"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.
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
Have you ever noticed how quickly a conversation can get uncomfortable when someone says something that is rude, insensitive or simply contrary? A cold hush comes over the room or a heated rush to battle makes innocent bystanders want to escape.
What fascinates me is how the offended can so quickly get defensive. Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to this scenario. I don't like it when someone takes a shot at me and I'm inclined to go into a "let's settle this right here and now" mode. Which isn't always the best approach. And that's what has me thinking today - "What is really going on in those awkward moments and what would be a better approach?"
The way I see it, these moments are similar to what happens in most sports. There is offense and defense. Each has a specific purpose and strategy. The difference however, is that we don't approach conflict with purpose and strategy - we just react or over-react. Let me explain:
When a team goes on offense - the goal is to make a point. The same is true in life. When we are "offended" it is typically because someone made a point that we don't like. Whatever their intentions, we are unhappy.
So we get defensive and try to protect our rights, dignity and pride. We want to naturally "even the score"! But defense is not about making points, it's about protecting our turf and preventing others from making any more points.
Think about that for a moment. What do we do in a sporting event when the opposing team makes a point? Do we stay in a defense posture? No! We shift quickly into an offense strategy and seek to make our own points. If we play only in a defensive mode, we'd never have control or opportunity to score. A basketball team in defense is focused on preventing a score and getting the ball back. If they succeed in that, they pivot their strategy immediately to offense. Staying in defense at all times would be a guaranteed loss. They would always be running backwards and being pressured by the competitor. Might as well just sit on the bench and let the other team demonstrate their slam-dunk skills.
That's what I see happen all the time in corporate environments. People get offended by a point made by another and in turn they immediately try to defend themselves. Usually by attempting to discredit the other person or by arguing that the opposing view is wrong. That is not an effective strategy.
When you feel offended - get offensive!
Don't attack the person or their perspective. Instead, use this offensive strategy:
1) Shift your thinking. Give thought to how you can best communicate your ideas and make your next point.
2) Stay focused on the facts. Being factual, not emotional is the best game plan.
3) Stand your ground. If there has been a foul or an attack, don't retaliate. I believe that if you stay professional, others will come to your defense and stand up for your integrity.
4) State your position and make your point. Be brief and tactful.
5) Step away. Sometimes after the point has been expressed people need time to think. In other situations, if the "offender" is simply being a bully or trying to instigate a fight - it's time to walk way.
Just one more thought. Don't keep score. It's much more rewarding to work with others for a desired team outcome, then it is to be constant competitors.
Business Leaders have an attitude and a way of behaving that gets results. Many of them are successful because they are very clear on what not to do. They can confidently say, "That's not my job." In previous blogs I introduced to you the first two methods that can help you do the same. First, Think Like a CEO. Secondly, Inventory Your Workload, Prioritize Your Worth. Let's look briefly now at the third method that business leaders practice.
Dominate Your Space, Delegate with Grace
Dominate your space! Make a commitment to be the absolute best in your position. Calendar your time around your highest priorities. Don't waste your precious time and talents on things that are best managed by others. Give your utmost efforts to those things you know will bring the greatest return on your investment. I ask myself everyday, "Is this a $5 Million activity or a $500 distraction?" Yes that may seem like an exaggeration, but the extremes help to keep the focus on what my work really means.
Delegate with Grace. Everything else that is on your list is your responsibility. But, it could be accomplished by people who are smarter, better skilled, or more inclined to the task than you. Let them do it and report to you the progress and outcomes. The sooner you appreciate the value and worth that others contribute to the goals, the sooner you will generate a momentum that achieves those goals.
The most value that you gain from doing this is the time to practice the fourth method: "Doing What No One Else Will Do." We'll cover that in the next post.
TIME FOR PERSONAL ACTION - What distractions are keeping you from your best actions? What should you be delegating to others?
Let me know what comes to your mind as you answer those two questions.
Why would a leader encourage members and employees of the organization to say "That is not my job"?
Because, it isn't their job. Not if they work in an environment that empowers them to take responsibility for the outcomes. People are more engaged and invested when there is an intrinsic understanding that the progress and success of the company is directly related to the individual efforts, skills, and ability to problem solve. It is not their job, it is their mission - their cause.
People who have arrive at this understanding are deeply committed and have a greater sense of ownership. In fact, they think and behave as if they do own the company. For example, a young lady approached her boss with a strategy to reduce the time it takes to process a customers request for additional services. Her plan could save employees approximately 20 minutes per transaction. When the boss asked why she had given this so much thought and effort, she responded "I thought that the cost savings for the company would be significant and it would help employees to have time to focus more on producing results and less on process." It was not her job to come up with those ideas. Her "job" was to simply carry out the tasks. And yet, her mission was to make the company stronger and her role became more valuable.
The fastest way you can begin creating this kind of energy and engagement is to:
1) Minimize the rules, and get out of their way.
2) Maximize the recognition and give them the credit.
There are two dangers to keep in mind as you move in this direction - the lines between who is responsible for what can become fuzzy and you may end up doing things that you shouldn't.
You can avoid the first problem by having regular conversations with individuals and the whole team about specific roles and responsiblities. We need to release people to play to their strengths. We also need to remind the whole team that we contribute to each others efforts, but not at the expense of our own duties.
Nothing can be more irritating to a customer, coworker or a leader than to hear someone spout off, “It is not my job!” As a customer, I don’t care what’s in your job description. What I care about is your ability to help me. As a coworker, I’m more interested in a collaborative team effort and the success of our company. As a leader, I consider your talents to be of value to the overall objectives and expect you to step up when needed. (And as your leader, when you give me that kind of attitude I’m inclined to consider helping you find a different job in a remote location.)
“It’s not my job” has become a phrase that people use to excuse themselves from additional or undesirable work. In some workplaces, it is used as the “invisible force field” that people invoke as they quote their job description and successfully avoid professional responsibility. It is nothing more than the mantra of the lazy.
Let’s stop right there. I’m going to suggest that we look at the phrase in a new way. When an employee says “It’s not my job” - they are right. Whatever is being asked of them is not their job. It is no one’s job. Because, none of us have a job. That would be true if we worked in an environment that promoted personal and professional responsibility vs job descriptions and commands. Our role as leaders is not to force or enforce job functions. We are responsible to equip quality, productive people that have a mission-oriented mindset, not a job mentality. They hear of a need and immediately consider “how can I best achieve the desired results?”
The right environment gives permission to workers to say, “It’s not my job - it is my mission… to wow the customer, help my coworkers succeed, and move our company to the leading edge of our industry.” That attitude and atmosphere is what separates progressive, growing companies from those that are struggling to make a profit.
There are FOUR WAYS TO PROMOTE A MISSION MINDSET:
1) Create An “On-A-Mission” Environment.
Don't manage the job descriptions, lead the people. Here are some quick tips for changing the focus of the work environment.
Identify the "Why": The Purpose gives meaning to the project.
Switch from a Top Down approach to a Side by Side Culture.
Model and Expect Engagement. Communicate frequently that business growth is driven by personal growth.
2) Coach Employees to Identify Their Role with the Mission.
Yes, there are specific duties and tasks that each of us are assigned and accountable to complete. Don't stop there. Help your employees see the bigger picture and encourage them to consider how their role compliments the misison.
He said: When everyone in the company understands the ultimate outcome or purpose, everyone’s “job” is to contribute to it by applying their unique talent and skill in their “role.”
3) Cross Train for Stellar Outcomes
A team success becomes more important than an individual success. When employees have a better understanding of other’s roles and can function in that role when called upon, they are more open to doing what ever it takes to accomplish the mission.
4) Correct the Chronic with a Conduct Policy
There will be times that you must address the person that refuses to be mission focused and hold them accountable to a standard that is higher than they prefer. You do not want to ignore this issue or it will become your problem. To keep this conversation from being personal, make it a matter of policy. My friend Monica Wofford has a great perspective on how to accomplish this in her blog, “What Happens When That’s Not My Job Becomes That’s Not My Problem.”
Innovation is the buzz word and expectation in every growing business today. We are constantly striving to generate new ideas and spark creativity. The most common method is to call for a brainstorming session. Gather a group together, present the challenge and expect "earth shaking" results in an hour. But sometimes brainstorming just doesn't work. Could there be a better way?
Dr. Tony MCCaffery suggests that there is no evidence that brainstorming works. He offers a different approach that will generate hundreds more practical ideas in just minutes. Check out his video.
He suggests that the premise of talking through problems and ideas is not as effective as expecting people to write out their ideas, then submit them for others to consider. The written form allows for all ideas to be considered and the introverted personalities gain an opportunity to have their suggestions presented. His research indicates that the ideas are more practical and everyone involved is invested in the process.
I see his point, but disagree that the exercise of talking it out is the reason brainstorming doesn't work. In my experience, talking through the challenges and hearing other perspectives often helps us gain understanding. It also helps us generate greater levels of collaboration and cooperation.
Brainstorming can be effective when you give people time to think, expect them to write out their ideas and read others ideas before they come to a brainstorming session. The time for contemplation prior to the conversation is what makes the process more meaningful.
Henry: “Steven, I am really concerned about the changes the company is initiating and how the employees in my division are going to react.” (He rolled his eyes, took a deep breath and continued.) “I came here 5 years ago and we’ve seen 5 new directors come and go during that time. Every one of those directors had a new idea or plan that we had to embrace, only to see all of our efforts thrown out when the company decided to get a new director.”
Me: “Tell me why you’re concerned about the new initiatives.”
Henry: “Well in the past, every decision that introduced a change in our process was made in secret and handed down at the last moment. No time for questions, buy-in or troubleshooting. The morale takes another hit, there is no trust and the complainers get a little louder.”
That conversation sounds too familiar, doesn’t it? I hear the same thing all over the country as I coach leaders in different industries - manufacturing, high-tech, offices, and non-profits. However, on occasion I hear a different story. There are organizations and leaders that have discovered that having an open dialogue and including people in the early stages of change is a successful strategy.
Sharing important information with the people of your organization will generate five significant outcomes.
It provides a foundation for them to understand the issues and decisions that have to be made.
It minimizes the potential for speculation and misunderstandings.
The “power brokers” in the organization that try to generate fear will have their leverage minimized.
It creates opportunity for meaningful discussions and opportunity for people to offer suggestions/ideas on how to make the transitions successful.
And most importantly, it sends a clear message that they are important enough to be trusted with the information.
Remember: You are not leading change, you are leading people.