"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
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.
When I ask leaders who demonstrate a strong ability to listen what they consider to be the key difference between hearing and listening - the resounding anwer is attention.
"You can hear whatever you want to hear, but when you give someone your attention, that's when you really start to listen."
Asked to consider what the benefits of listening would be to a leader, and the answers reveal an attitude of honest communication and a culture of empowerment. Here are the answers that I receive the most often and I highlighted in the article/video series Leaders Listen.
THE IMMEDIATE LEADERSHIP BENEFITS OF LISTENING:
• Makes the leader approachable
• Ideas are generated.
• Concerns are identified
• Gauges alignment to priorities
• Reveals your blind spots
• Empowers others to problem solve
• Improvement to efficiency and execution
• Time management
• Reduces conflict and stress
• Trust is cultivated and/or measured
What are your employees trying to tell you? Your influence will be greatly enhanced the moment you begin to listen like a leader.
I'd like to give you a special resource that I've created based on the listening behaviors learned from industry and community leaders. There are 5 Key Tips on how to improve your listening skills and a personal development worksheet to help you put it all into practice. Click here for more info and the downloads.
Balancing the demanding schedule of a leader is tough enough:
Emails & Phone Conferences
Production / Service Issues
Communication. That's the big one! The one skill that weaves its way through every other responsibility. And the leader has the extra challenge of keeping the balance between speaking and listening. The speaking part comes easily for most leaders. Especially when you reach a point of confidence in your mission and decisions. The hard part for most leaders is the listening side of communication. And yet, that is the skill that makes the biggest difference in your influence.
John Baldoni, chair of leadership development at N2Growth,contributes an important perspective on this in the SmartBLog on Leadership. He points out an interesting example from the show “Ray Donovan”and how the title character played by actor Liev Schreiber demonstrates the importance of being a quiet leader. "A quiet leader is one who values his own strengths but also has the ability to see the world as others do for one simple reason....Knowing how another thinks is essential to persuasion."
The problem is - we've never been taught HOW to listen and we don't have enough TIME to listen. It is something that we have to learn "on the job" and master while attempting to lead others to a desired outcome. But, what if you had a system - a formula that could help you solve that problem?
In addition to the report, a 5 part video series has been posted to YouTube. Each 4 to 5 minute segment offers practical ideas that will help you implement the strategy. A self-paced study guide is available to help you.
Here is the first of that series. Grab a cup of coffee and let's have a short visit.
The fourth method is the one practice that truly separates this leaders from all the rest.
Do What Others Are Not Willing To Do.
I'm not referring to the tasks, duties that you've delegated. I'm talking about a forward thinking, proactive behavior that focuses your attention on finding the extra things that create added value to your employees, customers and the company. These are the things that are not in your job description, but will make a difference for those you serve. When you have freed up your time by letting go of the things that you shouldn’t do, you will have discretionary time to focus on creation instead of reaction.
“If you spent only 20 percent of your time extracting 80 percent of the revenue from your existing business model, this gives you 80 percent of your time to do something different.”
What could you do that no one else is willing to do in that 80% of extra time? All it takes is one meaningful action or one excellent idea to separate you from the crowd. Your customers will be blown away by the results you provide. Your employees will be excited to be part of a forward moving agenda. You will have a new sense of accomplishment and satisfaction because you will no longer be working a job, you will be leading the way.
Go ahead, act like it's "not my job" by practicing these four methods for the next 30 days. You're going to start getting better results.
I'm looking forward to your comments about the experience.
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.