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Top 10 Ways a Vacation Makes You Better at Your Job

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action." ~Peter Drucker

“You can always make money. You can’t always make memories.” ~Unknown

Today’s work environment is overstuffed with priorities, commitments, projects and other drains on your time. Add to this the constant connectivity you have to work and you are likely of the opinion you could use a vacation. But guess what? Most people don’t use their vacation time. Workers, on average, fail to use nearly five vacation days a year, the U.S. Travel Association found.

In many cases you may face an organization or a boss who overtly or passively-aggressively discourages you to take vacation. They roll their eyes at the request, pile on work before or after, deny the request for “business reasons”, or bombard you with emails and texts when you actually do escape.

In other cases, you may actually talk yourself out of taking your vacation all by yourself. The most common refrains are “It’s not worth it because of all the work I come back to after” or some form of “the place will fall apart without me.” But there are many others like scheduling, money, the social aspects of work and others.

But what you and your boss are missing are the enormous workplace benefits of taking a vacation. Remember, even if you take your vacation you’ll still be at work 90%-95% of the calendar year. If you’re not at peak effectiveness during this time it could have a DRAMATICALLY larger impact on overall productivity than vacation alone. While taking time off doesn’t guarantee productivity, it can improve your work performance in a number of ways:

Increased Creativity

One of the primary benefits to taking time off from work is that it allows you to get out of the proverbial routine. When you go to work five days a week, six days for many people, you become conditioned to follow a specific pattern. This pattern is designed to get you to work on time and to follow through with the objectives of your job. There isn’t often enough time to truly “recharge the batteries” even with a weekend. Fatigue and routine are rarely hallmarks of creativity. Getting away and really recuperating from the stresses of the job can help you start with a clean slate and reignite creativity.

Increased Energy & Focus

Athletes know that proper rest is essential to proper performance. The same goes for everyone else. Instead of being weighed down by constant pressure, time away allows our mind to reset and our bodies to de-stress from the regular work routine. This results in more energy upon your return. And it isn’t just energy. By clearing your plate of distractions that always seem to build up over the course of days and weeks you will find it easier to focus on the tasks in front of you once you are back in the office.

A Better Attitude

One of the main reasons people want to go on vacation is to get away from the frustrations, irritations and stresses of their work. With all of the work that is put on your plate and the constant call to multitask and do more, today’s work environment is as stressful as ever. This fact only exacerbates the frustration that many workers feel on a daily basis, which can lead to a poor attitude in anyone. While the frustrations may always be there, you may find that you deal with them better after a break from them for a time.

Time to Think

Just because you are away from the office doesn’t mean that you won’t be thinking about work. Many people find that when they get away they are able to think clearer about both small and large things at the workplace and set a new direction once they get back. This is one of the benefits I personally experience on almost every vacation I take. One good idea or course of action.

Additional Patience

“Patience wears thin” is a saying that encapsulates the fact that most people have a limited amount of patience. Many leaders have recognized this and manage their own behavior so that they don’t make important decisions when they are in a state of impatience. Creating a clean break with a vacation is one of the things that fills the tank of patience to the top for all of us.

A Desire to Do More

When you’re tired you don’t often feel like you are up to a challenge or taking on more duties. When you are fully rested, however, you might find yourself actively looking for something more to do. This is especially common in ambitious individuals who have already seen promotion and recognition and know that they usually come from “going that extra mile.”

Better Health (Less Sick Time)

Many studies have been done about the effects of stress on the human body, specifically on the immune system. The more stress that you have in your life, the more likely it is that you will develop maladies that can affect your overall health. By taking a vacation, you can leave the stress behind, allowing your immune system to get back to normal. This way, you can not only feel better mentally and emotionally by taking a vacation, but also improve your physical health.

Embrace New Things

That different environment that you escape to on vacation actually helps you embrace new things when you return. Many leaders have an aversion to new things, they are unknown variables, and many organizations thrive on predictability. Having a pleasant experience in a different or new environment can break through much of this resistance.

Practice “Rolling with the Punches”

Rarely does a vacation go off without a hitch. And given the new or different environments you may be in as outlined above, this is exercises your ability to be flexible. Like an athlete that cross-trains in a different discipline to get stronger in their primary discipline, this is a new environment to practice flexibly adjusting to a changing plan. By going through the experience on vacation you will make your work flexibility that much better.

Appreciation

Have you ever been away from your “daily grind” for a period of time and eventually find that you “just can’t wait to get home?” Almost all of us have at one time or another. Getting away from your regular surroundings and experiencing something new often has the effect of making us appreciate what we left behind; the routine, the familiarity, the accomplishment. It’s not that the vacation was bad, it’s just that you gain some perspective on things you take for granted.

Now of course all of these benefits are mitigated if you don’t truly create that break and are checking in on the office regularly or are receiving e-mails and texts from your boss and team when you are on vacation. But with that one caveat, there are an enormous amount of benefits to getting away on vacation, not the least of which is coming back even better at your job than when you left.

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Top 6 Tips for Dealing With Uncertainty

"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time." ~ Winston Churchill

"Business is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight." ~Henry R. Luce

Uncertainty is incredibly uncomfortable, but as a leader in today’s organizational environment, it is a persistent reality. Simply looking at the speed in which technology, processes and competitive landscapes changes ensure that uncertainty will be a regular environment that leaders will immersed in. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a proactive stance and grow your way beyond this often debilitating state of mind.

Utilize these six tools when uncertainty creeps into your mind and eventually, they will become second-nature:

Learn More About the Situation

Ignorance is at the heart of uncertainty. One of the reasons that you may be uncertain how to proceed in a situation is because you lack adequate knowledge to make an informed decision. Take the time to investigate the matter from another angle, or at least a little deeper. As you are performing your research, make notes of the pertinent information you encounter.

Create a Plan

If you know what you are going to do, then uncertainty ceases to exist. No matter what the situation, you can develop a plan that will help to relieve your stress and give you more confidence as you move forward. This may be somewhat easier said than done, but with practice you can get better at building flexibility into the plan to adjust to new information.

A plan will stop your mind from playing loops of outcomes that may or may not occur and allow you to focus your attention on other matters.

Have a Bias Towards Action

Great leaders are prone to taking action quickly. Uncertainty can feel a lot like walking through a fog bank where you aren’t sure where to go. The only way to get past it is to go forward. In this case that is action. As you take one action after the other you gain more information and the fog slowly clears.

Couple this with the fact you are taking your mind off of worrying about various outcomes and instead concentrating on an activity and the benefit of action is multiplied.

Calm Your Mind

When you experience uncertainty, you likely have accompanying physical symptoms associated with fear and nervousness. These issues have a negative impact on cognitive function, which may leave you in a negative, unhealthy loop where you feel sick and uncertain continually.

Whether it is listening to music, taking a few soothing breaths or even meditating, it is important to be able to hit the “reset” button so that you can see the issue clearly and are able to tap into your creative ability. A state of fear doesn’t help with either of those.

Do Something Physical

Another way to hit that “reset” button is to do something physical. While you may not initially think that going to the gym is going to help you get through a situation that you are uncertain about, it can. Your uncertainty can trigger the fight-or-flight response, which releases adrenaline and other chemicals into your body.

Since fighting is obviously not a good solution and you cannot run away from your problems, you need to find an alternative way to release the tension in your body or it will affect your thinking.

The idea is to move your body, get your blood and lymph systems stimulated and to enjoy yourself. Do whatever it is that you find enjoyable that will stimulate your body.

Practice Confidence Building

In some ways, confidence is the opposite of uncertain emotions in that the more you have of one, the less you have of the other. Because of this, you need to find ways to increase your confidence outside of the situation which creates feelings of uncertainty.

Change your internal self-talk to positive and empowering messages. Think back to all of the successes that you have had in the past when dealing with uncertain situations. Take up the habit of learning new things and meeting new people (often uncomfortable and with an uncertain outcome). The more confident and self-assured you feel, the easier it will be for you to handle any situation that life throws your way.

Practice these suggestions diligently and you’ll find it easier and easier to deal with the uncertainty that every leader deals with on a regular basis. 

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5 Steps That Turn a Mistake Into a Success

"Close scrutiny will show that most "crisis situations" are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are." -Maxwell Maltz

"A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them." ~John C. Maxwell

Of course you don’t want to make mistakes or create problems, but there is a silver lining to that cloud when they occur. It is similar to the “Service Recovery Paradox” where a customer will actually be far more loyal to an organization if the organization makes a mistake and fixes it than they would be if the organization had never made a mistake in the first place. For you personally, and your mistake, it is this fact:

People are far more likely to remember how you dealt with a problem than they are to remember how you created it in the first place.

All you have done when you make a mistake is call attention to yourself. The “verdict”, either good or bad has not necessarily been made yet. If you solve the problem you created, you have cancelled out the disservice you did to yourself in the first place, and may have done yourself a service.

This isn’t meant to give you freedom to run around making careless mistakes, but is meant to get you out of your obsession with your mistake and refocus you on the solution so that the final impression you make (with the attention you didn’t necessarily want in the first place) is a good one. Here is what you need to do:

·         Be constructive – You want to be “issue focused” not pointing fingers and being defensive. This is your time to show how you handle important things when they become your responsibility.

·         Handle it calmly – There should be no sense of panic at what just occurred. Your team takes their cues from you, if you are panicky they will be as well. This is your time to show how you handle pressure.

·         Handle it quickly – Just because you’re calm doesn’t mean you don’t move fast. A general rule is that the quicker a problem is addressed the better. Which is one of the reasons to refocus on the solution instead of the problem in the first place. This is your time to show your ability to quickly turn ideas into reality.

·         Communicate through it – You made the mistake, but you can relay to your team, peers and boss what caused it, what is happening because of it, what you are doing to fix it, and how you are ensuring it doesn’t happen again. This is your time to show your accountability and communication skills.

·         Learn from it – I had a philosophy in management that you could almost make any mistake imaginable…once. The important thing was learning from it and making sure you didn’t make that mistake again. If you show that you learn from your mistakes you show a maturity in your leadership.

Remember that no leader ascends to the top of their profession without being bold in their actions. By demonstrating that you’ve changed as a result of your mistake, you reassure your superiors, peers, and direct reports that you can be trusted with equally important tasks or decisions in the future. Who knows, you may find you are called upon to fix other problems in the organization based on this demonstrated skill.

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The 3 Best Ways to Get People to Like You at Work

"We build too many walls and not enough bridges." ~Sir Isaac Newton

"A leader is someone who can do everything him(her)self, but let's other people help him(her)." ~Don Rittner

And no, it doesn't have to do with you throwing them parties, always agreeing with them,  or other shallow efforts at establishing approval. What we are talking about here is not just getting people to like you, we are talking about something deeper, trust and respect. 

The greatest part of your career success will rely on being able to establish trust and respect with your team, peers, and bosses. The most important network you can possibly establish is the one inside your own company. These networks will lead to new positions, promotions, assignments on high-profile initiatives, assistance when most needed, and even job security (“don’t get rid of them, they're fantastic”). If you don’t have the respect and assistance of your coworkers, you undoubtedly will find your job much more difficult. 

Luckily, there are a few areas that can set you apart from others in your ability to foster trust and respect. Some might call them tricks, some might call them manners, but they work every time:

Respect and encourage their insight – People have different experiences and skills, and I insist that everyone has something you can learn from. By asking for their thoughts on matters, or participation in projects, you not only play to their vanity (though that seems a little more devious than it is intended to be), you also have an opportunity to learn from them. People want to be included, and if you are the one including them, they will be appreciative.

Make yourself available for them – People are often “too busy” to assist someone else when they ask for assistance. If you make time for others when they ask for your assistance and expertise you are modeling collaboration. It makes you a resource for them, again something that they appreciate, and it also opens the doors to asking them for assistance when you need it. One favor begs the next. It also shows that you respect them since you are willing to always make time for them (you do the same for the VP or President don’t you).

Praise them for their insight and accomplishments publicly – The greatest thing you can possibly do in business is praise others publicly, especially in front of their boss. Nothing will endear you to others quicker.

Now like I mentioned above, many of you will simply call this basic manners, but we sadly find few of those in most businesses. If you do the above three things consistently, you WILL stand out from the crowd. As leaders we are often too busy attempting to show why we are better than our peers than being the orchestrator of synergies between everyone. Also, you will find yourself in a better environment (friends are always a good thing) and more productive (as you increase the level of teamwork in the organization).

Make these three actions a part of your leadership plan going forward and you will find yourself an ever increasingly important member of your organization's leadership.

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The 7 Vital Techniques to Improve Your Listening Skills

"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen." ~Ernest Hemingway

“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears-by listening to them.” ~Dean Rusk

If there is one skill that can improve your career, it is the ability to listen to others well. Listening shows respect, gives you access to feedback and ideas, helps understanding of requirements and expectations and makes it easier for you to convey your thoughts. Listening is quite simply a foundational skill in your performance.

One of the secrets of those who are great listeners is that it is only partly about them listening. Yes, they need to understand what is being said, but it is just as much (if not even more) about encouraging the other person to share completely what they are thinking at the time. We can all listen, we learned that in kindergarten, but not all of us can access the “whole story” of what the other person is speaking about.

The reason that we see listening skills becoming increasingly rare is that the environment we work in is changing. Communication has shifted away from methods that give us practice listening like phone calls and face to face meeting, towards email, texting, and Skype that don’t require listening skills at all. So when you do get an opportunity to practice, what should you be focusing on? Start with these:

Non-verbal cues – One of the most overlooked areas of listening is not actually listening to the content, it’s looking at their body language and the tone in their voice. You can get a gauge on frustration, excitement, panic, disinterest and any other number of emotions. This can give you a great picture of how the speaker feels about the subject which lets you know how to react better to what they’re saying.

Benefit: Extra information and background on the topic

Show respect – Let me ask you something. Have you ever heard someone in a meeting or conference call asked a question and they respond, “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” That’s disrespect. It is almost a cliché when talking about listening skills, but it bears mentioning because it is so important. Engage in eye contact, eliminate any distractions, take notes, whatever it takes for you to pay attention. Yes, you will listen better, but by respecting the person enough to pay attention you are going to encourage further discussion and opinion from them. Remember, great listeners encourage more feedback and discourse.

Benefit: More information in the instant case, and encouragement for more information in the future

Never interrupt – A pause isn’t always a pause. Too many times we can’t wait to throw in our two-cents, give the solution, or ask a question. The problem is that when you interrupt the person, you throw off their train of thought and compromise the ability to obtain all of the information. It also gets at a disrespect similar to the above. If you wait for them to finish you are validating what they say and that encourages them to tell you everything.

Benefit: Getting the entire story

Listen for ideas, not just words – Not everyone is an amazing communicator, and not everyone who has an idea has thought of all the possible opportunities. Great listeners listen between the lines for the real thoughts that the person is having. They will also follow the logic that the person is using, and by doing so reveal further steps that could be taken or opportunities that might have been missed.

Benefit: Better understanding and enhanced ideas

Clarify understanding – And just like everyone isn’t a great communicator, there’s a decent chance YOU aren’t a perfect listener yet, and missed something in the message. When they have finished what they were saying, paraphrase what they said and repeat it back to them. Make sure you got it right and ensure that you got the “point” they were trying to make in addition to the details. Only after you repeat it back and have it right, do you ask questions to clarify further. Making sure that they know you heard what they said will open them up to those questions and feedback you have.

Benefit: Clarification

Defer judgement – Many times when we listen to someone, we can tell very early on that the point they are trying to make is wrong. Either they don’t have all of the information, the right perspective, or they haven’t thought about all of the repercussions. Even in instances like this it’s important to hold back judgement and listen intently. Not only is this polite and respectful, but what you will find is that there are kernels of truth in their thoughts and opinions and this may give you the seeds of improving the course of action or coming up with new ideas. Even wrong opinions and thoughts have useful information if you look and listen hard enough.

Benefit: New ideas and perspective

Put them at ease – When people are comfortable that you are interested, they are likely to share more. Think back to times when your boss was engaged with what you were saying versus times they were disinterested. In which case were you more apt to share more information? Repeating back what someone said to acknowledge it, nodding your head in understanding of what they said, and simply smiling as they speak puts them at ease and ensures they say everything they feel that they need to. The other trick is to stay silent. Part of this is manners and ensuring they are actually done talking, but it also shows interest in hearing more. Many times it is what comes after a 3 second pause of silence that is the most impactful thing said in the whole conversation.

Benefit: Get the juicy details

If you can work on your listening skills and put a focus on applying them then your access to information, opinions, and ideas will increase dramatically. Too many of us cut ourselves off from all of this by choosing the wrong communication channels or rushing through every interaction. You’ll find every communication touchpoint is more worthwhile if you invest yourself and your focus on them.

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15 Ways Great Leaders Use Criticism to Accelerate Their Career

“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle

"If you have no critics you'll likely have no success." ~Malcolm Forbes

Most people fear and defend against criticism. They ignore it entirely, they make excuses as to why the criticism isn’t valid, or they shift blame. After all, it isn’t fun to come up short or make mistakes and have someone call you out on it. But leaders in search of greatness know the secret benefits of criticism and handle criticism in a way that cultivates those benefits.

For amazing leaders, handling criticism turbo-charges their career because they make the most of what others treat as toxic. While their peers are motivated and fueled only by praise, these leaders find twice as much motivation, twice as much information, and twice as much fuel for their leadership by embracing both praise and criticism. Making the most out of both good and bad situations gives them a strategic advantage.

And it isn’t just about learning from your mistakes, there are a whole host of benefits of criticism past that to help anyone gain that advantage over the competition. So let’s take a look at them:

Practice not getting emotional – Emotions are something that every leader needs to take into account when formulating a decision. Where emotions go wrong is when they DRIVE the decision and aren’t just another consideration to be carefully evaluated. We are emotional creatures and this is something that can encourage us to make the wrong decisions. Criticism is almost always something that elicits an emotional response. How you deal with the criticism can be just as important over the long term as what you do about the criticized issue in the short term. Great leaders leverage the practice in controlling their emotions so they get just that much better at it and this leads to better decision making down the road.

Encourages humility – Not all emotions are destructive, some can be very constructive. Chief among them from a leadership perspective is humility. Being at the service of a goal greater than your own, and truly submitting to that goal by realizing the contributions of those around you make reaching that goal more likely, are the hallmarks of leadership. Humbly accepting criticism from those above and below you in the organizational hierarchy is where the “rubber meets the road” and where you will prove yourself in leadership.

A source of ideas – Whether the idea is put out there as an alternative, or whether you need to open a discourse with the criticizer(s) to discover one, getting feedback on what doesn’t work is one of the quickest ways to get moving down the path to find ideas that can work.

Fosters flexibility – Response time is a subject that doesn’t get as much press in the leadership discussions as it should. How quickly you constructively respond to stimulus can go a long way to determining how successful you are in the end. Finding a compromise with the person that criticizes you, finding a new process to replace the one that didn’t work, and coming up with measures to ensure that the task is successful this time around requires you to be flexible. Amazing leaders get the most out of this required flexibility and use the practice to get quicker and quicker at it to move down the path of success.

Prevents mistakes – Would you rather make a mistake or stop right before you make it? Of course you want to prevent mistakes and criticism can be the mechanism to assist you in that. Whether it actually stops you from making it, or just stops you from perpetuating the mistake, it is extraordinarily valuable. Great leaders don’t dismiss it; they welcome the opportunity to not compound an error by letting it continue.

Forces you to think – Rational thinking and problem solving are essential aspects of leadership, and facing criticism gives you practice in both. Whether rationally addressing why the criticism is unfounded, thinking about where you erred, or problem solving a new solution around the issue, criticism gives you the motivation and need to exercise both of these traits. How well you exercise them often determines how much criticism you face in the future.

Great people get criticized – As the quotes at the beginning of this article relate, criticism is proof that you are doing something and the more things you do and the greater their importance the more criticism you will likely receive. Amazing leaders, while handling the criticism, give themselves a pat on the back with the assurance that they are at least on the right path.

Practice dealing with tough situations – While criticism doesn’t always equal a crisis (sometimes it does), it isn’t an easy situation. Forgetting about the emotional aspects which are difficult, and focusing on the practical for a moment, criticism requires the leader to adjust, start over, or otherwise change an action that they had planned on going forward with. All of these are the sort of things that build experience for the leader. Amazing leaders embrace this experience and use it to grow.

Don’t sweat the small stuff – The more things that are done, the more that you are open to criticism. This fact gives the leader who makes mistakes and receives criticism practice in separating out the important from the relatively frivolous. Too often leaders magnify the importance of criticism well beyond what it deserves, which clouds their judgement and priorities, which eventually can inhibit results.

Keeps you in line – Underperformance isn’t cool and if a leader isn’t meeting expectations it’s important that they are informed as quickly as possible so it can be addressed before it results in more permanent problems. This is where the person criticizing is doing the leader a favor.

Jumpstarts action – Since criticism is generally painful, one of the ways that amazing leaders deal with that pain is by addressing it immediately. The quicker the pain is addressed, the quicker it goes away. In this case, it is constructive action that is taken, not just ignoring the criticism. That’s the difference between curing an ill and just making it go numb for a while.

Improved communication – While it isn’t the sort of communication people like to receive, criticism is far more in depth than the cursory “Hello’s”, “Goodbye’s” and “Did you see Batman vs. Superman this weekend.” Criticism opens up a dialogue on organizational issues and personal development issues that will make all further important communication easier.

Practice forgiveness – Being able to forgive someone for an offense and get back to the task at hand is how leaders keep their teams developing. In this case, amazing leaders forgive quickly to ensure that they don’t dwell on the mistake or the person and this speeds up resolution of the issue.

Proves someone cares – Do you want to know who doesn’t receive any criticism? Not just the person that does nothing, but also the person that nobody cares about. The fact that you are receiving criticism proves out the point that you are valuable in some way to the person giving the criticism. Enough that they took the time and effort to have a somewhat difficult conversation with you.

Improved relationships – Put the above few reasons together and you have an improved relationship. Amazing leaders take criticism and deal with it in a way that resolves the issue and builds trust between them and the person criticizing. It is an art form, it does take an enormous amount of practice, but in the long-run it can be the most valuable thing to come out of criticism (even more valuable than the resolution of the issue).

Amazing leaders embrace criticism, say “thank you” and ask questions. Yes, they will learn from criticism, but they also use criticism to improve far more than just their understanding.

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5 Reasons Why Treating Employees the Same is a Bad Idea

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” ~Vince Lombardi

"Your department is made up of human beings. Of mothers, sons, daughters, fathers. Finding ways to show our staff that we care and appreciate them, and finding ways to positively reinforce behavior is one of the cornerstones of any great management strategy." ~from The Manager's Diary: Thinking Outside the Cubicle

There are all types of articles that will tell you about the importance of treating everyone equally in your organization. While it is true that you should never discriminate, you cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to management. This mis-application of the equality principle handicaps your leadership and holds you people back.

Below are five reasons that you need to avoid treating your team members the same:

Creating Stronger Professional Relationships

We do not live in a cookie cutter world and people are tired of feeling like a digital code instead of a real person. In order to have a strong relationship with anyone, you must respect that person as an individual.

By acknowledging individuality, you begin to build trust and enhance communication. These are the cornerstones of a strong relationship, whether it is personal or professional. Strengthened relationships will make it easier for each of you to convey happiness, dissatisfaction and other feelings and thoughts regarding performance. This back and forth feedback is an essential element in any high performing group.

Developing Strengths

You want each member of your team to maximize their job performance. When you see and treat each person as an individual, it allows you to help them cultivate their own strengths. They are empowered to act according to their own areas of expertise.

The reality is that everyone excels in some areas while lagging behind in others. Although it is possible for a person to refine truly weak areas, these will never become their best assets. Employees who are able to identify their strongest areas will continue to grow those skills, making them more valuable to the organization.

Empowering Employees

The best working environment has employees who feel empowered to make good choices for their department or area of expertise. This is done through encouragement by management and freedom to take chances. If you have taken the time to learn about your staff, you can assign tasks that you know will be challenging but that they have the skills to accomplish. This simply isn’t as effective in an environment where individual strengths and weaknesses are not taken into account.

Each time an employee makes a decision that has a positive outcome, their self-esteem grows. Even in times when the results were less than favorable, a lesson can be learned that will help them to make a more informed choice in the future. This building confidence and empowerment steadily increases their productivity.

Cultivating Creativity

Though the word "creativity" may bring to mind artists immersed in canvases and color palettes, everyone actually has a creative side. However, some forms of creativity are not always recognized or appreciated for what they are. A common catchphrase for this is "thinking outside of the box."

For instance, something as mundane as filing may seem to be a cut-and-dried routine that is essentially the same from one company or department to another. However, an empowered employee may see a creative way to develop a more efficient system based on their knowledge of the specific situation. If individuality is not respected and brought out in team members, you may find that they don’t know that they are allowed to be creative and therefore don’t even tap into that area of their expertise.

Improving Morale

In order to have a strong, effective team, you need for everyone to feel good about working for your organization. When employees feel like little more than a number or a cog in the machine, morale is weak and they do the absolute minimum to collect their pay at the end of each week.

On the other hand, when each person is respected as an individual for their contributions to the team, company morale soars. Not only does a positive interaction further empower the employee involved, it boosts the feelings of those who are aware of it also.

While there absolutely needs to be a framework within an organization that fosters equality of treatment and mechanisms for carrying on business, to extend this to leadership is to put a stranglehold on the potential of the team.

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The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make (and what to do about it)

"Celebrate what you want to see more of." ~Tom Peters

"Negativity breeds negativity. The wise focus on the positive in every person and every situation." ~Philip Arnold

One of the things that leaders tend to put a disproportionate amount of focus on is what is going wrong in the organization. Even as you read this you’re natural reaction is “wait, aren’t leaders supposed to solve problems?” The answer is of course, “yes”, but great leaders also understand that there is a need to focus on what goes right as well. Focusing on what is going right not only shows you what to leverage within your organization, but also “refuels the tank” of your most important resource, your people. People need recognition for their accomplishments to feel valued and to give them something to strive for when they are beset with problems. Acknowledging accomplishments, both small and large, are an integral part of a leadership strategy.

This may make sense to most of us, but it isn’t necessarily simple for us to put into practice. We are generally conditioned to focus on solving problems, and in fact, most of our accomplishments have come from successfully solving problems. For this reason I recommend a relatively simple way to start integrating some acknowledgement into your leadership style; celebrate milestones.

Milestones are golden opportunities that too many of us as leaders don’t take advantage of. Taking a second to smell the roses doesn’t reduce your momentum or take you out of your rhythm, it doesn’t reward mediocrity or lower your standards, it gives your team a moment to reflect and refocus. It’s free positive encouragement and builds a legacy of success. The more milestones you are eclipsing, the more accomplished your staff will feel. So given that you may not have celebrated a milestone in the last couple of months (you’re not alone). Here are some suggestions:

Look for them – The more the better, small, large, whatever. We’re talking about sales goals (daily, weekly, monthly), completion of a big project, even just surviving the busy season (anybody work retail over Christmas?)They can be departmental milestones, company milestones, even personal milestones (the anniversary nod). Again, the idea is that they are positive and by looking for them in every nook and cranny they are varied and continuous. Helping people feel successful is one of the ways to keep them fulfilled and motivated. So remember that too many milestones is less of a problem than too few, so err on the side of a lot.

Take it beyond your walls – Instill pride by bragging. It seems a little base to put it that way, but it got your attention. If you want people to take pride in their work, help them by touting their accomplishments to the world (or at least neighboring departments). “Heard you guys and gals had a good month in September” should be something that your people hear from their peers in other departments.

Set the next one – Looking to the future gets your team refocused and ties the good feeling they feel now to a goal in the future. This step is the key to getting the momentum of success rolling. Done consistently, the pace will pick up and you’ll begin rolling from one success to the next in quick succession.

So keep your standards high, keep looking for areas of improvement (i.e. problems), but make time to acknowledge the work that is being put in and the success that your team has contributed to. I guarantee there is plenty of it out there if you look for it, and by acknowledging it you can help sow the seeds for more.

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How to Ensure Your Shortcuts Don't Backfire

"It takes less time to do a thing right, than it does to explain why you did it wrong." - Henry Longfellow

"If you don't have time to do it right, what makes you think you will have time to do it over?" ~Seth Godin

Our incredibly busy schedules often create a lot of quick and dirty reactions that can lead to absolute gridlock in an operation if left unchecked. I’m talking about the decisions you make when you are stressed and don’t have the time to look into it further….these are often highlighted by the “justs”:

  • “Just make the customer happy”
  • “Just order the same amount as last month”
  • “Just fix it”

Without thought, our decisions are eventually thoughtless. Two things happen when we compromise our decisions by taking the easy (and quick) way out: We either have to go back later and put in even more work than we would have if we had taken the time upfront. Or the effects of the “easy” decision build up until they have to be dealt with in a time and cost intensive way. In either case there is the clutter of unfinished business left in the wake of the decision, and eventually those cluttered decisions will need to be followed up on. To put it succinctly:

The easy way is NOT EASY

Paying the long term price for short term gain is always a recipe for eventual disaster. Spend the time and energy in the moment and you will reap more time in the future (or at least not pay the price later). As you begin to not take the easy way out, you’ll find that after a week, two weeks, or a month you have more time on your plate and are making more progress than before. In effect you are not just busy, but effective (so many managers are busy because of their ineffective practices, like this one). Sure Cameron, but how do you do that:

Take the two seconds – The basic thought is that just a little thought can lead to MUCH better decision making. Would you trade 60 seconds now, for 10 minutes at the end of your day? Most of the time it doesn’t take a lot to make a carefully informed and thought out decision, and for that 10% of decisions that do need more time….

Ask them to come back – Many decisions can wait 30 minutes, an hour, a day. What does everyone do when you are at lunch? They wait. You might be crazy busy right now, but that may clear up in the next 10 minutes. Ask them to come back. Better to delay the decision a little instead of making a bad one.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more info – And to exacerbate the issue, sometimes the “easy way” is to make the decision without all of the necessary information. Make sure you have all of the information by asking for it. Again, it often isn’t as difficult as you (or they) think. It may be back at their desk or they may just need to make one phone call. Most of the time it is quick.

Trust your gut – Face it, you know when you are making the quick and dirty decision. When you hear yourself saying the words that will lead to that decision being put into action, STOP and think a little. Listen to that voice in your head, it may be your final safety net from creating more work later.

The time crunch of the modern day manager is as bad as it has ever been. Don’t be your own worst enemy and make decisions that just cause more work down the line. Our role is to reduce clutter in our workplace, not create more of it.

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Take This Leadership Challenge and Get Surefire Results

"If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing." ~William Edwards Deming

"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions." ~ Naguib Mahfouz

One thing sited over and over again when speaking on leadership and management is the need to ask questions and to listen. Too many times we jump to an answer, after all, that's what we're there for right? This can also result in us rudely cutting someone off and often interjecting our answer without fully listening to the question or issue.

What this does is open up the possibility of bad decisions being made since we have not delved into the heart of the matter, possibly not listened to the person in the first place, and maybe not even heard what the actual question was (when you cut them off).

As Tony Robbins says; "Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, & as a result, they get better answers."  The best way to learn how to ask better questions is, not surprisingly, to practice. Your Challenge for the day is to:

Ask a minimum of 3 questions before giving ANY answer

It may sound simple, and it WILL seem tedious at times, but stick with it for just one day. I guarantee that you will learn a couple of things.

  • You didn't ask nearly as many questions as you thought before you make your decisions.
  • You will learn a lot about your people, your department, and your issues.

Give it a try and see what you think, I’m sure you’ll find that you are a better manager and have a better understanding of your business because of it.

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