Category Archives: Leadership

Serve others first…

Tim Ferriss asks a question of most of his podcast guests:

“If you had a billboard that millions of people would see every day, what would you put on that billboard?”

Tim’s guests have given answers ranging from the comedic to the serious.  Some have talked about a cause that is their passion, or an inspirational passage they’d like people to see.

Each time I hear the question, I come up with the same three words:

Serve others first.

Serving others first means:

  • taking others’ needs and desires into account before our own
  • looking out for their best interest first
  • our decisions are more thoroughly considered because we’ll be taking time to think about how our decisions impact others
  • trying to make someone else’s job easier and more rewarding
  • showing someone gratitude for the work they’re doing
  • minding our manners (as my mom used to say when I was a kid)
  • listening to, and respecting others (even if we disagree with them)
  • looking for ways to improve a situation rather than making things worse
  • being the first to forgive.

It’s easy to focus on our own interests and challenges first.  It’s easy to think everything happening in the world is directed toward us, personally.  This “me first” mindset is hard-wired into our DNA…our DNA is selfish about 99.99% of the time.

The tougher path?

It’s the one that leads to serving others first.  It goes against our wiring, which takes significant effort.

None of us will be perfect on this path.  We’ll stumble, and we may even wander a bit.  But, we can be a blessing for others along our journey, and that’s what we should be seeking.

The good news is that following this path gets easier with practice.

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

 

What you delegate matters…

Whether you run a Fortune 500 company or a one-person shop, your ability to delegate will be the difference between success and failure.  Delegation may be to an employee or a trusted vendor.

Delegation allows you to multiply yourself.  It also provides an opportunity for your direct reports to grow within your company.

Right about now, you should be nodding and saying, “Obviously, Bob, tell me something I don’t know!”

So, you understand the importance of delegating.  Awesome!

Consider these questions about what you’re delegating, based on the way some managers and company owners I’ve worked with over the past 35 years view the topic:

  • When you delegate, are you focusing on your schedule, or on your direct reports’ growth?
  • Do you view delegation as the art of offloading tasks you don’t want to do, or tasks that are better suited to the expertise of one or more of your direct reports?
  • Do your direct reports own a specific role or job that’s critical to your organization, or are they merely one of your assistants, waiting for a list of today’s tasks to come from you?
  • If you draw a flowchart of how your organization functions, how many of the process lines route through your head where some type of decision or approval takes place before the process can move to its next step?
  • How many employees do you have waiting to talk to you? Do you feel empowered by how long the line out your door is each day?
  • When faced with a crisis, or a short-term deadline, do you pull back all that you’ve delegated so you can do everything yourself to make sure it’s right?
  • When you delegate the responsibility for a task to an employee, do you trust them enough to also delegate the authority they need to own that task? If not, why not?

I worked with a manager many years ago who told me how great it was that he had a line of people waiting to see him every time he came back to his office.  He said it was the first time he had felt important in his life.  Wrong answer, Mr. Important Guy!

I worked with another who told me that, “These people (referring to pretty much everyone in his department) don’t work well under pressure.  Whenever we have a tight deadline on a deliverable, I usually stay late and get it done myself.  That way I know it’s right.”  Wrong answer, Mr. Martyr!

There isn’t a human being on this planet who can carry an entire organization themselves…even though many try.  Sometimes, they even fool themselves (and others) into thinking they do it successfully.

The power of any organization comes from its ability to properly delegate, multiply its talent, and foster employee growth.  By the way, sometimes the cost of that growth is allowing your employees to make mistakes, or to successfully complete a task in a different way than you would have.

Get delegation right, and everyone wins.  Get it wrong, and your employees will stop learning.  Their motivation will wane and your organization will ultimately fail.

It’s only a matter of time.

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Premature Judging

Should a new home construction project be judged when only its blueprint exists?  How about when the site has been prepared?  What about when the materials like wood, rebar, and electrical conduit are delivered?

Should we wait to judge the home build until the framing is complete?  Should we wait until the walls and roof are added?  Or, wait until all the windows are installed?  What about the paint and other finishing touches on the house?  Should you wait for those to be completed?

Can you judge the success of the home build before it’s finished?

When making chocolate chip cookies, do you judge the success of the cookies while mixing the ingredients?  How about when the chocolate chips are poured into the batter?

What if the recipe called for real butter, but you only have that non-diary butter substitute that’s supposed to be healthier than butter?  Are your cookies doomed at that point?  Should you call-off the project and declare it a failure?

Assuming you’ve made it past the butter/non-dairy butter issue, is it right to judge the cookies after they’re spooned out onto the cookie sheet, but not yet baked?

Just before placing those filled cookie sheets into the preheated oven, is that the time to re-evaluate the entire cookie-making process to determine if it’s failing?  Should you call a meeting to discuss whether the cooking temperature listed in the recipe is the correct one for your cookies?

Houses and cookies are obvious examples of “projects” that have a lot of moving parts.  They build from a set of raw ingredients, mixed with time and effort, into a completed item.

What about less obvious events in our lives?  When’s the right time to judge these for success or failure (using whatever measures you’ve chosen)?

  • new job
  • new business
  • new business strategy
  • new information system
  • new software development project
  • new friends
  • new marriage
  • new workout regimen
  • new hobby
  • new home

The easiest approach is to prematurely judge, declare failure and decide who to blame.  Failure is comforting.  The status quo is easy.

The new thing is never easy.  Creating something new is almost always uncomfortable.

When we judge too early, failure soon follows.

By the way, the cookies were amazing, but not until they came out of the oven.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

That’s all great. But, what does your customer think?

  • “We had an awesome meeting yesterday. We finalized our growth plans for next year.  We’ll be presenting them to the CFO next week.”
  • “That conference was amazing. The speakers really hit the nail on the head about what’s coming in our industry.”
  • “We finished all the employee reviews before the deadline. We start every year with this fire drill!  I’m glad that’s behind us!”
  • “This new software update will finally fix our scheduling problems.”
  • “The year-end financials are done, and our tax filing is happening on time this year.”
  • “Our new branding colors are excellent. They really pop on our mobile app!”
  • “The holiday party committee met, and we’ve got our recommendations for the venue and party theme this year. When can we meet to finalize the plans so we can put money down on the venue?”

What do all of these have in common?

They’re all statements I’ve heard, or said, during my professional career.  I could’ve rattled off 30 more sentences just like these.  All would have represented important activities, milestones, discoveries, inventions, process improvements, or events within the companies I’ve managed (or owned).

But, none of them represented what our customers think.  The customer, in this case, is the person or company that’s paying us for our products and services.

None of the sentences describe us communicating directly with our customers or our prospective customers.

None of them focus on why our customers use our products and services.

None provide a greater understanding of how our customers relate to us.

None help us understand how important we are (or aren’t) in their life.

Are we just a faceless machine that delivers something our customer needs at this moment?  Are we merely a utility to them?

If we disappeared tomorrow, would they miss us?

Do they know who we are as a company?  Do they know anything about our values?  Do we know what our values are at this company?

Do they care about our branding colors, or that we’re having a nice holiday party this year?  Probably not.

Even when we fail to ask, our customers have powerful ways to tell us how we’re doing:

  • When they continue paying us, we know that they value what we’re doing today. They haven’t found anyone else who does it better, cheaper, or both.  They haven’t found anyone that they think cares more about them than we do.  We’ve won today.
  • When they call or write to complain or ask for something new and improved, we can infer that they care enough to ask. They trust that we’ll listen.  Our response lets them know whether their trust is well-placed, or not.

Winning today is nice.  Winning tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year is far more important when it comes to customers.

While we take care of all the tasks associated with keeping our organization afloat, it’s easy to forget why our organization exists in the first place:  to serve our customers and attract new ones.

The customer is the only reason we exist.

Something to keep in mind the next time you put off calling your customer back until after you’ve finalized your company’s holiday party plans.

P.S.  This riff about customers applies to our internal customers as well.  After all, our internal customers are often the ones who deliver service to our external customers.  If we fail to serve our internal customers, you can easily guess what’s going to happen to our external customers.

 

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

The Reasons We Quit…

Are usually not the real reasons.

Sure, we’ll have our story about how someone or something created the untenable situation that pushed us to quit.

We can talk about how continuing would have been a waste of our time and energy.

We can even describe how the emotional toll was so great that we needed to make the change before some type of permanent damage occurred.

All these reasons contain elements of truth.  But, not the whole truth.

The whole truth lies in the balance of authority and responsibility.

Authority and responsibility live on opposite sides of life’s biggest equation.  When we perceive that the authority we have matches up with the responsibility we’re carrying, we feel balanced.  Satisfied.

But, get them out of whack, and our dissatisfaction begins to climb.  Left unattended, the dissatisfaction we feel (subconsciously at first) will begin to overtake our patience.  The cascade toward departure begins.

A world where we have ultimate authority and no responsibility would be nice.  The “power” to do whatever we want without any ownership of the outcomes.  Of course, this is a fantasy world.

Having authority over anything means having responsibility.

The key is the balance.

So, back to the quit or don’t quit decision:

If we stay the course, we’ll be forced to take ownership.  We’ll need to assume authority and expend a ton of emotional energy.  We can’t blame the “other.”  When we decide not to quit, we’re deciding that it’s okay to be responsible for making the situation a success (however that gets defined in our heads).

Quitting is the easy way out of this “authority-responsibility” conundrum.  It requires a lot less energy and eliminates our risk of failure.  It doesn’t matter that the act of quitting may be an admission of failure in the first place.  That’s just a sunk cost.  The key is how much emotional energy we’ll have to expend in the future.

Why does any of this matter?  We aren’t planning to quit any time soon.  It’s not in our nature.

True, but what about everyone around you?  What about the people who report to you?  What about your teammates?  What about your friends?

It turns out they’re working through this same authority-responsibility equation in their own lives.

And guess who has both the authority and responsibility to help them with balancing their equation.

You.

 

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

The Dodge

Here’s a paradox about productivity:

I’m often most productive when dodging the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

I always know when I’m avoiding a task, even if tell myself I’m not.  That task that seems undoable, requires multiple synchronized steps, requires difficult decisions, involves lots of other people who may not be “on board,” or the task with a nebulous benefit way out in the future.

It’s easy to dodge these challenging tasks and focus on the simple stuff.  That list of to-dos I can knock out in an afternoon.

I know I’m not doing the tough thing, but at least I’m being productive.  Nobody can accuse me of being lazy if I just keep moving.

This is the curse of staying busy, while not accomplishing anything.

I can dodge all I want.  I can tell myself stories to justify my delay.

It doesn’t matter, the tough task will still be there, waiting.

Here’s another paradox:

When I finally face the tough task, the one I’ve been avoiding, it usually starts to look a lot easier.  The next indicated steps begin to show themselves.  The unwieldy becomes doable.

The dodge makes the tough task appear bigger than it really is.

It comes down to fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the difficult.  Fear of embarrassment.  Fear of failure.  Fear of success (yes, this is a thing).

What if this task is harder than I imagined?  What if it owns me?  What if I can’t do it?  What if someone sees me fail?

The answer to all these questions is, “So what.  Get started anyway.  Stop dodging and start doing.”

“Knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it.” – Seth Godin

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

 

My Leadership Prayer

God, please grant me,

The faith and judgment to make sound decisions, and

The courage to change those decisions when they’re wrong.

The everlasting hope that, together, our organization can and will be successful.

The fortitude to seek continuous improvement in everything we do.

 

Integrity and a just heart to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

A charitable approach to my employees, my customers and my competitors.

The ability to focus on the vital few while ignoring the distracting many, and

The prudence to deploy our limited capital wisely.

 

Oh, loving God,

Allow me to work from a place of humility, forsaking my prideful thoughts.

Help me look to others for motivation, not as a source of jealous envy.

Give me the self-control to reject greed, striving for what is needed and nothing more.

Show me that the trappings and status of my position are temporary and undeserved.

 

Always remind me that my life’s mission is to serve others before myself,

Helping my organization grow by focusing on the growth of every team member.

Remind me to provide life-giving feedback and questions that encourage rather than belittle,

To view mistakes and failures as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Help me understand that all of us are smarter and more creative than one of us.

 

Give me the strength and endurance to persevere through times of trouble.

Give me the vision to see beyond today,

To always strive for a better tomorrow.

Help me to become a positive example for others in my thoughts, in my words, and in my actions.

I invite You into each and every minute of my life.

Grant me the peace that comes from Your eternal and infinite love, now and forever.

Amen

 

Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Decisions always want more time.

Decisions always want more data.

Decisions always want more opinions.

 

Decisions don’t like risk.

Decisions don’t like being wrong.

Decisions don’t like upsetting people.

 

Decisions choose the path of least resistance, whenever allowed.

 

Decisions like being easy.

Decisions like being popular.

Decisions like being swayed by others.

 

Decisions like to follow.

Decisions like to blame someone.

Decisions like hiding behind distractions.

 

Decisions prefer urgency over importance.

Decisions prefer not to decide.

Decisions rarely see at a distance.

 

Decisions are just ideas until we turn them into action.  They’ll be difficult.  They’ll lack information.  They’ll often be wrong.

Decide anyway!

Each of us gets to make our own decisions…even when we choose not to decide.

All the rest are the stories we tell to justify the decisions we’ve made.

 

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

 

I’m not afraid of heights…

…but I am afraid of ladders.

When I heard someone at the gym saying this to his workout buddy, he was referring to the reason he doesn’t put up Christmas lights.  He hates climbing on ladders.

For the record, I’m not too keen on climbing ladders either.

My immediate thought was how easy it is to dream of and visualize reaching the heights of our chosen field.  The hard part is the ladder.

Choosing the right ladder, or series of ladders.

Our ladder needs to be sturdy enough to take our weight and the weight of everyone else making the same climb.

It’s easy to pick the nearest ladder or the one where we can see the top.  But that’s not always the right one.

And, once we choose, how long should we climb before jumping to another ladder?

The real question isn’t about fear of heights or fear of ladders.  It’s about your definition of the higher ground.  Your definition of success.  The “why” for your climb.

Are these easy questions to answer?  Definitely, not.

Here’s the tricky part:  your answers to these fundamental questions of why will morph over time.  Something you thought was important in high school isn’t important when you’re 25, or 30.  Similarly, something that’s important when you’re 30 isn’t so important when you’re 50, or 65.

Our answers also adapt to our surroundings, to the people we see the most.  It’s human nature.  We adapt to survive.  We compromise to fit with those around us.  Our perceptions are shaped by what’s closest.

The good news is that with the internet, blog sites, news sites, books, videos, and podcasts, the definition of “closest” has changed.  While it’s true that we still work closely with the ten people that are near us, we have access to a universe of ideas and perspectives far beyond our “local” reach.  All we have to do is choose to look.

What about heights and climbing ladders?  They matter.  But not as much as why you’re climbing in the first place.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  –Stephen Covey

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The Big Ass Wall!

How to build a wall:

  • Determine where it’s going and what it looks like
  • Dig a trench for the foundation and set your forms
  • Install reinforcing steel
  • Pour concrete for the foundation and let it set
  • Get a load of bricks and mortar
  • Did I mention that you should decide if you’re building this wall yourself?
  • Lay down the first course of bricks, ensuring they’re perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • Install scaffolding when your wall gets too high to reach from the ground
  • Continue laying bricks, perfectly level, and properly-spaced
  • For a super strong wall, fill all the open cells with concrete
  • Cap off your wall with one final course of perfectly level and properly-spaced bricks
  • Clean-up after yourself
  • Admire your wall.
  • Go build another one.

Building anything of value requires the same steps (in roughly the same order) as building a big ass wall…one brick at a time.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash