Leadership Caffeine™ Are You Making Time for the Big Topics?

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

When it comes to the forward-looking issues around talent, team and strategy development, the uncomfortable answer to the question in the post headline for just about all of us (myself included) is, “Not enough.”

From CEOs to front-line supervisors, there’s a gravitational pull to the daily urgent and urgent-unimportant that keeps us from the meaty and meaningful work of leading and planning.

Ask someone to shadow you for a day and then report on what they saw, and I suspect their description will focus on you flitting from one issue and brief encounter and meeting to another.

While there’s no doubt that the best leaders teach on-the-fly as they engage with team members, there are components of the role that require concentration and deeper thinking and dialog than the daily transactions. Coaching, feedback and professional development are the items most frequently sacrificed on the altar of time-pressures and they’re typically reserved for the annual performance evaluation…a poor substitute for regular, quality discussions. Taking time to work on strategy is also compartmentalized to a limited number of discussions, typically around the horrid annual offsite that tends to serve as the time for strategy.

In most of our days, there’s little time for us to think deeply about our work, our people or our business, and there’s little time for us to engage with individuals or teams in meaningful dialog about performance, growth and direction. And while we all get a strong vote in how we spend our time, there’s an almost addiction like quality to the pursuit of our more transactional activities.

A few years ago, I was engaged to coach a senior sales executive. His CEO was concerned about the lack of forward-planning for team, talent and strategy, and he asked me to shadow him for a few days.

After observing the sales executive in action, I asked him when he found time to focus on strategy and talent development for his team. His thoughtful and honest answer was, “I don’t. I enjoy the thrill of the daily hunt for business.”

I appreciated his honesty however, with that type of focus, it was clear he was the wrong person to be in a senior sales executive role. His priorities better fit the regional sales leader. We moved him to a role where he excelled in guiding the hunt for a smaller group and replaced him with someone focused on developing talent and refining and driving strategy execution at an organizational level.

My biggest gripe on the short-term preoccupation is reserved for the CEOs who are supposed to but mostly fail to model the right leadership behaviors as part of building their firm’s culture and future. We’re prone to mimicking the behaviors of those with power and influence and if the top boss doesn’t place a premium on either the developmental or forward looking strategy issues, than neither will her direct reports. It cascades downhill.

It’s Time to Make a Change:

Whether the deficit in your quality time with team members around development or planning is one of omission or commission, you can make changes in your approach and activities and move towards a better balance for everyone involved. Here are 4 ideas to support your effort to regain the high ground on the critical leadership and planning issues.

4 Ideas to Help You Increase Your Time Focused on the Big Topics of Developing Talent and Strategy:

1. Build the Time In to Your Calendar. While this is a bit of the “Captain Obvious,” it amazes me how few people actually block time in their calendars to allow for development and strategy work. The worst offenders are those who allow their calendars to be managed by others…either directly or indirectly through the endless scheduling of status meetings. Time is YOUR most valuable asset…act like you own your own schedule and set your priorities.

2. Measure Your Time Investment in Development and Planning Discussions. We all know that what gets measured gets done. One senior team established a time-target for development and strategy work and we’re evaluated on their performance versus the time targets. While there was no effective way to measure the quality of the time invested, the genuine accountability to report back on time and activities kept the issues front and center. To an executive, they did the same for their direct reports. It cascades downhill.

3. Let Your Team Members Own the Developmental Discussions. While slightly in contrast with my plea in #1 above to take control of your time, I observed a senior manager who shifted the accountability for regular scheduling of development discussions to her direct reports. In this case, it worked brilliantly. The direct reports developed a heightened sense of their own need to do the heavy lifting for their own professional development and would schedule time with the senior manager that turned out to be more mentoring than performance feedback. In this case, it worked.

4. Introduce “Future View” Discussions into Your Regular Meeting Routine. One CEO economized on his operations meeting agenda and added a “Future View” discussion to each monthly session. Participants were required to report back at the monthly session on issues, trends or ideas stimulated by customer input or observation or study of the broader bigger business landscape and market forces. She required every participant to come armed with one observation and to address it in the form of three questions:

  1. How might this issue/observation change everything for us, our industry and customers?
  2. Specifically, what does it mean for us?
  3. What if anything should we do about it.

The rich discussions blossomed into a separate quarterly strategy review where the firm’s strategy was vetted against the key trends and observations. They broke the back of talking about external factors once per year by introducing a simple, but not simplistic technique.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It takes effort to move beyond the issues immediately in front of us and focus on important, albeit more abstract topics like talent development and strategy. The mistake too many of us make is never pulling ourselves away from the urgent. The daily work is never done. However, the time invested in helping people grow and challenging and checking your assumptions about the external world is the time investment that pays real dividends for your efforts. Manufacture the time to talk about the big issues. You’ll be glad you did.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Cultivating A Constructive Response to Momentary Failure

Road sign with Succes in one direction and failure in the otherThe most successful people I’ve worked with are incredibly adept at navigating those moments of mental devastation we call failure.

For anyone striving to achieve something big, great or new, failure is an inevitable part of the process of striving for success. It’s part of learning and growing and while it hurts momentarily, successful professionals process the experience in a very different fashion than those who are more easily derailed.

Here are some of my own lessons learned from observing successful professionals navigate their own momentary failures.

5 Constructive Responses to Professional Failure:

1. Look inward at yourself instead of outward seeking to deflect responsibility. While many of us immediately point to external factors to blame for our failures, successful professionals tend to look inward at their own thinking. Instead of competition or the failure of others to execute or uncooperative customers, they take a more clinical approach with questions such as: What did I miss? What did I fail to consider? Where did my assumptions break down? Why was I wrong about the expected outcome?

2. Own the failure publicly. Closely related to number 1 above, stand up and say, “I failed.” While you might be disappointed in yourself for missing something, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit having failed. If it was a team effort and you were in charge of the team, it’s on you, not the team. Don’t attempt to dodge or deflect responsibility. You’ll destroy your credibility as a leader and as a professional.

3. Play the long game. View failure in the context of one step in a process, not a final outcome. Whether it’s misfire on a project or a failed strategy or a job that ended abruptly at the invitation of your employer, view the setback as temporary…as momentary. Process, adapt and keep moving, you’ve got a long way to run.

4. Don’t let a failed effort define who you are as a professional or a person. I can’t over-emphasize this point. Those who struggle with failure amplify the size, scope and importance of the event in their minds. They begin to equate failure with their self-view as professionals and as individuals. This is a toxic mental model…that like concrete, once it sets is difficult to remove. When you begin to lose self-confidence and operate more from fear than the drive to succeed, you’ve set yourself up for failure in the long game. Fight this negative self-talk.

5. Limit time spent licking wounds. One of the key behaviors of those who successfully navigate these uncomfortable career moments is a quick conversion of disappointment and frustration into positive action. Our natural inclination is to linger indefinitely in failure mode, yet the healthy response is to bury it, mourn it and then move on.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are few things more critical to your long-term professional success and mental health than learning to navigate through setbacks. While the behaviors suggested above are easy to write about and difficult to manifest in those awkward moments, they are learned behaviors that can be practiced and perfected. In a career focused on growing teams, learning to lead effectively and building businesses or striving to realize a mission, you will inevitably stumble. It’s what you do at that point in time that determines your future success.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Ideas for Professional and Performance Growth for the Week of August 2, 2015

How Would You Run the Play?Note from Art: Every week I offer ideas to encourage you to stretch and grow. Use them in great professional health!

Do: Ask an Objective Outsider to Observe and Offer Feedback on Your Team/Project Meetings

There’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes to help assess group dynamics and team performance. One of the simplest and most powerful ways to improve project team effectiveness is to gain objective feedback on what’s working and what’s not. An outsider is able to observe interpersonal dynamics, assess whether everyone is engaged and look for destructive or toxic behaviors that are holding the team back from performing at their best. I’ve observed teams that were nothing more than debating societies, arguing everything and deciding nothing. I’ve also observed environments where a toxic team member was suppressing the input from others. The functional leader didn’t see this until I provided my unvarnished view as to what I had observed. Given that so much of our work takes place on teams and in groups, it makes great sense to ensure we’re doing everything we can to support the emergence of healthy behaviors. Find a qualified, objective outsider and ask them to sit-in on your sessions and then ask for input.

Experiment: Promote Managerial Skills Development by Establishing a Rotation for Leading Operations meetings.

Those regular events where you convene with your colleagues to review performance indicators and discuss challenges are ideal opportunities to help others cultivate their own managerial skills. Ask your team members to rotate through the role of meeting leader and give them a bit of flexibility to creatively adjust the agenda. In addition to serving as excellent practice for the team members, it will break the monotony and routine of most recurring operations meetings and add fresh voices and new energy. Consider a rotation that includes a tenure beyond a single meeting…perhaps serving for a month or a quarter. Encourage the meeting leader to both meet the objectives of the meeting (operations/indicators/issues review) and to add his/her own imprint.

Explore: What are your competitors doing that customers are paying attention to?

One of the constant themes in my writing and speaking is for professionals to shift their view and gain critical perspective from the outside. Chances are your competitors are doing something unique and/or particularly effective that has gained the attention of customers or prospects. Take the time to study your competitors and assess what’s working for them.

While never a fan of imitating competitors, it’s always critical to understand what’s working for them and what you might do to blunt their efforts. Tap into  any or all of win/loss interviews, input from salespeople, industry publications, in-person customer meetings, input from product management and support professionals and presentations at industry events to understand and assess where and how your competitor is winning. Strive to find the substantive activities that are working for them and then assess whether you can adapt or countermand these activities with your own moves. It’s good sport and productive to marginalize your competitor’s efforts while focusing on your own core strategy. Keep them distracted and dancing without distracting your own firm. Remember, it’s not the imitation game…you need to focus on your own strategy while blunting theirs.

That’s it for the early encouragement in our new week. Best of success as you do/experiment and explore! -Art

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

It’s Your Career—Try Reframing the Problems to Stimulate Success

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

How we frame a situation guides our development of options and biases our decisions. In my coaching work, framing is almost always an issue with under-performing professionals. Here are five common situations that can benefit from some active, personal re-framing.

Framing Error 1—Professional Development: “My company isn’t supporting my development.”

Reframe: You own your own professional development, not your company. Now, more than ever, you must take responsibility to invest in yourself for education and training and the most valuable of all developmental activities…participating in a series of challenging assignments. Seeking out these new challenges must be a deliberate part of everyone’s career strategy.

Framing Error 2—Politics: “Getting ahead around here requires me to play the games. I’m not going to do it.”

Reframe: All human groups are political. Given that someone must choose us for success, ignoring the politics and power issues in your work environment is naïve and limiting. A good strategy is to focus on cultivating “clean power” (no backs stabbed, no games played), by identifying and resolving the thorny issues that reside in the gray-areas between functions. This is typically project/team effort and requires that you gain buy-in across functions and involve a network of resources to resolve the challenges. Place your team members in the spotlight of success with these initiatives and you’ll not only gain the support of higher-ups but of a growing network of your colleagues. Congratulations, you will have grown your power without playing any questionable games!

Framing Error 3—Lack of Advancement: Blaming everyone but the person in the mirror for your lack of advancement.

Reframe: If you’re not advancing in your career at a pace that you believe is proper, it’s time to look in the mirror, not at the boss or your coworkers. Much like the use of “swim buddies” in the Navy Seals (someone who watches, supports and challenges you), you need a “feedback buddy” who will share the hard truth on your presence, your weaknesses and your strengths. We’re notoriously poor at seeing ourselves as others do and cultivating a clear understanding of this view offers ammunition for improvement and for better managing the perceptions about you.

Framing Error 4—Blaming the team. “My team isn’t performing up to my expectations.”

Reframe: You’re likely the one not performing to expectations. Reassess your role. Ask your team what they need you to do to better help them succeed. And then do it. You’ll be amazed how much better you will feel about your team when you’re doing your part.

Framing Error 5—Blaming the strategy. “This strategy just isn’t working. What were they thinking?”

Reframe: While it is possible the strategy is flawed, more than likely, there are problems of coordination, communication and execution. Look closely at where the situation is breaking down and collaborate with co-workers to identify solutions and offer insights to senior leaders. No senior leader expects the strategic plan to unfold exactly as it was drawn up on paper. Strategy refinement is an iterative process based on real-world feedback. Be part of the solution here by sharing insights and offering suggestions for strengthening.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy to sit back and view the world of challenges as other people’s problems or other people’s mistakes. The human tendency to take credit for successes and offer blame for failures combines with framing errors to create a cognitive stew of biases and poor thinking. Get out of your own way by reframing the issues and problems, and then take action. Get this right and you’ll be dealing with a whole new set of framing challenges as you gain responsibility and grow in your career.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Friday Leadership Ideas to Help You Finish Strong for July 10, 2015

One Inch at a TimeEvery week I share a few ideas to help you finish strong. A great ending sets the stage for success next week.

1. Call a Timeout and Assess Your Progress on the Big Items

Days turn into weeks turn into months and the daily urgent issues keep us sprinting, often unable to stop and catch our breath and assess where we’re at on the bigger plans we established earlier in the year. Take time today to call a timeout (or lock one in to your schedule soon) to assess how you’re doing with the important and bigger picture activities you committed to months ago.

The issues that are often pushed off to some never-to-be reached time in the future include critical personnel decisions, structural changes, new program creation and the ever-important employee development actions. Oh, and don’t forget about your own developmental plans. How are you doing on your own personal growth objectives?

Too many great professionals let the days manage their agenda instead of the reverse. The daily fires will never disappear, however, the big issues that promote significant positive change take focus and discipline. Recommit to working on the big items and then do it!

2. Change Your View

I’m a constant nag on the need for all of us to better understand the view from functions other than our own. Spend too much time observing the world from your department’s windows, and you start to develop functional tunnel vision. Reach out to a peer in another group and ask to be invited to a team update or, invite him/her to one of yours. Do this regularly and strive to learn more about the view others have on market or organizational issues. Better yet, find common areas to collaborate on for improvements.

If you’ve been sitting too long with the same view, it’s time for a change.

3. Revive Your Summer Reading Plans

Read and grow smarter. My suggestions for business reads:

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal

And

Team Genius: The New Science of High Performing Organizations by Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone.

(Are you hearing a consistent theme with my recommendations?)

For sheer great writing and a unique view into Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the time leading up to World War II until Franklin’s passing, try “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The intimate insights into these two remarkable individuals coupled with the challenges of navigating extreme uncertainty and risk by Franklin, are fascinating. This is one of the only historical biographies I’ve consumer where I could not stand to put it down.

That’s all for this week! Finish strong and the new week will look brilliant. -Art

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.