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9 Ways a Controlling Boss Kills Productivity

"Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others." -John Maxwell

"In the past a leader was a boss. Today leaders must be partners with their people. They no longer can lead based on positional power." ~Ken Blanchard

Fighting for control is one of the most common failings of leaders in today’s workplace. It isn’t that they aren’t supposed to be in control of their operation; they are. It’s that there is a difference between “control” and “controlling” and it is usually much easier (in a sense) to be controlling. Not making that distinction, and not making the right choice, can destroy their own effectiveness and the effectiveness of their team.

Below are the 9 ways in which a controlling boss undermines their organization’s effectiveness:

Not Utilizing the Talent – Every leader has an enormous amount of talent resources within their team. But if they are controlling all of the decisions, ideas, and process flows, there is no way to tap into those resources. Team members aren’t free to learn a new strength or to voice where they might be able to help. They are shut out of the process of working towards a goal/ Even if a team member is brave enough to voice their ideas and thoughts, they will likely not be given serious consideration or have their suggestion taken over by the boss which dissuades other team members from sharing in the future.

Lack of Delegation – Control is often at the heart of a lack of delegation. There is a difference between giving orders and delegating. Delegating has a certain freedom and ownership built into it for the team members. The empowering and productivity benefits of delegating to a staff are relatively non-existent in a controlling atmosphere. Yes, the leader may be giving lots of direction, but it tends to be precise, step-by-step direction that allows little freedom and requires the team member to come right back to you when complete. That doesn’t grow team members professionally at all.

Exhausting – Control isn’t as precise of a goal as many leaders think. There is always something else, another aspect, a level deeper that you can seek control. Part of the power of ceding that control to others is that you don’t get caught in that downward spiral where you spend your time increasingly influencing less and less important work. This never-ending search takes an enormous amount of mental and physical resources on a leader’s part. There’s a reason they have a staff and this is one of those reasons. If they allow themselves to continue seeking control at every turn, they’ll find themselves at a MUCH higher likelihood of making mistakes and burning out.  

Less Teamwork – Control is often the opposite of collaboration. If the leader isn’t modeling and teaching collaboration it is far less likely to be something that their team demonstrates. Team members won’t look for ways to work together to achieve the direction of the controlling boss, they will have been taught to wait to work together until the leader says they should. This lack of initiative will kill any teamwork in the organization.

More Roadblocks to Progress – A controlling boss requires EVERYTHING to run through them which slows or halts progress, or even basic operations, within the organization. A long line of people outside their door is usually a good indication that there is an issue. This is often the only issue that can “bring light” to the counterproductive behavior as more and more people in the organization run into the roadblock.

Impatience – Because they are so busy being in the middle of everything they don’t have the time to listen, to explain themselves, to think things through, or to wait for the fruits of their labor to bloom. This constant lack of time creates a tension in the office that can put everyone on edge.

Hyper-Critical – When a leader focuses on control, they tend to eliminate opinions. What this does is strip away another layer expression from the team and gives the leader an incentive to force their opinion further and further throughout the processes which leads to criticism over any deviation from the directive regardless of how non-specific that direction may have been.

Toxic Environment – With an environment that doesn’t encourage expression or empowerment and which does encourage rushed decisions and scapegoats to avoid the criticism, it is no wonder that a controlling boss fosters a toxic environment in the workplace. This environment further exacerbates all of the other ills, which leads to…

Finally: Turnover – When the leader is in control of everything, by definition the team member is not. People have an innate desire to have control over their own lives, and that extends into their work life as well. If the leader isn’t giving them some control over their work and their work environment, then they aren’t creating an atmosphere the team is comfortable in. Combine that with all of the above….and you won’t be keeping anyone on board very long at all.

For an employee stuck under a controlling boss, the options are usually limited. You can suggest regular updates instead of oversight or try to wriggle some flexibility in the process of achieving a clearly defined goal, but often the controlling boss doesn’t realize their error until it is too late and productivity has slipped. Even then they may feel that they are doing the right thing by maintaining a tightfisted grip on the operation. Because there is little professional growth potential under a controlling boss, it is often best to look for other opportunities with or without the organization to continue your career progression. 

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15 Behaviors of Ideal Employees

"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary people. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary person." ~Elbert Hubbard

"You don't get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour." ~ J.Rohn

Many times we know that we want to strive for something, but we aren’t exactly clear on how we are going to get there. “Excellence” is a classic example of a goal that is somewhat … well … vague. So when we start talking about being an excellent or ideal employee, or having ideal employees, what exactly do we mean?

It turns out we mean a lot of things, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the workplace has become more complicated, the demands on the employee have increased. This has raised the value (and rarity) of employees who can thrive in this environment. So whether you are a leader or a front line employee on the sales floor, what traits do you need to have or cultivate to take your career to the next level? Start with the below:

Action Oriented – Nothing is accomplished without action. This seems fairly obvious, but it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you are being hyper-constructive when you are thinking, planning, preparing, waiting for more information and other “paralysis by analysis” components. Ideal employees always have a bias towards acting on information. Yes, they gather it and analyze it, but they are also quick to put it to work.

Natural Learner – Intelligence isn’t enough anymore. The world is changing quickly and ideal employees demonstrate the ability to learn a variety of subjects. This ability to learn gives them greater flexibility in gaining skillsets and changing duties to adapt to needs as they arise.

Ambitious – Having an employee who meets expectations is all well and good, but what you are really looking for is an employee with the drive to reach for lofty personal and professional goals. It is these goals that maintain their focus on work and lead to exceeding expectations, not just meeting them. Every boss cherishes that employee who surprises them with how they go above and beyond what others expected to be done.

Autonomous – It’s always best to be working with self-motivated individuals. It isn’t just that they are given a task and run with it, it’s that they take more ownership over all facets of their work. This means that they come up with innovations and ideas, they do the quality assurance work and they support themselves. This also frees their boss to focus his/her attention on other matters.

Positive – Studies have shown that people who have positive outlooks are more productive and receive more promotions than their negative counterparts. The ability to enthusiastically tackle new endeavors and to see potential instead of calamity is a hallmark of great leadership and a great employee. To be able to change, innovate and improve, you must be able to take risks. Negative people see the downside in the situation and resist action, positive people on the other hand see the potential and charge forward.

Confident – They may not know how they are going to do a task, they may not be sure it can be done, but they do know that they will find a way if it can be done. Confident individuals accept more challenges which improves their skillsets and experience. They also move quicker through the decision making process which speeds up all of their work.

 

Honest – When you ask somebody a question, you expect the truth. If you have to go through another round of questioning to prove they are being truthful you are wasting time. Also, from a leadership perspective, if you can’t get honest information you aren’t getting the right information, and that increases the likelihood of a poor decision.

Detail Oriented – Ideal employees don’t get lost in the details, but they understand that details make up the foundation of larger things. Getting the details right is what separates OK products and services from great products and services.

Humble – Humility opens you up to the idea that you don’t have all of the answers, you might make mistakes, and that everyone has a contribution to make in the organization. These ideas help you create more dialogue so that your information is better, learn from your mistakes to increase your growth, and foster a team environment where the organization leverages everyone’s strengths.

Hard Working – It goes without saying that an ideal employee works hard, but I figured the list wouldn’t be complete without it. Sometimes employees need to give that little “extra” to meet the needs of the organization. Ideal employees step up when needed and work as hard as possible to meet the goals set for them.

Proactive – If you can deal with things ahead of time you free up time and resources later. Great employees are always looking ahead to discover opportunities or to spot problems on the horizon. They then take action on these two things right away to maximize their positive impact and minimize their negative impact.

Team player – An ideal employee in the job market today must have the ability to magnify value on a team. The essence of teamwork is an increase in productivity for everyone involved. 2+2+2=7 for example. If you detract from the value of the group, then you are not only not an ideal employee, but likely to not be an employee much longer.

Creative – We aren’t talking about artistic ability here; we are talking about creative problem solving. A great employee will find creative solutions to customer issues, operational problems, changes, opportunities and other issues the organization faces. As the world gets more complicated, the solutions unfortunately get more complicated as well which requires a more creative approach.

Excellent Communicator– The ability to clearly communicate in not only verbal, but in the written form as well, is a trait any ideal employee should possess. It isn’t just being able to clearly explain your point or idea, it’s also about being able to open dialogue and bring parties together.

Empathy – A great employee understands other co-workers, customers and their boss on an emotional level. Through this understanding of their feelings they can tailor their communication, recognize issues that arise, and deal with the human element of the organization.

While very few of us can claim to have all of these listed traits in our repertoire, the list does clearly what we should be working towards. Ideal employees are few and far between, but their value is becoming greater and greater as the organizational environments we all work in evolve.

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10 Ways to Create Deliriously Happy Employees

"If you're good to your staff when things are going well, they'll rally when times go bad." - Mary Kay Ash

"pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” ~Aristotle

Do you want more productivity out of your team? Then you need look no further than their happiness. Gretchen Spreitzer of the Harvard Business Review, in her article Creating Sustainable Performance, notes that happy employees are not only more productive, but more creative and better team players as well.

 

When you think about organizations that are truly excelling in their field, you likely can find that they are bending over backwards to make their team feel happy and appreciated. But it isn’t just at the organizational level. When you look at high performing teams within your own organization, would you classify those teams as being “happier” than most others?

These organizations and leaders have discovered the clear link between happiness and better productivity. So what do you need to do to bring out the happiness in your team and reap the rewards? Well, it doesn’t start with money, it starts at a much deeper level of satisfaction. Here are the 10 most impactful ways to bring out the happiness in your team:

Treat them better than your customers – If you want to take care of the customer, take care of the people that take care of the customer. And it doesn’t usually take a complicated effort. First of all, just talk with them and find out about them as a person. Where did they grow up, what hobbies do they have, what motivates them about the job, how do they think the organization can approve? To sell to your customer you need to understand who they are, so why not do the same with your team? And before you say that you already know your team, can you answer this one question which is probably more important to them than anything, “How many children does each of your employees have?”

Once you get to know your team better, you’ll be better equipped to treat them well regardless of what situation arises.

Focus on how important their work is – One of the reasons that companies like Google, Facebook and Apple have grandiose Mission Statements like “Make the world more open and connected” is that it lights the fire of passion in their employees. Your team wants to do important work. Great leaders let their teams know just how critical their work is to the organization. If you’re in a department where this might seem difficult, there is another way to instill a sense of importance: Community service.

The act of giving and serving has enormous value in how people gauge their satisfaction with activities. If you can tie this feeling of serving with co-workers to work itself, then you’ve attached an importance to the job that wasn’t there before.

Give them ownership – Great employees crave ownership over their work. It gives them satisfaction of a job well done and forms their own self-identity about the work that they do. If you don’t empower an employee to do their job, you’ve robbed them of any chance to form this identity. This one thing goes a long way towards the productivity increases that happy employees produce. If you own your job, you want to do good at it because it is a reflection on you.

Treat them like adults – This may seem kind of rudimentary, but it affects some tough issues like work-life balance, trust, and understanding their motivation. Adults take care of their responsibilities, and so do great employees. Understanding that your team wants to do a good job, and backing up that understanding by trusting them to make the right decisions isn’t naïve, it builds trust. When you trust that they will make the right decisions it makes so many other issues easier for you to deal with. Do you let them leave early on Thursdays to go see their kid’s baseball game, or take a two hour lunch so they can go to the Dentist? Of course you do, because you trust that they will get the work done.

Now one thing to mention is that there will be times they come up short in their work. In these cases, STILL treat them like an adult and have a discussion about what happened, how to fix it, and what the expectations are going forward. DO NOT punish them, children get punished, adults discuss things reasonably.

 

Be OK with the right mistakes – Nobody likes to make mistakes. Fear of making a mistake is one of the biggest dis-satisfiers in the workplace and stifles innovation. The “right” mistakes are ones that aren’t negligent and that you learn from (and don’t repeat). Free your team to take risks and learn and you’ll see them develop much quicker.

Give them the big picture – People want to know what is going on with the direction of the organization. They just do. Part of it is simple curiosity and another part is vanity of being “in the know”. Sharing some big picture things about where the organization is headed can also make them feel more secure in their job since it eliminates some unknowns (even if it isn’t an entirely rosy picture) and is something that increases their feeling of value since you trusted them with the information and were willing to spend the time sharing it.

Care about their career – Do you know where each member of your team wants to be professionally in the next 1-2 years? If not, then you are missing an opportunity to drive motivation and happiness through your department. Happy people are fulfilled, and when we talk about fulfillment at work, career growth is a huge portion of that. Many members of your team will be striving for a promotion. Others are happy where they are, but would like to learn or at least be exposed to some new things. You don’t need to hand out promotions to everyone, you just need to set an environment where they are always learning with a purpose and a goal. A plan to teach and develop new skills amongst your team will not only lead to a better skilled workforce, but a happier one as well.  

Recognition – Is it fun to toil away on a project and not have anyone notice? Is it fun to have your best sales month of the year and have it treated like any other month? Does that sound like a recipe for happiness? Of course not. Recognition of success and effort is one of the keys to leadership and has an enormous impact on how happy your team will be. Great leaders look for any opportunity to celebrate a success because they believe in the saying by Tom Peters, “Celebrate what you want to see more of.” They celebrate group success, individual success, and progress and learning as well. People want to know that you noticed the good things that they’ve done, so recognize them when it occurs.

Have fun – Everyone spends an awful lot of time at work. It’s important to break up the day to day routine with some fun from time to time. It could be anything from celebrating birthdays or holidays, hosting a pot-luck, random dress down days, or just a fun activity on a Friday afternoon. Making the association between fun and work helps ease stress and help people get through difficult tasks. It has also been shown that breaking up a day with a fun activity spurs creativity as well. So if you’re lacking some innovation, maybe it’s time to find a reason to throw a party.

Have goals – People like to have something to strive towards. Do you ever play games where there isn’t a means of tracking progress, keeping score, or another method of determining who is winning? Of course not, and you shouldn’t set up your department without goals either. The most effective have both public team goals and private personal goals for each of their staff members. Working towards something gives meaning to even mundane tasks as they can be recognized as a necessary means to an end.

Striving to make your team happier has little to no downside for a leader. Many of the principles listed above directly affect productivity and the others support it. So if you found that you may have had a few “holes” in the above recommendation, then look to address one of them this week, with another following the week after, and so on. And don’t forget; having a happy team helps the leader be happy as well.

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Top 7 Reasons Jerks Win at Work

“Nice guys finish last.” ~Leo Durocher

"Winners have simply formed the habit of doing things losers don't like to do." ~Albert Gray

Does winning trump everything? Including some of the basic tenets of leadership, like collaboration, respect, and thinking long-term? It’s a fair question, as history is riddled with people who accomplished amazing things and are revered and respected for those things, but were complete jerks.

But why is it that being “bad” can be such a successful technique for these people? And what can leaders learn from it to gain the benefits, without being a jerk about it? Turns out that a jerk's nature has some positive traits, even if they aren’t applied in a particularly “nice” way:

Demand excellence – Probably the best illustration of a good trait gone bad. Any great leader demands excellence from their team, but they get to excellence by nurturing it, investing their time into it, and becoming partners in it. It’s a time consuming and effort intensive process that doesn’t always get to where you want it to right away, which is why many good leaders struggle with it.

A jerk may achieve that excellence from their employees, but they focus on getting it right now! To heck with the long term consequences. They simply demand excellence and use fear as the primary weapon to obtain it. This fear can come in the form of threats, uncomfortable angry outbursts, and eventually simply the implication that either could occur if you fail. They give little mind to the consequences of getting there; what procedures need to be broken, what overtime needs to be worked, or what other projects need to get pushed aside. The result may be excellent output, but with an undermining of the foundation of the organization.

Confidence –  Confidence is a requirement of great leadership. You must be self-assured in your ideas and plans to be able to see them put into place and brought to fruition. It also takes confidence to be a part of the feedback loop by being willing to give your opinion.

Jerks are plenty confident, but it manifests itself in being a bully. They are assertive in the extreme and almost always give their opinions on things, which can seem to the uninformed as if they have a lot of ideas. And in many cases they will consider their own ideas to all be “great” and will use this assertiveness and confidence to mask otherwise poor results in a veneer of excellence. Have you ever been in a room with someone who brags about results that aren’t that “brag-worthy?" That’s what a jerk does with their results. Constantly.

Risk tolerance – Leaders quickly realize that almost anything worthwhile that they want to do will require some risk. The calculation and minimizing of that risk is a process that must be balanced against taking action. Many times leaders will be too risk averse or not take action quick enough, and sell their potential short.

Jerks have no problem taking risks. Yes, they are confident, but also because they have a ready response if the risk blows up in their face: Blame and Excuses (usually both, just for good measure). They will throw their team or another department under the bus as quickly as possible and project the knowledge gained from hindsight to back that up. This practice often makes their leadership far too risky and they jeopardize much more of the organization.

Competitive and ambitious – Competition helps to focus our efforts and win as a team. Ambition is a cousin of competition and helps us to raise our goals and to become our best selves. What people realize as they keep making steps up the career ladder is that their individual achievement relies increasingly on getting the best out of others. Many times leaders will not stoke the fires of competition and ambition out of this selflessness.

Jerks never look too much past themselves. Their work is self-serving and self-obsessed. They are unbelievably competitive and ambitious, but they don’t play fair and they don’t play nice. This might work for a while, but this is also why many stall at certain points on the career ladder as their predisposition to themselves inhibits their progress. Yes, there are plenty of jerks who through intelligence and/or scheming rise higher, but their inability to serve their team and others almost always comes out.

Stubborn and pushy – All leaders need to fight for their ideas and beliefs. Resource constraints in almost all organization require that some ideas get left behind while others are pursued. The thing is, great ideas don’t always look that great when they are first put on paper. It takes a leader with some stubbornness to fight for their idea and see that it gets played out.

Jerks tend to win this game simply through numbers. They may not have as many great ideas as their peers, but MORE of their ideas get pursued because of their dogged determination and disregard for the value of other people’s ideas. If you’re allowed to throw enough darts at the board, you’re bound to get a bullseye eventually. And these people always make sure they get as many chances as they possibly can.

Focus on strengths – Yes, you need to address your weaknesses so that they do not hinder your progress any more than necessary. But great leaders play to their strengths so that they can accomplish as much as possible. They acknowledge weakness so as to address it, but they rely on their strengths to get them through.

Jerks disregard their weaknesses and make every attempt to set the rules so that only their strengths will come into play. If it is a weakness, they simply shift the responsibility for that area to their team or to another department. And using all of their “tools” above, they often are able to. This leaves them with no weaknesses, only strengths, which helps them to exert their influence in the areas those strengths touch.

Great negotiators – Negotiating and compromising are always difficult in an organization. The complexities lie in the fact that almost no negotiation is a one time event. There will likely be more down the road, and you'll likely be working with the person continually. You must always try to strike that balance between you and your counterpart so that the long term needs are satisfied and you both walk away happy (or at least with an understanding).

Jerks look at each negotiation as its own instance with no regard for future relationships. They will serve their needs at the cost of the general good, which if their boss doesn’t have a wide enough vision of the organization will look like they obtained a victory. This is often the case, especially considering that their counterpart on the other side of the negotiation isn’t typically interested in discussing how they got the bad side of the deal.

The reason that jerks can be so successful is that they misuse these traits for self-serving and short-term gains. In most organizations their leaders are detached enough from the operation to where they will never see that downside, they only see the "success." And by the time they do see it, the jerk has positioned themselves as a person the boss can trust and they talk their way out of it.

While there isn't much you can do about any of that, what you can do is begin applying these traits in your own leadership in the way they were meant to be applied. If you're successful you'll find that your career trajectory will likely be higher than any of the jerks in your organization.

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How To Stop The Spread of Stupidity in the Office

"What we actually learn from any given set of circumstances determines whether we become increasingly powerless or more powerful." ~Blaine Lee

"Make sure your worst enemy doesn't live between your own two ears." ~Laird Hamilton

***Disclaimer*** I freely use the term “stupid” in this article and I realize some may find it derogatory, but making it PC was watering down the message. It’s not a term to use regularly, but please try to focus on the message.

All of us are influenced by the people who surround us. A great competitor may bring out your best, but the phenomenon also has a flip side in that a poor effort is often brought out when facing a horrible competitor. If you work with enough people you will come across all types; brilliant, sometimes brilliant, average, sometimes stupid, and amazingly stupid. The influencing effect of these individuals can sway the collective intelligence of an entire organization. It's just a natural human response, even for leaders.

So how is it that we catch the “stupid bug” and how can we fight off infection.

Stupidity can be like a strong current - So find firm ground – Oftentimes one bad decision or thought begets further bad decisions and thoughts. This is the most common way that stupidity grows and spreads around an issue or organization. We get tired of fighting it, or feel pressured to go along with it, so we do.

The key is to “quarantine” the bad decision or thought and limit its influence on the rest of the process. This doesn’t mean you’re being stubborn or dogmatic, it means you have your principles and priorities in place and are constantly defending them. So keep your “true north” principles of serving customers, driving profitability, innovating etc. and you’ll be more resilient to the “stupid bug”

Stupidity can make you tune out – Don’t – I will tell you that this is my most common way of dealing with stupidity when I find it in the workplace, I’m not proud of saying it, I’m just being honest. The thing is that you might miss out on all kinds of things if you tune out (a kernel of wisdom, inspiration for your own idea, or just a lesson in what not to do)  and you relegate yourself to the sidelines. It’s like giving up.

Ignorance is stupidity’s half-brother so you need to fight it off as much as you can.

Stupidity can lay over the organization like fog – Be the lighthouse – If there are enough bad decisions being made then stupidity can infect the whole organization. You see this with every large corporate failure. In those cases the principles and priorities that we referenced above become the lighthouse that hopefully keeps the organization from running aground.

When feeling lost in a sea of stupidity, look to those principles for guidance away from even further danger.

Realize YOU might be the stupid one – Ouch! – Show me a leader who thinks they haven’t been wrong and I’ll show you one that is dangerously delusional. There’s a good chance you aren’t as informed as you think you are, or you’re just being stubborn for any number of reasons.

This is why it is important to keep asking questions and to keep being open to new possibilities. That’s your only defense against yourself.

Stupidity is contagious, but that doesn’t mean that you will automatically catch it. Just be aware of your reaction to it when you face it and be mindful of the fact that you can thoughtfully and constructively deal with it so that it doesn’t infect you too.

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15 Ways Great Leaders Use Criticism to Launch Their Career Forward

“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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7 Ways Firing Toxic Employees Helps Everyone

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” ~Unknown

"One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested." ~E. M. Forster

Letting someone go is one of the worst things any leader faces. As leaders you are supposed to develop the people in your charge, and if necessary mold positions to suit strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, firing an employee is not only uncomfortable and results in the need to go through the effort, time and expense of hiring and training a new person, it is also an indictment on your own leadership capabilities.

That all being said, as a leader you live in a reality where your best efforts will not necessarily end in the results you desire for any number of reasons. When that happens, when you’ve expended the energy to improve the employee’s performance, when you’ve given the re-training, when you’ve had the one-on-ones and when you’ve given the warnings, the best thing you can do for the good of the organization is to let that person go.

Nowhere is this more important than with an employee whose behavior and performance is toxic to those coworkers around them. This added degree of negativity is something that all leaders face at one time or another and how they deal with it can define how their team views their leadership and overall performance. A recent Harvard Business School study titled Toxic Workers and authored by Dr. Dylan Minor and Dr. Michael Housman found that it is actually more beneficial to eliminate toxic employees from your team than it is to hire in superstars.

It is a very common weakness among leaders to despise letting employees go so much that they don’t, even when it is in the best interest of everyone involved. But while firing an employee, even a toxic one, is something that a leader looks to prevent, it can yield some very positive results:

Sets the right example for others – Poor performance should never be allowed to become the status quo either within the whole department or at the individual level. Your high performers are watching those around them and if they see others performing poorly on a consistent basis, and see that behavior being tolerated, they may adjust what they view as the expectations they should be held to. Where toxic and poor performing individuals have the worst impact on an operation is with newly hired employees. In these cases, their example immediately lowers the bar for performance expectations and impedes the performance of the new hire.

Improves motivation – Toxic employees are almost always “glass half empty” individuals who will find fault in even the best successes of an organization. One of the biggest benefits of eliminating these people from your workforce is in the area of overall motivation and morale. What’s more, when other employees see an individual performing poorly yet in many cases being paid the same, they may rightfully ask why they are working so hard and are so concerned about performance. It’s this area where a poor performer can start derailing the performance of an entire organization.

Replacements boost results – While just eliminating the poorly performing and toxic employee from your operation likely will yield an improvement, as noted in the Harvard study above, it doesn’t mean you can’t replace the individual. If you have learned from the hiring mistakes of the past there is an enormous opportunity to take what was a detriment to performance and replace it with something that accelerates performance yielding twice the benefit.

Performance often worsens – You often get more of what you tolerate. Once the employee knows that they can get away with giving less and disrupting operations, they are likely to continue getting worse. It isn’t just how bad they are, it’s how bad they can become that should encourage action on your part.

Establishes trust – When expectations are clear, when you make the difficult decisions, and when you take actions that support the overall goals of the organization it builds trust between you and your team. They know that you mean what you say and that you will back it up, they know you will be fair in your assessments and you know you are working to provide an environment where they can excel. This trust speeds decision making, buy-in and overall process flow.

Let’s you use time more productively – Your time as a leader is valuable and you need to be spending it constructively working with each member of your team (high-performers as well as low-performers). While you have a duty to spend extra time when needed with an individual, you need to see results. Assuming that you have been spending more time with the toxic or poorly performing employee, by letting them go you are able to rebalance that time allotment between employees.

Opportunities for empowerment – Those duties once done by a poorly performing or toxic employee need to be done by someone. In many cases this is an opportunity to give another team member some new experience. At a bare minimum it is an opportunity for a trainer or mentor to exercise these essential skills.

Now it should go without saying that you need to follow the correct procedures, documentation and discipline before firing any employee, and this takes time. Time you can use to correct the issues with the employee so that it doesn’t come to a firing. What this list is meant to do is to encourage you to do the right thing when it comes time to. 

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10 Reasons 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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20 Proven Productivity Hacks

"Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort." ~Paul Meyer

"Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing... layout, processes, and procedures." ~Tom Peters

Every great leader, and leader to be, is constantly on the lookout for how to get more out of their day. After all, our biggest obstacle and constraint to future success is often ourselves. Luckily that is also the one thing that we can exercise the most control over. How successful you are in managing yourself will go a long way in determining how successful you are in general. Below are 20 proven techniques and tricks to get the most out of every single moment of your day:

1.       Use the two-minute rule – One of the best ways to keep your plate clear is to follow the rule that if it can be done in under two minutes, to simply do it immediately. If you’ve received the task, you’ve already had your workflow broken up, so you might as well have something to show for it.

2.       Schedule tasks, don’t list them – To-do lists are great for keeping track of things you need to do, but they aren’t as action oriented as they could be (how many things have been on your list for over a week). A powerful habit to get into is actually putting them on your calendar. It may be only a 15 minute meeting with yourself to get it off the list, but it is a wonderful way to take more control over your work.

3.       Consider the Pomodoro Technique – This is a great technique to hone focus and maximize your minutes. Set a timer and work for 25 minutes straight, without interruption, then spend at least 5 minutes on a break. The principle is that you need regular breaks to be at peak efficiency, and once you do this for a while, your mind starts to condition itself to make the most of those 25 minutes.

4.       Finish strong – Taking 5 minutes at the end of your day to review what was accomplished during the day (and not accomplished) and to plan out the next day helps you to work intentionally and start the next day strong. This also ensures you got to everything that you absolutely needed to throughout this day. For those with more chaotic workplace demands, perhaps you just plan out the first hour or two of the next day.

5.       Don’t check e-mail first thing – Highly productive people control their time. If you’re checking e-mail messages when you first get into work, you are putting your needs subservient to whatever is contained in the email. Try not to check for 1 hour. This gives you the opportunity to work your plan from the night before and get to your highest priority items. Besides, if it’s really an emergency, I guarantee you the person will find you during that first hour.

6.       Turn off alerts – Limiting interruptions is a key to maintaining focus. If you have e-mails popping up on your computer and instant messages ringing into your phone you won’t have more than a few minutes between interruptions. That’s a recipe for never being at peak focus and flow. There’s no reason you can’t maintain more control and check them yourself without a prompt when you think appropriate.

7.       Eat the frog – This is the euphemism for taking the worst things off of your plate first so that you can enjoy the rest of your meal (or day in this case). Often those difficult or uncomfortable items hang over our head and distract us throughout the course of the day until we take care of them. Eating the frog gets them out of the way immediately so you can focus. It also is a key to avoiding procrastination.

8.       Exercise – Many will say to exercise in the morning, and that really is ideal for a variety of reasons, but really it’s just important to exercise period. Being more physically fit helps you have more energy and focus over the course of the day. The 30-60 minutes you spend exercising will almost always result in 30-60 minutes of more productivity. So you’ll be in better shape, you’ll be better at your job, and it really doesn’t cost you any time.

9.       Cut all meeting lengths in half – Meetings suffer from “fluff” and a lack of focus. Get focused by putting a new time constraint on it. You might find that the engagement in the material goes up and the resolutions actually better because of that increased focus and engagement. And think about how much time you’ll get back over the course of a week if you had 15 minute and 30 minute meetings instead of 30 and 60 minute meetings.

10.   Say “No” – Especially to interruption. Remember that highly productive people control their time and focus. Ask that person who popped their head in the door if they can come back at 2:00 or in 10 minutes. But this also extends to tasks. Whether it is a flat out “no” or you just delegating the task out, you need to control what you are doing if you want to be at peak productivity.

11.   Eat breakfast – It’s cliché to call it the most important meal of the day, but even if it is a quick energy bar, get some nutrition in your system as well as that cup of coffee. I really shouldn’t need to spend any more time on it, if you want energy you need to eat.

12.   Don’t drown at the shallow end of the pool – This is about perspective. Too many of us are worried and stressed about the millions of little things vying for our time, so much so that they distract from the big and important things. Prioritize your way out of this by worrying about the important things more and the little things less. You’ll find your mind gets clearer and you get more done.

13.   Sleep – Athletes rest before their competitions and you should take a lesson from this and ensure you have your rest each night so that you are ready for “game day” the next day. Studies have shown that the effect of lack of sleep is similar to the effect of alcohol on your ability to focus. It’s another one of those situations where if you get the extra hour of sleep a night, you’re likely to more than make up for it with productivity increases the next day.

14.   Don’t multitask – Those who have mastered their own productivity know a secret. Nobody multitasks well. One of the foundations of being at peak effectiveness is focus. You get more done when you do less. By all means, put plenty of tasks on your plate, but only tackle one at a time. You’ll find the results are MUCH better.

15.   Know when you’re at your best and protect it – All of us have times of the day when we are more effective. For some it is the morning, for others it is the late afternoon (I’m not sure anyone is effective right after lunch). It is during this time when you should schedule your big decisions, big projects and important tasks. This is also the time when you should not tolerate distractions. Protect this time and use it.

16.   Unplug for at least one day on the weekend – It is difficult to “unplug” in today’s work environment. Most people are checking and responding to emails in the evening, on the weekend and even on vacation. Being able to completely unplug allows you to truly “recharge the batteries” and helps prevent burnout.

17.   Take notes and write down thoughts – Highly productive people are always great note takers. Having something to keep track of thoughts and notes ensures that you don’t forget anything and don’t have to waste any time wondering “what was that idea I had yesterday?”

18.   Check e-mail hourly – Before you start thinking that you need to stay right on top of your email, ask yourself what everyone does when you are away at lunch or in a meeting? Don’t let e-mail take away from your attention, focus and productivity. Master it by grabbing some control.

19.   Don’t answer the phone – This is perhaps the most controversial of the productivity hacks, but I’ll say it one last time, you need to control your time. Answering that phone call is ceding that control to the other party. Phone calls tend to be one of the lengthier interruptions of your day. It is generally much quicker to listen to the message left when you have a moment as opposed to getting caught chit-chatting with someone.

20.   Listen better – Feedback fuels your productivity. Too many people don’t fully leverage the information that they have coming at the from peers, subordinates, customers and bosses. A good rule of thumb is to practice asking at least one clarifying question when someone bring you information and to ask one question of the person you are giving information to. These questions help you to more actively listen, potentially gives you more information and generally open up dialogue. If you want to be more productive, get better information.

WARNING: Reading this list is great, but it is in the application that the power comes in. Take just ONE THING from this list and put it into place immediately. Once that’s in place for a week, you can move onto the next thing. Just one step today. I’d love to know which one you’ll be working on this week, so go ahead and write down what you’ll be working on in the comments. Go get’em!

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11 Ways to Turn Your Bad Day Around

"My responsibility is leadership, and the minute I get negative, that is going to have an influence on my team." ~Don Shula

"If you don't like how things are, change it! You're not a tree." ~Jim Rohn

Sometimes your day just goes bad. It might have started out that way when you rolled out of bed, or it could have taken a turn for the worse once you got into work. The key for high performers is that you turn it around and not wallow in it. Studies have shown over and over again that positive people are more productive and more likely to get promotions. But here’s the dirty secret they don’t always tell you: They aren’t always positive.

Great leaders and great employees know how to turn a bad day around when they run into one and today you’ll see 11 ways that you can do it too:

Accept it, it happens – Acknowledge and move on. We’re all human, which means we’re going to have bad days. The most amazing people you know have bad days, so you’re in great company. Don’t let it get you into a negative mindset where you start thinking it only happens to you and you’re doing something wrong. The only wrong thing is to let yourself stay there longer than absolutely necessary (which isn’t that long).

Pinpoint the problem – What happened? Did your boss come into your office and yell at you? Did you get too little sleep? Did someone resign? Were sales bad last quarter? Did the barista screw up your latte? Not only does knowing what went wrong help you address it right now, it also helps you discover your “triggers” so you can get ahead of a bad day in the future.

Take action – One of the most constructive things you can do when faced with a bad day is to take action to address what got you there. Too many times a bad day can spiral out of control and you are left wallowing in everything that is going wrong and how uncontrollable the situation is. When you take action, you take back that control and you are forced to look forward to a goal, not back at everything that’s wrong.

Change your routine – If you want to change the momentum of your day, you’ll likely need to change…well, something. Go outside and take a few deep breaths. Take your laptop and go work from a conference room for a while. Jump up and go to the break room for a coffee. Take lunch early. A great way to snap yourself out of your “funk” is by doing something different.

Find your latest success – Switch your focus from the bad to the good. What successes have you had recently. If the boss is berating your performance on something, think about other things that he/she praises you on (or that you know you’re good at if they don’t tend to give positive feedback to anyone). One of the best ways of preventing a bad day is to nurture enough positive momentum so that when something happens that would usually tip your day into a “bad day” you already have so much good momentum going on that it rolls right off your back.

Find a way to laugh – Laughter is healing to the soul. Maybe you look up SNL skits, stand-up comedy, or funny cat videos on Youtube. Maybe you just head to the web and look for jokes. Ask the office funny man for a joke. Laughter is a great way to break yourself out of the rut.

Get a few quick wins – Winning is almost as good as laughter for getting you in a good mood. Remember that action we talked about above? If it is difficult to take action against the cause itself, sometimes just getting a few little things off your plate in a successful way can help.

Leverage the good mood – Similar to listing out successes as a way to create a barrier against a bad mood, you can leverage any good mood the same way. What you do when you are having a good day or a bad day determines how good or bad it is, and how long you stay there.

Gratitude – A little perspective can turn a bad day around. Listing out the things that you are grateful for is one of the best ways to get that perspective. Yes, you’re having a bad day at work, but do you still have a great job? Are you still providing for your family? Do you have good health? Good friends? If you can focus on the great big things that are going right, you might find what spun your day “bad” really isn’t that important.

Talk to a friend – Pick up the phone or go walk over to someone’s office and just shoot the breeze with them. Spending time around people you like and conversing about topics you enjoy will calm you down and bring a smile to that face. We don’t do life alone, and this is a great reminder of that.

Learn from it – Lastly, try to learn from the experience. Bad days often occur because of mistakes, and mistakes are some of our primary material and motivation to learn. When you have a bad day, realize that you’ve been given an opportunity to learn something, so take advantage of it. Turning a bad day into an opportunity turns around the end result.

There’s no need to let a bad moment effect the whole day, there is always a way to turn it around so that you can maximize your productivity and enjoyment of work. If you start taking the actions listed above you’ll find what works for you and what doesn’t, and from there you can more easily manage your day on an ongoing basis.

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