"Be willing to forgo your need for approval, in exchange for staying the course and achieving the right mission."
When we get distracted by the expectations or demands of people who want their agenda to be satisfied at the expense of a greater goal, we slip quickly into the murky waters of potentially abdicating our responsibilities of leadership.
There will be people who treat you with a manipulative disrespect. Don't expend your time or mental focus in attempting to get on their good side. Their good side is a facade - a pit in which they will throw all your good intentions. Politely hold to the direction you know is right and move on.
I have experienced a few unpleasant encounters with whiners, manipulators and passive aggressive controllers during my tenure as a leader. Most of them chose to leave the organization (some quietly, some with fanfare) because they didn't get their way. Was I saddened by the departures and results of the conflict? Yes, in some cases. And no, a couple of times I was truly relieved and excited to see that their departure created a morale boost for everyone who remained. Looking back on those times, I realize that not once did I feel compelled to go after them or attempt to meet their demands. The good of the whole outweighed my personal need to be in "good graces" with the grumpy!
Leadership is not about being popular, it is about being purposeful.
A daily challenge that business leaders must be overcome. The reality is we have already lost precious time today to distractions that have nothing to do with our priorities.
If this article is distracting you right now, bookmark it and come back later for the THREE ACTIONS that effective leaders use daily in order to stay focused. If you have time right now, keep reading.
I asked a group of leaders to create a list of the most common distractions in their lives. Here's the list they agreed upon:
Email - up to 25% of the workday is managing email.
Meetings - On average, business leaders spend 18 hours a week in meetings.
Visitors (Scheduled and Uninvited)
No surprise, right? Those are the same ones we juggle in our businesses.
It also shouldn't surprise us that there is price we pay as a result of the distractions. The price is measured in dollars. We like to avoid the monetary reality by hiding it behind other explanations - lost productivity, emotional drain, decline in morale, etc... But there is still a real cost. Researchers claim that US companies suffer a loss of over $500 Billion annually due to lost productivity. Now, wait just a moment! I know, it's easy to gloss over that number because it is so massive; and there is no way it can apply to us. But it does.
(Please, don't waste your time calculating the financial loss you suffer on a daily basis. Instead, start practicing self-discipline and graciously lean into your priorities.)
Here is the big surprise to most leaders. The major distractions that consume our time are not the ones listed above; but the ones that subtly influence our ability to stay focused mentally. Here is a short list:
Checking emails/text messages during a meeting or multiple times an hour while working at your desk.
Scanning documents unrelated to the conversation your having on the phone.
Taking visual inventory of who is in the room while someone is speaking to you.
A cluttered desk or office. (That pile of paper is taunting your brain).
Scrolling through social media to see how many "likes" or followers you have, all while your colleagues OR family are talking to you.
None of us want to admit that we do these. But we do. It's easy to get distracted.
Cognitive control is the discipline that separates excellent leaders from average leaders. When we stay focused on the current priority until it is completed, we create greater value. Staying focused on the agenda during a meeting, we multiply the investment of those represented in the room. Staying focused on the conversation with the one speaking to us, eliminates the need for another meeting later to clarify something we missed and it validates the personal worth of that person.
Let's Get Focused! Here are the THREE ACTIONS I promised to give you. They come from a statement that I use whenever I catch myself drifting off priority. I say out loud:
"If it distracts - delete it, delay it or delegate it!"
Delete It - A good one for electronic or visual distractions. Turn off the notifications. Eliminate unnecessary apps from our phones. Don't read the unessential emails and unsubscribe from resources we didn't sign up for or haven't read in months!
Delay It - We will think of things that need to be done (i.e., a call to be made, a document to sign, an idea to brainstorm, etc). Schedule these for later. Put these on the calendar or make a list for review.
Delegate It - It might need to be done, but it might not be our task to do. Yes, we are still responsible for the accountability and it's completion; but there are people around us that are waiting to do their jobs! Let them.
Here's the Reality Check: "Divided attention will not produce multiplied success!"
When you’re traveling, conversations with interesting people happen. And those conversations lead to real-time issues and challenges. For me those conversations are market research. It gives me an inside peek at what most people wouldn’t say in their place of business; and in turn, sparks my thought process on how to help leaders work through those challenges.
However, one conversation really stumped me. I felt badly for the young manager seated next to me on the plane as he expressed his frustration. I sat there thinking, “Why would an owner of a business do something so foolish?” If you had been seated with us, this is what you would have heard the young man saying: (the specifics have been slightly changed and there will be no names as a courtesy)
“The company is 8 years old and we’ve had some great success. In fact, we outgrew our first location because the very first customers were so thrilled with our services they kept coming back and bringing their friends. The word got out and we almost tripled our clientele and revenues in the first two years. I was there in the beginning and he (the owner) promoted me to manager as we began to take on new staff.”
“The momentum was really exciting and every week offered a new challenge as we kept growing. But in the last 2 years, we started experiencing some embarrassing customer service issues because we couldn’t meet the expectations and the growth didn’t just level off, we’ve started to lose good customers. I think that’s when I noticed two big problems. First, the owner wouldn’t listen to some of the ideas our staff and leaders were offering to help improve our services. Secondly, whenever any of us would ask him what vision he had for the next phase of the business - he’d just say we’d find out when we got there.”
My seat mate shrugged his shoulders and continued.
“My best staff members have quietly left the company over the last couple of years. And that’s not the worst of it!
“He finally has a plan and it’s a disaster. He has decided that the core of our business - the very essence of what our customers need and buy - is no longer “sexy” and he’s eliminating those services one by one, replacing them with products that very few people want. What’s frustrating is that customers and staff members don't get it! It’s not what they’ve signed up for and they have no say. We’re just dismissed with an attitude of ‘you’ll eventually understand and agree, or you’ll leave because it’s not for you - and that’s o.k.’”
My travel companion wrapped it up with a perfect metaphor:
“It’s about as crazy as an ice-cream shop owner capturing a large market share of local business and happy customers; then deciding after 8 years of success that they want to turn it into a Spinach Salad Only Restaurant. No more ice cream, just spinach. And their expectation is that all the ice-cream customers are going to be happy with the changes! It’s going to fail. Instead of trying to convert the ice-cream shop, it would be better to sell it as is, get out of the way and spin off into a new venture.”
He stopped talking. Looked at me and asked, “So what do you think?”
I smiled and said, “It’s impressive that you’ve stayed with it this long. Sadly, your assessment sounds like it is right on target. I’m guessing you’ve already updated your resume’. Without knowing all the details, it sounds like you could go open an ice cream shop and do very well. I think I’d buy ice-cream from you any day!”
How would you have answered that young leader?
Here are a couple of questions that maybe we should be thinking about:
Are we listening to our best people and giving consideration to their insights and concerns?
Do you have a vision for your company and can you express it in a way that still excites your team members?
Leaders Thought: Your "Place" in life is often a result of your "Pace" in life.
Race ahead too quickly and you might be walking alone. Move too slowly and you will fall behind, discovering then that the company you keep are mostly people who are resistant, afraid or complacent. Walk confidently and positively toward your goals. That's when you find you are in good company, have more resources and greater opportunities to explore.
The meeting was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. It was an important meeting. That is what everyone understood based on the email they received the day before.
“Stop everything. Reschedule any meetings that may conflict. It is vital that you are present at a team meeting tomorrow at 2 pm. We will meet in the conference room and start promptly. Late arrivers will be noticed.”
Every seat was filled, except for one. The new regional director had certainly gotten everyone’s attention with that email. The buzz all morning was curious speculation as to what could be so important. The clock struck 2:00 p.m. and nothing happened. Nothing could happen, because the lady who had called the meeting was not there. There was no advance agenda, so they nervously chatted among themselves. A few talked with each other about a project for a client. Others whispered about their annoyance of “another stupid meeting.” Minutes dragged by.
At 2:13 p.m., the door opened and she flopped into her chair at the head of the table. Without apology, the Director launched into her agenda of how things were going to be “different around here” and the new goals she expected the entire team to achieve. Assignments were given and she droned on as she told each person exactly how they had to do their jobs. Two individuals attempted to ask for some clarification and one offered a suggestion for streamlining a process. She “kindly” listened and then promptly went back to her ideas. No one else spoke for the next hour and a half.
I told this story in a leadership development program one morning and asked the participants the following question:
“What do you think this leader lost during that meeting?”
They answered exactly what went through your mind as well:
and even, Creative Collaboration
Everything about that situation screams “I’m the boss. I don’t value your time, ideas, or talent. But, you had better value mine; because I’m here to be successful and I’m in charge.”
Without question, in that single meeting this leader lost everything mentioned above. However, there is one more thing that she lost. In fact, I believe it is the single greatest loss any leader will suffer when attempting to be “in charge.” And that is the loss of:
Our greatest loss will not be in failing to convince people to do it our way. Our greatest loss will be discovering too late that our best leaders went unnoticed, because we were too busy focused on our plan and not open to our people. The greatest loss will be an exodus of leadership talent. It happens quietly. They will find an environment in which their ideas are welcome and there is opportunity to grow.
Now here is the reality check:
Providing a leadership culture where people can create ideas and take responsibility is a winners strategy for growth in your company. Pushing your leadership agenda, while politely ignoring the potential leaders at your table, is the losers strategy.
THREE INVITATIONS YOU CAN GIVE THAT WILL ENGAGE THE LEADERS ON YOUR TEAM:
Invite them to the conversation. One of the simple realities I train leaders to embrace is that people would rather be invited, than to be told. Give your best people the facts and the vision of where you want to be in the next 12 months, then give them time to think about it.
Invite ideas on how to improve processes or revenues. There is very little downside to bringing good people and their ideas to the table. Give them permission to be a part of the growth strategy. When we don’t permit this kind of engagement, they will only focus on their respective tasks.
Invite ownership. This isn’t just about ideas. It is about goals and strategic alignment. Let them determine their own outcomes. The leaders on your team will naturally set objectives that demand a personal and professional stretch. The followers on the team will play it safe.
Oh - one last thing: Please, START your meetings on time!
Let me know your thoughts. I'm looking forward to the conversation.
Steven Iwersen, CSP - Certified Speaking Professional