably.

Just an aside, not confronting a situation that demands confrontation virtually guarantees each of those outcomes eventually. 

When considering how to improve on the worst that can happen think about these ideas:

Don’t confront when you’re angry. Let the dust settle a little bit before confronting anyone, things said “in the moment” are impossible to unsay. As a rule don’t confront someone about an issue when you’re still mad about the issue. That said, we’re talking minutes or hours here to settle your emotions, not months or years. The longer you wait to confront someone the bigger your mountain of fear will become. Take a small amount of time to plan your confrontation but the key here is small amount of time. 

Practice what you want to say. Go off by yourself somewhere and actually say it out loud. I know that sounds kind of weird but it will help you feel better about approaching the other person. 

Don’t turn it into an argument. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Proving to someone that they are wrong will not help them correct the situation. Don’t get sucked into their argumentative tone and don’t turn the discussion into a point, counterpoint-point debate. Say what you need to say as often as you need to say it and then be quiet. Listen. Repeat your point as needed but do not be distracted by excuses and arguments that have no bearing on the issue or person being confronted.

Agree on the next steps. Any effective confrontation leads to a plan for resolution. Just telling someone about a problem is unlikely to solve the problem. Agree on what needs to happen for the issue or concern to be be resolved, or at least agree on some initial steps. 

Understand that this may not be a fun conversation, it may not be “clean.” You may not feel great about it when it’s over and it may not go exactly as you had planned. You might even have made things temporarily worse. 

But always know this: almost all big problems were once little problems. They became big problems because they were not confronted when they were small. You risk making a small problem bigger by confronting it, you guarantee it gets bigger by not confronting it. 

 

 

Ask Why When Considering a Policy

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“In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”  – Thomas Jefferson

I’m going to give everyone who ever made or implemented a policy a break. I’m going to say that every policy-maker had the very best of intentions when they created whatever policy it was that they created.

The policy or in some cases rule, was intended to prevent a current or potential problem. Maybe every policy has prevented a problem but there are a whole lot of policies that fixed one problem and created seven more.

Too often policy-makers consider only the consequences of NOT creating a policy and pay little attention to the consequences of creating one. What’s more, they almost never consider the consequences of the consequences of creating policy upon policy.

Just so we’re clear, I’m a big believer in the need for policies and processes and measurements.  Organizations need to have guidelines and those guidelines should absolutely be followed whenever possible.

When an organization’s policies are based on principles they should be rock solid, they should not flex. If they are really based on principles there can and should be no exceptions to the policy.

When policies are based on opinion, on trends, and on convenience, they should be incredibly flexible. 

Sometimes an organization’s policies will have “been on the books” for so long that no one remembers why the policy was even created. The “need” for that policy may be long gone but the policy persists, blindly enforced by those who have survived the need.

Things change, markets changes, people change, circumstances arise. When “stuff happens” organizations must be nimble enough to adjust their policies on the fly. Employees must be empowered, really truly empowered, to make a snap decision to adjust a policy. That empowerment is even more critical for customer-facing employees. 

Too many well intended policies have the effect of building walls between a business and their customers. Some well intended policies even make it harder for customers to do business with a company. The company’s policy-maker just couldn’t see things from a customer’s viewpoint and as a result, a wall-building policy was developed. 

When a policy is created by someone who will not be directly affected by the policy the odds are overwhelming that the outcome will be less than desirable. 

When a well-meaning employee of that business tells a customer, “unfortunately, our policy says….” you can bet that interaction will end badly for the customer. Organizations that find a way to make their policies work for the business AND the customer are the organizations that thrive.

Policies that separate an organization from their customers will eventually separate the organization from their profits. 

Policies need to be revisited from time to time. Some need to be reaffirmed while others need to go away. Just adding new policies every year is a poor business practice. Here’s an idea: cap the number of policies allowed to exist in your organization. Before anyone is allowed to add a new one, find one that no longer applies and send it to the trash heap of bad business bureaucracy. 

Remember, the more policies you have in place the more paralyzing your environment becomes for your people who have, or had, a bias for action. Never allow a policy to be implemented without asking WHY the policy is needed. After you’ve asked why, ask why again. If there is no absolute need for the policy then there is no need for the policy at all. Policies are great but like everything else in life and business, moderation is a key to success. 

Life in the Overlap

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I have written before about the importance of knowing what’s truly important. The most successful people know that they control very few things that really matter. Most people spend entirely too much time on seemingly urgent “stuff” at the expense of investing their time on things truly important. 

The other major waste of time we experience is worrying about things that matter but that we have little or no control over. While we are worrying about things we cannot control we are not focused on the things that matter that we can control.

I could write thousands of words on this subject but this week a colleague of mine named Billy sent me the drawing that accompanies this post. It “shows” what I mean better than I could ever say it. (I guess that’s where the whole “a picture is worth a thousand words saying comes from)

A life well-lived is a life lived in the “overlap.” The overlap is where the things that matter coincide with the things that we can control. While I’m certain my colleague drew this picture rather quickly I’d still bet it’s almost perfectly to scale. There really isn’t much overlap to live in. 

Maybe that’s why we find it so hard to do. 

Living in the overlap requires discipline, awareness, and as the picture shows, FOCUS. As for me, I’m pretty good at not worrying about things that don’t matter and that I have no control over. But I’m constantly straying into the things that matter territory that I can’t control. That happens at the expense of my controllable things that matter.

It’s a very human thing to do. It’s also a very unproductive thing to do. 

I’ve thought about this drawing a lot this week and it’s amazing how the overlap aligns with my core values. I have a very few core values and I’ve been reminded this week that leaving the overlap also means I’m likely living outside my core values. My deeply held core values. 

If I stay in the overlap my core values will always be nearby.

I have it easy compared to many people; my core values have been developed through years of introspection. I know what matters to me. Most people have yet to fully understand their core values and I’m guessing that makes living in the overlap that much harder. 

Pay no attention to those things that don’t matter and less attention to things that do matter but that you can’t control. Care about those controllable things that matter and if you can, help the people who do have some control there. But YOUR focus must be on the overlap! 

I highly, highly, highly recommend that you begin to look at what is in your own overlap. What truly matters to you? What can you truly control? What are you willing to let go of so you can hold something even more important to you closer than ever before? You will likely be very surprised at just how small your overlap really is. You will also be shocked at how much time you spend on things outside of your overlap. 

If you’re completely honest with yourself you’ll discover that you control far less than you thought you did. That is not a sign of weakness, that is a sign that you are human.

My overlap is very, very small and yours probably is as well. But the days I stay within my overlap are special days. I accomplish more and what I accomplish actually can make a difference. 

I am not unique in this, days in your overlap will be special days for you too. You must know where your overlap is in order to live there. Find it, focus on it, live there and grow there. 

Most of all, enjoy the very special days you create there!

 

Today’s Biggest Leadership Challenge – Part Two

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Now that you have your mentoring program underway let’s look at the other significant leadership challenge of today. 😀 I joke about already having your mentoring program started but I don’t joke about this: do not delay in getting started with developing tomorrow’s leaders; this workforce issue is going to overwhelm organizations that aren’t prepared to deal with it. Don’t be one of the many who are surprised that this issue overtook them so fast.

The second major challenge facing today’s leaders is micro-managing. Those of you who believe you are micro-managed should not get too excited here. This is not just going to be a recommendation for today’s leaders to stop micro-managing their people. This is about tomorrow’s leaders not allowing themselves to be micro-managed. 

I’ve worked for micro-managers at different points in my career but I’ve never really felt micro-managed. I always listened to my micro-manager (they deserve that respect) and then I always tried to do the right thing. When the right thing worked and it was different from what I was told to do I either heard nothing or I heard I was lucky or if I was working for a leader (yes, even good leaders can fall into the trap of micro-managing) I might have heard “good job.”  When what I thought was the right thing to do didn’t work I heard how I had screwed up. I got yelled at, I felt bad. I might have even embarrassed myself, but I survived. And I learned, I grew, and I discovered why my boss might have felt the need to micro-manage me. 

Here’s my point, the real problem with micro-managing is not only with today’s leaders who micro-manage, it is with tomorrow’s leaders who use it as an excuse to NOT make decisions and an excuse to not begin leading today. They say they “are not allowed” to make decisions and once they convince themselves of that it is certain that they won’t be making meaningful  decisions anytime soon.

The reality is that even in the most micro-managed organizations 85% of all decisions are made below the top levels of an organization. If you’re a true future leader you have ample opportunity to practice your decision making skills no matter where you work. You only have to risk getting yelled at. Okay, so maybe you have to risk losing your job but if you can’t truly thrive in the role you’re in then maybe you don’t want that job anyway. 

If you have the courage required to lead then you also have the courage to make decisions, whether you work for a micro-manager or not. You may not have the authority to move on major decisions but you can still learn effective decision making by making every lower level decision possible.

If you work for a leader who micro-manages they might be limiting their own leadership potential but they can only limit yours if you let them. Don’t let them!

A couple of final thoughts for the leader of today who is sincerely interested in developing the leaders of tomorrow.

If you’re a micro-manager then stop. If you can’t completely stop (and if it was my behind on the line I might find it hard to stop too) then stop a little. If you’ve never had a serious disagreement in your team meetings then you should recognize that as a warning sign that your future leaders are just sitting back and silently letting you decide everything. You cannot develop future leaders that way. 

Encourage debate, encourage the airing of different viewpoints, be quiet, force the opinions out of your people. If you have the right people in the room they most certainly have opinions and many of those opinions will be different than yours; it’s the job of the leader to make them feel safe enough to share them.

This much is certain, you will not find your organization’s next generation of leaders by watching them listen to you. 

 
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