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.



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.



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.



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.



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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How to Avoid the Worst Trap Leaders Fall For

“Most discussions of decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions. This is a dangerous mistake.” ~Peter Drucker

Never assume you hold all of the cards or have better information than a person with a counterargument or the one bringing a new idea to you, especially when that “opponent” is an employee or peer. As the old saying goes “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me”. Except that when you are the boss, and you assume you have better/more information than another person within the company, you generally just make an ass out of yourself.

There’s no denying the fact that as you climb the career ladder, you get access to more information and better information than you had before. But nobody has ALL of the information, and oftentimes information can be looked at from a different viewpoint which sheds different light on the issue. Take for example inventory:

Finance looks at inventory as something to be minimized. By minimizing, they increase the number of inventory turns, have less shrinkage, and need less financing to run operations. The Sales team, however, looks at inventory as something that should be optimized or maximized because they know they can’t sell what they don’t have.

In the above case, both are right, but the truth lies somewhere in between. It pays to answer a few questions before thinking you hold all of the information cards:

Where are they getting their information? – In the case of employees, they often have insight into the customer experience that you simply don’t since they are on the front line. In the case of peers, they may be upstream or downstream from you in the product/service line which gives them new perspective. Competitors may have exclusive market research. It is essential that you determine where their background information came from.

What do they see that I don’t? – They didn’t come up with this out of thin air, so what gives? It is very easy for a manager to get caught in a thinking rut. “We’ve always done it this way”, “That’s always our number one seller”, or “We’ve tried fixing that dozens of times in the past, but failed”. By determining what perspective they bring

Is there motivation different than mine? Better than mine? – This gets at the above example. In the case of inventory, the “perfect world” is Just-in-Time inventory, but most companies carry a little excess to be able to accommodate spikes in demand, which results in a little or a lot of extra carrying cost. You need to know what the best goal is for the question at hand, that should be your motivation: As a general rule, ask what is best for the customer AND the company. The person whose idea/argument best satisfies whatever goal is desired will be the winner.

Try these out the next time you run across a person you respect who holds a different view than you. Don’t assume you know best, consider the other side and where they are coming from and you’ll reduce your chance of mistakes.

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Top 6 Ways To Get Through to a Boss That Doesn't Listen

"Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it." ~ Henry Mintzberg

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

OK, so you’re scheduled for a meeting with your boss. Maybe it is a regularly scheduled one-on-one, maybe your boss called it, or maybe even you called it. When meeting with your own leader, it is essential that you get as much out of it as possible. Your time with the person who should be mentoring you in the organization (whether they actually are or not) is some of the most valuable of your week or month. Too many of us pass ownership of the outcomes of the meeting to our boss, and that hurts our ability to get the most out of the meeting. So what should we do?

Prepare – First and foremost you need to handle the basics to have an effective meeting. What questions will your boss have and what data will they want to see. You need to have answers prepared and data in a presentable form to not only show you are on top of it, but also to speed the meeting along (remember, this time is valuable so you want to get as much out of it as possible). If no one is providing one, it is essential that there be an agenda to keep everything focused and to ensure everything that needs to be covered is covered.

Know what you need – This goes along with preparing, but it is the #1 thing people miss when meeting with their boss so I’m giving it its own section. A successful meeting is collaborative and all parties should be able to leave having received what they need to move forward. If you haven’t already set down what you need out of the meeting then you are basically just taking whatever you are given. This is the opposite of taking control. What things do you need clarity on regarding your performance? What answers do you need regarding projects? What approvals do you need to move forward? Be sure to write down all of the things you need out of the meeting (they can even be line items on an agenda).

Be future focused – Yes, you need to give updates on progress, but you want to keep the discussions focused on what to do or what you are doing, not what has already been done. Too many times a meeting digresses into an analysis of past events without any purpose behind it. It is fine to look at what was done if you are trying to use the learning for a specific future purpose, but our vision needs to be on the future. Great meetings always have action plans for what to do once the meeting adjourns.

What they say isn’t set in stone – You don’t want to be argumentative or defensive, but you also don’t want to be passive. If your boss has given advice or direction you think is wrong, then say so. Just be sure you can back up what you say with data and facts. It’s better to prevent an issue from occurring, than to deal with it after the fact. Remember, a good meeting requires all parties to be involved. Now while many of you may say that your boss isn’t interested in your feedback, I would say that if you pick your battles you can hopefully avoid some foreseeable difficulties. I have had plenty of bosses like this in my career and all of them conceded some points to me during meetings.

Be clear on what they need – Ever left a meeting and realized you weren’t clear on what your boss needed you to do? Of course you have because all of us have faced this issue at some point or another. I always like to do a little rundown at the end of any meeting where we quickly go through the action items from the meeting. This is a great time to ask that additional question to get clarity.

Don’t run long – You want to get the most out of your time with your leader, but you also need to be respectful of their time constraints. This is why an agenda is so critical because it allows you to stay focused on what needs to be covered. It also allows you to prioritize the order of things. It is often perfectly fine to not cover everything as long as what is left over is OK to be handled at a later time. One of the best ways to never get a meeting with your boss is to not respect their time and their schedule.

Keep these principles in mind when scheduled to meet with your boss and I’m sure that you will BOTH get more out of your time together.



5 Steps to Get Control of a CRAZY day

"My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things." ~Bill Gates

"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

Most of us as leaders are in a constant state of being pulled in different directions and balancing competing priorities. It is in the middle of this storm of things that all need to be done “right now” that we see our highest levels of stress throughout the day. But it doesn’t need to be that way, we can thrive on the chaos to reach higher levels of productivity. How is that you ask? Through FOCUS. When we have the most things going on at the same time is when we most need to focus our attention on single tasks as opposed to everything.

Think of a cheetah hunting a pack of gazelles. If the cheetah did not focus on a single target, they would be constantly moving from among the hundreds in the herd and getting absolutely nowhere. Similarly, we must “hunt” our tasks one by one. I know, I know, “easier said than done Cameron”, but really it can be that simple. Take a few simple tips and see how much more effective you are at working through the chaos:

Take the extra few minutes – Rarely is it the case where the latest thing that “must be done right now” can’t actually wait 3-5 minutes. Focusing an extra couple of minutes on the task you are currently working on is often all it takes to finish and get it off of your plate.

Write down the to-do list – That herd of gazelles can be pretty confusing when they are all going in different directions. Similarly, when you have a bunch of emergencies swirling around you it can turn a difficult decision into chaos rather quickly. A list allows you to put those gazelles in a single file line for sorting. It takes only a little time and if you add to it throughout the day you ensure nothing goes forgotten.

Knock out some little things – That list of 20 competing priorities can seem a lot more manageable when it is only 10. This is one of the only times I suggest that taking care of the little things can be productive. I’m not saying you always should, but it creates a little momentum with quick wins and it can make it easier to focus on the bigger things if the “noise” of the little things isn’t ringing in your ears constantly.

Priorities – Along with the little things are the things you must get done right away, and the things that can actually wait until tomorrow. Moving a couple of your tasks to tomorrow reduces the “noise” even further. One caution: never allow something to get bumped more than twice, lest it become an emergency.

Don’t shut the door – It may seem counter-intuitive to focus, but closed door rarely stops anyone, especially your boss, from barging in and putting more on your plate. A closed door also mitigates your immediate access to more resources. Focus doesn’t end with you. As a manager you need to focus ALL of your resources on the tasks and priorities of the company and that means delegating and collaborating. That analyst that happens to be walking by may be the resource you need to help with the spreadsheet right in front of you. Don’t close your access to assistance.

When things get their craziest, the only way to get through it is one thing at a time. If you can’t focus on getting the first thing accomplished, you’ll never make it to the second, the third, and never get out of the storm. As Churchill said above, one link in the chain at a time. So FOCUS on that next link to get yourself through the day to day chaos.



How to Raise Expectations in 4 Simple Steps

"Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected." ~Steve Jobs

“The best performers across every field have an unwavering desire for excellence for what they do, the way they think, and the way they work.” ~Unknown

Do you have an environment in your department where excellence is the expectation of every single employee, or do you have an environment where the mediocre employees continue to plod along in a continuous march of blandness? While organizations who tolerate mediocrity can compete with other organizations who tolerate mediocrity, they are generally CRUSHED by organizations who expect excellence. So how can you set an expectation of excellence in your department for success? All excellent organizations share some part of the following:

  • Get clear on metrics
  • Excellence not perfection
  • Give constant feedback
  • Be consistent

Get clear on Metrics – It is IMPERATIVE that you find a way to measure performance that is black and white, and that you communicate those metrics to each employee regularly, both in public forums and in private. Display boards with updates (and possibly team member names left out) in a public place let everyone know that the metric is important to you and where they rank. One on one meetings between supervisors and line-level employees are essential to talk through issues, reinforce the message, and drive results.

Excellence not perfection – Excellence is just that, excellent, but it need not be perfection. Striving for perfect can be demoralizing and a source of paralysis for an organization. Set your goals truly high, but not so high as to be unobtainable.

One thing to mention: If you have a culture of mediocrity, then you may need to build momentum with "reasonable" goals to start out with and moving toward the truly excellent. For teams that aren't used to "winning" the 1st win begets 2nd win, then 3rd, then success becomes an expectation.

Give constant feedback – A staff that is achieving excellence wants to know what is going on constantly. Feedback will be the fuel that powers the racecar, so get ready to give it as quickly as you can. Weekly is better than monthly, daily is better than weekly, hourly is better than daily, etc.

Be consistent – Most everything takes longer than we want it to take and excellent results are no different. So whatever timeline you want….double it, but be persistent and consistent in the results you expect. Do not let timing or other factors persuade you to accept anything less than excellence. To do so is to undermine all of your other efforts as your team will realize that you will crumble under the pressure and accept less than their best.

The idea is that great performers are recognized and rewarded, and poor performers understand that excellence is expected (they shape up or ship out). It is in this environment that greatness begins to flower.



12 Mistakes That Will Doom Your Meeting

"Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything." ~John Kenneth Galbraith

"People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything." ~Thomas Sowell

There are tens of millions of meeting occurring in organizations around the world every day, and by some estimations, a third of them are unproductive. Now we could talk about the overall cost of these meetings in lost productivity (an estimated $37 billion in the U.S. alone), but that just puts a number on what crummy meetings mean for you personally; paramount among those is wasted time and effort.

The real problem is that almost no organizations have a structure for the meetings held within their walls. This leaves everyone to fend for themselves, both as a meeting organizer and as a participant. And when that happens, mistakes in meeting structure, process and etiquette spread like wildfire and consume all of the productivity from the meeting:

Phones and laptops out and on the table – This is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” scenario where the prevalence of people checking their phones and laptops in meetings for e-mail, Facebook messages, or a good place to get lunch is likely due to the fact that the meeting isn’t productive for them. That being said, multitasking destroys the focus and purpose of collaborating together in a meeting. Ever heard this in a meeting when someone is asked a question, “I’m sorry could you repeat that?” THAT just wasted 10 seconds of everyone’s life and showed that the material isn’t important enough to command their attention. Addressing all of the things on this list will help address this root cause, but in our “always on” culture, you will still need to institute this rule, otherwise all of the work improving the meeting structure will go to waste.

P.S. Everyone sees you checking the notification when your phone buzzes on the table, so phones in pockets, not on the table.

Having a meeting when an e-mail suffices – Technology has brought us all closer together and improved communication. I would wager that half of all unproductive meetings could be eliminated by just emailing the questions you were going to ask or sending the report everyone was going to go over together. Meetings need to have an agenda that requires collaboration or reasonably intense explanation. Reading a report together around a table is something you did in grade school reading class.

No facilitator – If there isn’t one person in charge of a meeting, then there is no one in charge. And if no one is in charge of the meeting, then the likelihood of staying on topic and getting something out of the meeting decreases dramatically. The facilitator of the meeting should be in charge of all the details; attendees, agenda, notes, and follow up. They are ultimately the one responsible for the meeting being productive.

Letting the boisterous rule the discussion – You likely know the one or two people in every meeting that have no issue whatsoever making their thoughts known to everyone else and tend to do 90% of the talking. While people talking isn’t a problem in and of itself, the facilitator of the meeting needs to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to speak and voice their thoughts and opinions (otherwise why have everyone there).

Filling time – When the agenda is done, so is the meeting. Get the heck out of the room and back to work. Too many times, the meeting just turns into people “shooting the breeze” to fill up the time remaining, and often holding others who would like to go captive through some vague allusion that there will be something work related discussed. Besides, usually the time period set for the meeting was either completely arbitrary (are your meetings all 30 minutes or 60 minutes?) or with only a loose idea of length anyways.

Supporting lateness – Hey it’s rude, but there are all kinds of reasonable excuses for being late, most notably being caught up with a customer or everyone’s boss. So you’re not going to catch me stating that you should lock the door once the meeting starts. But there is no need to stop the meeting and waste everyone else’s time catching them up. Let their neighbor at the table do that if they like, or let them fend for themselves. Time is the biggest thief of productivity in meetings and you need to show everyone that you are respecting it.

No agenda – Every meeting needs to have a clear purpose. If you don’t have a stated purpose you are dramatically less likely to achieve it. A printed and distributed agenda helps keep the meeting on track and on time.

And no notes - Ever need to call someone who attended a meeting with you and ask them to clarify something that occurred for you? That’s a failure of the meeting organizer. Taking and distributing notes is the next logical step in the process because it clears up any question over what was decided and where responsibilities lie. Even if it was one thing, sending out an e-mail with the meeting results clarifies everything.

Too many people – One benefit of an agenda and notes is that it provides a nice and tidy summary for anyone asking about the meeting. If the person you were considering inviting wasn’t likely to contribute, or was only needed to be there for one thing, they can get updated later. There is a fallacy that the more people you have in a meeting the more potential value there is from varied opinions and thoughts, in fact it makes collaboration more scattered and less likely to accomplish the goal of the meeting since the responsibility for that goal is distributed over a much larger group.

No action – Have you ever left a meeting and there weren’t any action items for anyone? My bet is that is what occurs in a sizeable portion of meetings. This is often the result of not having a clear purpose or agenda, but can just as likely be about people wanting to “duck” responsibility or tasks (hey, we all have plenty on our plates). Every good meeting has next steps assigned by the end of it.

“Obligatory” meetings – Remember when you set up that weekly meeting to go over inventory concerns? Remember how those concerns were basically addressed a month ago? Why are you still meeting every week for half an hour? Regularly scheduled meetings have shelf lives. At some point they either need to go away entirely, have their frequency reduced, or have a change in scope to make them useful still. They were most likely very useful at one point, but usefulness needs to be assessed continually.

No follow up – Many meetings may get most of the above things right, but fail to produce results because there is no follow-up. My favorite meeting that rarely has follow-up is actually yearly reviews. There’s almost always a lot of talk about things that you are going to work on, but almost never any follow-up on how that’s going … well, at least until next year. Yet another reason for there to be a meeting facilitator is to have someone who can follow-up on the completion of the action items. Everyone has a lot on their plate, and it’s very easy to take those items that are from a “shared responsibility” project and put them on the back-burner of priorities. If there isn’t any follow-up, there is far less of a chance that the task is done, and done to the satisfaction of everyone.

Like so many tools, meeting are very valuable, but are also very easily misused and abused. It takes more effort than just “pulling everyone into a room” to pull off a great meeting. And you also need the insight and wisdom to know when not to use the meeting as a tool and use another method. Hopefully with the 12 items above in mind you’ll have an easier time having great meetings in the future.