Posts Taged leadership

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 32 :: Leadership :: Environment for Growth

If I’m listing the top five (maybe the top three) responsibilities of a leader, creating an environment that fosters growth absolutely makes the cut. An organization will most likely never grow beyond the person who leads it and individual divisions and departments will most likely never grow beyond the people who lead them. Unfortunately, we human being are wired for stasis. We run smack dab into Newton’s first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force.” As a leader, it’s your job to be that external force.

During this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge exercise, I want to you to craft a framework that inspires and enables growth in your organization. The growth you want spans personal and professional, individual and team.

Use the ideas below like tools for your toolbox. Some of them I’d consider mandatory (like the first one) and others might or might not work in your organization. Pick and choose, add your own, then execute. Make lifelong learning part of your organizational culture (learning orientation is in my list of cultural imperatives. If you want to see my full list of culture imperatives, you can find it here).

Set the Example for Personal and Professional Growth – You should be hearing phrases like this come out of your mouth frequently, “I was just reading…”, “In the past, I would have…, but with what I’ve learned now, I’d…”,  “I had to apologize for…, because I found out I was wrong”, “My gut feel was…, but when I examined the data…”, “Swing by my office because I’d like to get your thoughts on…”. Spend time reading, taking a class, listening to a TED talk, journaling, and writing.

Embrace and Communicate that “Ego is the Enemy” – I’ve probably co-opted the title from Ryan Holiday’s excellent book a thousand times as I’ve talked and written. However, the real issue is whether or not I’ve embraced the message. We must never succumb to the temptation of thinking we know all there is to know about our job, our company, our customers, our people, or our processes. The minute we think we’ve arrived, the clock counting down our personal and professional destruction starts ticking. Advocate for personal and corporate humility. I often think about the encouragement from Gary Keller in his book, The One Thing. We don’t want to do our job the “best we can do it” (implying that our present capacity is the pinnacle). Instead, we want to do our job the “best it can be done” (implying that there’s more to learn and we’re going to drink it all in and apply it in our work).

Create a Mentorship Program – Pair mentees with mentors who will talk with them about professional growth, career paths, navigating office politics, balancing work and family responsibilities, moving from staff to supervisory roles and more. The mentor will learn just as much as the mentee. And you’ll automatically be building a couple of the factors that employees identified as indicative of solid management (see First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham). If potential mentors feel like this is outside their comfort zone, help them by creating a curriculum with discussion topics and resources.

Create an Environment where Good Risk is Embraced and Subsequent Failure after Good Risk is OK – If you never fail, you’re more than likely never doing anything that’s a stretch. People and organizations should do hard things. When the uncertainties surrounding hard things are pondered, good decision-making skills should be employed. Good decisions frequently result in bad outcomes (the batter frequently swings unsuccessfully at pitches that are low and away, but this time he hit a double). If your good risk appears to end in failure, you’ve at least learned some things (faulty product development, faulty delivery, faulting messaging). It’s never a bad thing to get an education.

Encourage Independent Work and Collaboration – Current research in productivity shows that neither bullpens nor private offices are optimal for the best outcomes. We need both. Employees need uninterrupted spans of time and privacy to do deep work (achieving flow). They also need engaging conversation with people who can challenge and sharpen the ideas they crafted working alone. Design workspaces and work schedules where both can happen.

Cross Discipline Knowledge is Golden – We have erroneously equated deep subject matter expertise with greater problem-solving ability in that discipline. For the sake of time, let me cut to the chase and say that thinking is wrong. In his book Range, David Epstein tells the story of two labs working on the same problem at the same time (proteins they wanted to measure would get stuck to a filter, which made them hard to analyze). One lab, staffed by only E. Coli experts, took weeks to solve the problem – experimenting with multiple methodologies. The other lab, staffed by scientists with chemistry, physics, biology, and genetics backgrounds, plus medical students, figured out the problem in their initial meeting. Deep subject matter expertise should be celebrated and leveraged, but to maximize peer-to-peer learning in an organization, utilize cross-disciplinary teams.

Make It Not All About Work – I know people who will come into an organization and do a Lunch-and-Learn on – Understanding Mortgages for First-time Homebuyers, Dog Training, Personal Finances, and Sleep. When your environment for growth includes growth opportunities for the whole person, you demonstrate another level of commitment to your team members.

Do the Traditional Stuff – Down through the years, employers have sent team member to seminars, enrolled them in online classes and paid for college degrees. Some of these might make less sense now, but there’s no reason to dismiss them entirely.

This is only a starter list, but it should get you on your way to creating a strong environment for growth in your organization.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 13 :: Leadership :: Personal Growth

I’ve avoided adjusting the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge to address the coronavirus outbreak because that’s precisely the point of the exercise. There will always be dozens of things clamoring for our attention – some small and some coronavirus-size. It takes discipline to step away and focus, even for a few minutes each week, on organizational health and future growth.

This week’s topic was on the schedule for later in the year but, given the number of shelter-in-place orders all around the country, it made sense to move it into this week’s slot.

An organization won’t ever be healthier than the leaders in that organization. Consequently, every leader in the organization needs to carve out time for personal growth. This week’s exercise isn’t thirty minutes worth of personal growth, it’s thirty minutes of planning a personal growth strategy that will permeate several areas of your life. I think we mistakenly segregate pieces of our lives – secular and sacred, personal and professional, academic and practical. In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to advocate for a wide range of activities that will build a more unified, holistic life. A life that allows you to be the same person at home, at work, at play and at worship. This approach will make you a more effective leader in your organizations since you will be engaging a “whole person” no matter where you are.

Take thirty minutes and decide which of these activities are most needed, most interesting and most motivating and get them on your schedule. There will be immediate impact on your personal life, your family and your business.

Strengthen your spiritual life

Animals live by instinct. They can’t make moral and ethical choices. That’s the sole territory of us as human beings. The moorings for those moral and ethical choices come from our spiritual life. I find my moorings from my Christian faith. Find yours. Here are some recommended resources –

  • The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes – the richest and wisest Old Testament King of Israel discusses the meaning of life
  • Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
  • The Reason for God by Tim Keller

Get healthier

We’re living in a time where, because of social distancing, gyms are closed. But now, with stress levels high, we desperately need not just the physical benefits of exercise, but the mental and emotional benefits. And with more free time, especially while we’re binge watching, we need to monitor what we’re eating.

  • Your local gym might be offering online versions of their workouts. It’s not only a great way to keep in shape, but also a great way to support a local business.
  • At the local park, take a walk or bike ride with your family.
  • Involve the whole family in healthy meal planning and, since we can’t eat out, cook the meal together.

Stretch your brain

There’s a huge temptation right now to spend a lot of time worrying about things we can’t control. To keep from worrying, we distract ourselves with things like binge watching. Instead, let’s spend some of that time getting smarter. Then, when life returns to normal, we’re ready to jump in – more prepared than ever before.

  • Read a book – I have some specific recommendations depending on where you are in your professional life.
    • Early in your career – So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, Range by David Epstein
    • Later in your career – Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard, Range by David Epstein
    • Managing and developing your team – Drive by Dan Pink, First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham
    • Impacting others – Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni, Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt
    • Thinking strategically about your business – Good to Great by Jim Collins, Great by Choice by Jim Collins, How Google Works by Eric Schmidt
    • Value Creation – Think Beyond Value by David Flint, Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen
    • Marketing – Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller, This is Marketing by Seth Godin, 113 Million Markets of One by Chris Norton
    • Personal Productivity – Deep Work by Cal Newport, The One Thing by Gary Keller
  • Take an online course – learn how to program from codeacademy.com. Even if you have no interest in computer programming, the discipline of writing code teaches thoroughness and helps you think you through things in order. Or maybe exercising the right brain is in order – take an art class or learn to play an instrument. YouTube is loaded with free resources.

Get a mentor/be a mentor

Every one of us needs someone pouring into us and we need to be pouring into someone else. Look for potential mentors/mentees at work, your place of worship or in a networking group. You can start now with virtual meetings.

  • Clarify personal and professional goals and make a plan to take the next step.
  • Ask for help identifying blind spots.
  • Be humble and share failures and mistakes.

Create margin to do great work

Work might be a bit slower now. Utilize that time to create valuable work products. Hone the messaging on your website. Redesign your employee onboarding material. Redesign your customer onboarding material. Write a new class for employee development. Plan and outline a year’s worth of blog posts.

  • Block out big chunks of time and don’t allow any distractions.
  • Spend time alone to create – There is science behind the great ideas we have when we’re showering or mowing the yard. So, to kick-off some heavy-duty creative time, take a walk (no phone) or do some yard work.
  • Aim for “flow” – work that is interesting, engaging and not-too-hard or not-too-easy.

Don’t set new goals – instead create a personal and professional strategic plan

Goals are great but strategic plans are better because they have baked inside them the steps to get from where you are to where you want to be.

  • Start with your desired exit (which might be a long way away) and work backwards.
  • Set incremental goals and identify the skills and experiences needed to reach them.
  • Plan specific steps to acquire the skills and experiences you need to reach the first incremental goal.

Deepen relationships

All of us need meaningful relationships. Spend time with family and friends.

Your business rises and falls on your leadership. Keep learning and keep growing.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax. – Abraham Lincoln

Is a Strategic Plan Really Necessary?

You’re making money, customers are buying your products or services and your employees seem happy? Do you really need a strategic plan?  Isn’t strategic planning for big companies with lots of money and lots of employees?  Or maybe for companies that are struggling?  If things are going great, why mess with it?

Read the ten statements below, answer TRUE or FALSE, and we’ll chat at the end.

 

I know exactly what I want the business to look like 1 year, 3 years and 5 years from now.

  • I don’t mean you want to be making more money, I mean –
    • you have a clear picture of new product and service offerings
    • you’ve identified new markets or new target clients for growth
    • you have a plan for hiring and/or developing employees that can get you where you want to go
    • you’re already putting together the production, service and technical infrastructure to support the new products and market
    • you know how you’re going to finance your plans

 

When my leadership team meets, we talk regularly about long term plans.

  • Current operational problems are extraordinarily demanding and will consume all your time.  It’s good and right to talk about and solve them, but to borrow from Jim Collins, this is a perfect time for the “genius of the and”.  To remain viable in the long-term, we must effectively manage the organization today AND successfully position it for tomorrow.

 

The employees in my organization share my passion for the business.

  • You’re the boss, no one will care more than you – right?  You might be surprised.  Social scientists assure us that engaged, empowered employees will go far beyond just punching the clock.  Clear, concise communication and commitment to an overarching purpose are the starting place.

 

I know where we are vulnerable to competition.

  • A correct assessment of the competitive environment is much more than examining the companies that do the exact same thing you do for the exact same set of customers.  It also involves examining companies that compete for the same disposable dollars.  It involves surveying replacements for your good or service.

 

My employees know what success looks like in our business.

  • This might seem apparent, but unless you’ve assembled an easy-to-understand scorecard with hard and soft metrics, employees with very narrow job responsibilities might not know if the enterprise at large is succeeding or failing.

 

If I was gone tomorrow, the business would continue to function.

  • At the risk of sounding harsh, if the organization can’t run without you, you’ve built a cult, not a business.  Skilled execution of a strategic plan will force you systematize the business, building it around principle instead of personality.

 

I have a steady stream of new clients coming into the business and they are the clients I want.

  • New revenue streams, both from new products and from new customers are the lifeblood of any organization.  But as organizations mature and are better able to identify and serve the customers to whom they deliver the greatest value surplus, they can narrow their focus.  This focus allows them to build relationships with customers who are willing to not only grow the relationship, but also act as an advocate for the brand.

 

I have a process for identifying changes in the organization that would allow us to deliver our product better, faster or cheaper.

  • The inward-looking part of a strategic planning exercise focuses on the component parts of the value creation process.  How does the organization transform inputs into desirable outputs deriving the greatest amount of utility from the resources available?  The strategic planning process is about challenging the status quo, asking probing questions about procurement, people, processes, money and more.

 

I have a reliable feedback mechanism for customer sentiment.

  • Sam Walton observed that customers have the ability to fire everyone in the company from the CEO down.  That being the case, it’s critical to understand their perception of your products, people and processes.  A reliable feedback loop is the lifeline to these important stakeholders.

 

I have a plan of action to break and rebuild my business model to keep it fresh and safe from new, innovative entrants.

  • If you’re making money and satisfying an important customer demand, there are competitors who would love to take those customers and their money away from you.  If they can satisfy those demands better or more economically, your business is in jeopardy.  With an existing business relationship, you have an enormous advantage.  However, an unwillingness to innovate or even re-invent your business, product or service can be a shortcut to irrelevance.

 

If you answered FALSE to any of these, I believe you should very seriously contemplate a strategic planning exercise. It’s incredibly easy to cling to the status quo and not deliberately create and execute a plan to build a healthier organization going forward.

Convinced and ready to go or still have some questions?  Either way is fine.  Click here to schedule a free, no-obligation thirty-minute conversation with me.  I look forward to learning about you and your business.