The Process of Thinking

I’m a big fan of processes. I tell salespeople all the time that there are two ways to sell, by process or by accident. 

Doing things by process allows you to do things much more consistently. Having a process makes it easier to transfer skills from an experienced employee to a newer, less experienced one.

I believe in the power of planning and when people ask for my help with planning I share a well thought out eight step planning process. Things done by process are simply done better. 

Except when they are not. 

Some companies have processes that are so good they haven’t changed them in years. There is a story about a young accountant in the UK in the late 1990’s who was in his first annual budget review meeting. There was an item in the budget for “screens” and the amount was substantial. He asked what the screens were for and no one seemed to know. The line item had been there “forever” so each year they added a percent or two for the item and they moved on. 

Well the young accountant was more curious than the more experienced people on the team so he did a little investigating. He determined that the line item first appeared in the budget in the early 1940’s so in fact it wasn’t there forever. It turns out the “screens” were first purchased to place on top of the manufacturing plant’s smokestacks. Apparently there were planes from another country flying over England at night. They were using the fire at the bottom of the smokestacks as targets for the bombs that were dropped from the planes. 

The young accountant did some additional research. He discovered that it had been a good many years since that other country had sent bombers over England to destroy their manufacturing plants. And yet screens were still being replaced each year because it was part of the company’s process. 

And that’s when processes are not so good. 

When a process, no matter how effective it may have once been, is allowed to replace thinking a host of problems can ensue. 

Most leaders would tell me that their processes are well thought out. I’m sure that’s true but leaders shouldn’t be asking themselves if their processes are well thought out. The question every leader must ask, about every single one of their processes is, how old is the thinking that developed the process?

A process should never replace thinking. No team member or employee should ever be discouraged from questioning a process. Every process can be improved. Every process exists in a changing environment. To assume that any process never needs to change along with it’s environment is a very dangerous assumption. 

So think about every process that exists within your organization. Do you know how it came into existence? Do you know if it is still needed and why? Do you know when it was last updated? Do you know the last time anyone even thought about the process before mindlessly following along without even considering why they were doing it? 

If you can’t answer every single one of the questions with a high degree of specificity then you may have an opportunity for real improvement in your organization. Question every process and don’t stop until you have an answer. It’s likely those answers will bring improvement with them.

Never let a process, even a good one, keep you from thinking about how it could be improved. If you stop thinking you may one day find that even though the bombing has stopped you’re still hearing imaginary planes overhead. 

What a Leader Needs to Know

I still remember being promoted to my first leadership position. I was a fairly new salesperson when I was promoted to the position of General Sales Manager. I skipped several layers of leadership to reach that level. That put me in kind of a strange position. It put the people who were my bosses on Friday in an even weirder spot because the following Monday I was their boss.

Many people were shocked by my sudden rise in the organization but no one was more shocked than me. It all happened so quickly that to this day I don’t know exactly why I was promoted so far up the organizational chart. But I do know I felt like kind of a fraud. 

The people working for me had a lot more experience. They knew stuff I didn’t know. 

In fact I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. But I knew this much, many of the people suddenly working for me were very unhappy about it. They didn’t like working for someone much younger and far less experienced than them. 

So I resolved to fake it until I learned everything I would need to know to be a successful leader. 

I’m pretty sure I didn’t fool anyone…except maybe myself. 

That was many years ago and I’ve yet to learn everything I need to know to be a truly complete leader. But I’m okay with that because I now know I will never know enough to avoid every possible mistake. 

All leaders need to know that they can never know it all. They need to know that saying “I don’t know” doesn’t make them a weak leader, it makes them a human leader. 

Authentic Leaders don’t need to know more than the people they lead. In fact, the best leaders want people on their team who know things they don’t. They want people who know enough to  challenge and enlighten their thinking. 

If you’re a leader who believes they need to fake it until they know more than everyone else then you’re a leader who needs to rethink that. You can never know it all. So stop believing you need to and accept the fact that if you allow it to be, every day is an opportunity to learn something new. 

Authentic Leaders never miss that opportunity and neither should you.

Take the Bait

Generally speaking when “bait” is taken it turns out rather badly for whoever took the bait. I think that’s why they call email scams “phishing” attacks. Some con artist casts some bait and an unsuspecting person “takes the bait” and the outcome is less than optimal. 

Ask any fish and they can tell you taking the bait is a really bad idea. 

But not always. Because leaders aren’t fish.

Let me tell you about Larry and Harry. Harry works for Larry and has been a loyal team member for some time. He typically outworks his co-workers and Larry values him beyond measure. 

On one particularly challenging day Larry asks Harry to give even more effort than normal. Harry assures his boss that he is up to the task and sets out to get the job done. As Harry undertakes the extra workload he can’t help but notice his co-workers coasting through their day as usual. But Harry pushes through, truly giving an A Plus effort. 

At the end of his day Harry reports on his day to Larry. He tells him he got this done, he got that done. He had several issues but overcame them to get it all done. He shares that he even gave up his breaks and lunch to figure out a particularly challenging task. He reports that he is completely worn out but proud of what he was able to accomplish. 

Larry replies with the detailed results of his day as well. He managed to accomplish a ton and he might be even more worn out than Harry. 

Harry heads home for the day we three thoughts on his mind. One, he is wondering what he has to do to get a little appreciation from Larry. Two, he is thinking about his co-workers who floated through their day and received the same level of appreciation from Larry that he did…zero. Third, he’s thinking about whether or not it “pays” to put in the extra effort and whether or not he’s the stupid one for working harder than the others. 

There is not an Authentic Leader in the world that wants their people thinking any of those things. 

You see, when Harry shared the results of his day with his boss he was fishing. Fishing for a simple response, one that would feed his desire to outwork others. All he needed to hear from Larry was a sincere “Thank you” for a job well done. Instead he felt in competition with his boss for who got the most done. 

Larry failed to take the bait. Then he failed in his leadership role. 

The thing is, Larry is a pretty good leader, he just forgot that leadership is a full time job. He forgot to always be on the lookout for an opportunity to recognize his people. He forgot that failure to recognize his people can turn a high performing team member into a mediocre performer overnight. He forgot that failure to recognize his people is a fast way to demotivate his people.

It’s an easy thing to forget. But the best leaders don’t forget that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. That’s why they always look for opportunities to show their people that they make a difference and it’s noticed. 

When was the last time you offered one of your people a simple thank you for a job well done? Don’t wait for the bait, do it today! 

You Matter Too!

President John Kennedy said that each of us can make a difference and that all of us should try. The key words in that quote are “all of us.”

None of us can do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs every single bit of all the good you can do. A single act of kindness can change the world of the person receiving it and there isn’t a single person in the world who can’t be kind. 

Despite what some people seem to think showing kindness is not a sign of weakness. It is in fact a sign of strength. But first understand the difference between being kind and simply being nice. 

Being nice is when you are polite to people and treat people well. Some people call that being courteous. Being “nice” is sort of the minimum requirement for being accepted into society. 

Being kind is when you care about people and show it. Sometimes you can be kind to someone even though you aren’t nice to them. What some people call “tough love” would be one example of that. You can be nice to someone but also be unkind. That’s actually pretty common. We are often nice to people we don’t even know but we don’t put in any effort to demonstrate we care about them. 

It costs us nothing to be nice to someone but being kind almost certainly has some type of cost, or as I’d prefer to say, investment. It might be giving some of your time to assist someone else. Being kind might mean sacrificing a little of what you have so someone else can have a little bit of something too. 

Being kind takes effort and intentionality. It can be tiring but the effort is always worth it. Whether the person you’re being kind to realizes it in the moment or not; you know you’ve done the right thing and that feeling has staying power.

But here’s the thing….all that difference making and being kind to others can take a real toll on you. It can wear you down. A little fact that many people miss is that kindness for others is only sustainable if you’re first kind to yourself. Yes, you must put yourself first once in a while. 

If you’re a kind person be sure to invest some time in yourself as well. Focus on your needs. Focus on something for yourself that you never have time for. Make time! 

I know it’s counterintuitive for truly kind people to put themselves first. This is especially true for moms. But honestly, the kindest thing you can do for others is to be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Make time for yourself so you’ll have more time for others. 

You have the time to care for yourself and others too. You just have to change your priorities to sometimes put yourself first. Remember, the people you care for most will benefit from YOU taking care of YOU too. 

The Service of Accountability 

Hopefully you’re holding your people accountable for their attitudes, actions and results. Even though no one really likes accountability everyone preforms better when held accountable. But all accountability is not the same. 

Accountability used as a tool to force compliance with “orders” results in the bare minimum being accomplished. Accountability used as an opportunity to excel results in extraordinary accomplishments. 

When used as a compliance tool the accountability discussion can quickly turn confrontational. So quickly that many mangers simply don’t hold their people accountable. Except for once a year during their annual review. Then they dump of year’s worth of subpar performance on the unsuspecting employee. 

When accountability is provided as a service the discussion looks very different. Authentic Leaders ask their people to hold themselves accountable. If the team member was unsuccessful in accomplishing their tasks then the leader can help. They can provide “along the way coaching” to help the team member succeed.

When the annual review happens there are no surprises. No difficult conversations and no mountains of improvement needed from either party. Because accountability has been established throughout the year the “review” is actually a review. Determining what worked particularly well and what could work even better. 

Many managers do everything they can to avoid conflict with their people. Even if it means allowing them to flounder their way to failure. Authentic Leaders know that one of the best ways to minimize conflict is to help their people hold themselves accountable. 

Authentic Leaders set up annual or quarterly accountability plans with their people. Each team member knows exactly what is expected of them. The required outcomes are crystal clear. Accountability is understood to be an escalating process. If the team member was not able to hold themselves accountable then their leader will serve as an accountability partner to ensure their success. 

The difference between accountability as a method for forcing compliance and as a service to develop people is mindset. 

Never underestimate the ability of your people to ferret out the motives for your actions. If you’re using accountability for your benefit they will know it and fight it. If you’re using accountability to help them grow and succeed they will realize that as well and they will be much more accepting of it. They will in fact commit to continuous improvement. 

Compliant people might get the job done. Committed people will get the job done and they will do it well. Which would you rather have? 

Accountability should never be used as a club to punish someone for poor performance. It should be used as a tool to guarantee success. 

How do you use accountability?

Are You a Manager or a Leader?

Not a single person reading this has ever successfully managed people. That’s because it can’t be done. Human beings resist being managed to the point of being impossible to manage. 

People insist on being led. If you think managing and leading are one and the same then you may be a manager but you’re most certainly not a leader. 

I’ve written about this before but since it’s been awhile here’s a refresher. 

Managing and leading are two different things. You manage things. Things like a budget, buildings, inventory, property and the like. If it’s an “it” you can manage it. If “it” is not capable of expressing emotion go ahead and manage away. 

But if you’re dealing with a flesh and blood person then attempting to manage them creates nearly every problem the typical manager complains about. 

Leadership is about people and only people. When you attempt to manage people you risk treating them like things…at least they feel that way. That highlights one critical difference between managing and leading. Things don’t “feel” but people always do. 

That makes leading far more challenging than managing. Dealing with our own emotions is tough enough, trying to make sense of other people’s emotions can be more than a little daunting. That’s likely why so many people in leadership positions don’t try. They try to manage their people instead.

Another reason that happens is that over 70% of the people in leadership positions have no formal leadership training. None. Zippo. Zero. They also have had no mentoring from a successful leader. They are put into a leadership position and then expected to fend for themselves. It’s almost as if people think leadership just happens.

Make no mistake about this absolute fact…leaders are not born, they are trained. The training can take on different forms but absent some type of training it is exceptionally rare for Authentic Leadership to emerge. 

That makes for a difficult leadership experience, for both the leader and those they try to lead. 

I wish I could tell you that every company that promotes someone to a leadership position also provides them with the training to succeed as a leader. Unfortunately very few actually do. So be aware that just as it is in much of life, if success as a leader is meant to be then it’s likely up to you to make it happen.

So find yourself a leadership development program to enroll in. Maybe even more important, find yourself a leadership mentor. Someone you trust and admire as a leader and ask them to show you how they do it. 

If you’ve chosen the right person will be thrilled to invest their time to share their insights with you. 

One last point. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m diminishing the importance of solid management within every organization. Poor management is in fact the cause of many business failures. If you’re a great manager then your impact on an organization can be substantial. You are vital to the success of any organization. 

It’s important to understand however that being a great manager does not make you a great leader anymore than being a great leader makes you a great manager. Some people are blessed with both skillsets. Many are not and it’s incumbent upon you to know the difference.