452 posts categorized "Business Effectiveness"

August 12, 2015

Is Your Culture Built On the Right Foundation?

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Ask a strategic consultant about the value of a strong organizational culture and she'll likely remark: "Culture eats strategy for lunch!" Her reasoning is usually based on the consistency of behavior that strong culture creates - enabling every associate to make "the right decision" even when the leader is not around.  The name of the game in business growth is scalability, growing steadily without sacrificing consistency in quality (whatever that means to you.) 

Org-culture is a conversation, led by leaders, about "how we do things here successfully." It's built up through hiring, on boarding and successions practices.  It's reinforced through rituals and stories, often shared at the group level.  The more leaders punctuate the conversation with action, the more the followers march in lock step with them. 

But here's the problem: Every idea is based on an assumption, and similarly, every culture is based on a set of values.  When transparency is a key value, the culture requires sharing information and avoiding secrecy.  When someone violates it, they are shunned, punished or coached.  The word 'transparency' is often embedded into internal communications and in some cases, the market facing branding.  While few would argue against transparency, I would take issue with whether that value is a leader's personal value or a business driver. 

The purpose of an organization is to produce customer/member value, which in turn is captured in order to sustain and grow it.  If culture drives consistency, then it should be based on values that drive the business by producing a unique value proposition.  In other words, your culture-driving values should differentiate a company in a way your customers care about.  That's the real reason that culture has become a focal point of leadership development and corporate performance.  

When Zappos put a supreme value on "Delivering Customer Happiness," it separated them from other apparel e-commerce providers.  They redesigned call center rules, adopting unconventional KPI's to ensure that reps spend ample time with customers and display empathy and a sense of humor.  They enforced the culture heavily throughout hiring an on boarding, famously offering briefcases of money to those who were willing to quit (and leave the Happiness Culture).  In this case, the value drove the business.  

But in too many cases, values are often created in a cramped conference room by over-worked founders or later in the life of the enterprise, by corporate communications during a turnaround. There is little or no formal training on how to vet a value for business output, it's usually just a random process where words or phrases are thrown around until the group forms a consensus. 

That's why companies have chosen "Fun" or "Fair" or "Agile" as their values - making them the foundation of the culture they are building.  And it's hard to debate the value of fun, fairness or agility from a personal or even professional standpoint.  Why not?  That's why they are often adopted.  But what if the company is in the financial services market, where "Meticulous" is valued by the customer more than "Fun"?  What if the company is in a risk-averse business, where customers value "Best-To-Market" instead of "First-To-Market"?  In those cases, Fun and Agility are not business drivers, they are pet values, which are likely to build more of a cult than a strong corporate culture.  

So here's the prescription: Test the values that you base your culture on for business value. If you choose "Honesty" for example, ask yourself, "is this a market space where deceit is a customer concern?  Is this a lead story in our industry?" If it is, then this value will drive the business through differentiation.  If not, then you are basing your culture on a foundation that could lead to a me-too market position.  If your competitors are honest, then why is this a business driver value and not just "good business practice"?  

You might be thinking, "What's the harm in including obviously good values in our culture mix? Why exclude "Fun" or "Honesty"?  I thought that way too for a long time, but when I went to work in human resources, where values are a part of the talent lifecycle, I realized that you have to pick your battles, and limit yourself to a manageable group of norms you want to create.  

Limit yourself to 3-5 values, the less the better.  Much like phone numbers or login passwords, the longer the list, the harder it is to call up when you need them.  Culture is all about living a set of values everyday, and if you throw in the kitchen sink, your associates will have to pick and choose, and that's where a culture starts to get weak (read: inconsistent).  

It's never too late to go through the business driver value process with your team.  If it leads to a new conversation about "how we do things around here moving forward," it just may help your company jump out of the pile, and rise to the top of the customer's mind.  Just like a company can outgrow its founders, an organization can also outgrow its founding values.

Note: The recent holocracy movement at Zappos is based on the founder's value of self-management.  It's yet to be seen as to whether that's a pet value  or a business driver (their relative customer experience levels will be lifted).  In the long run, the fate of the company's market position will be an acid test of my theory about picking personal or business centric values to base a culture on.

Watch: Culture Is A Conversation by Tim Sanders


July 07, 2015

To Multiply Your Success, Bring This To Every Conversation

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Years ago, I discovered a technique for converting every meeting, conversation or interaction into a success-building opportunity.  I followed a maxim, taught to me as a child: Everywhere you go, always bring a gift.  It had long been a part of my social style, but when I applied this to my business life, success quickly followed. 

Whether you are a leader, manager, sales professional or entrepreneur ... gifting drives success.

You see, success is not a place you arrive at, but instead, a direction you traverse over your career.  That direction is forward, where everyday brings new opportunities and produces incremental progress.  During each day, most of us have several interactions with other people: Associates, customers, prospects, partners, suppliers and people we meet in transit or at events.  Too often, we treat these transactionally, as opposed to looking at them as opportunities to give to others.  If we instead inject a gift into each conversation, we deepen relationships, build our brand and create momentum. 

There are two key gifts you can bring to every conversation, and both are intangible (and scalable): 

  1. Knowledge - Look for insert points to share tips, useful reads or helpful perspectives. Be proactive in sharing a new hack you've found to solve a common problem. If you've read a book that can shift your conversational partner's thinking for the better, highlight the point, and if he's interested, unpack the core idea from the book.  Whether it's a small share or a mentor moment, he'll be enthused about the learning.  I've found that if I am patient, listen intently and do a little prep work prior to every interaction, there's always a knowledge sharing opportunity. 
  2. Encouragement - Validation is one of the most powerful psychological gifts we can give to another person.  It starts with listening to your conversational partner talk about her most important project, and prodding her to share details about her strategy, efforts and goals. Listen like the person who's on the receiving end of her efforts, which will turn up your noticing knob.  Point out the effective or creative things she's doing, and then expand on why that's either important to the project or inspires you.  By being sincere, you'll find that your gift of encouragement provides a real shot in the arm, which only fuels the energy level of the entire encounter. 

If you always bring a gift to conversations, you'll deliver high Return on Attention to others.  You'll find that they value time with you, they want to introduce you to their connections as well.  After all, you've differentiated yourself from the rest of the pack, which often brings needs, complaints or give-and-takism to their conversations.  Besides standing out, you'll find that in most cases, your gift is reciprocated with helpful advice and encouragement, just when you yourself needed it the most.

Video Clip: Everywhere You Go, Bring a Gift (from his BBST 2015 keynote)


April 01, 2015

Stop Being Medium Quality Maximum Quantity

Too many <entrepreneurial> people I know are constantly multi-tasking in their careers. 

Sure, when Benjamin Franklin endorsed pursuing "a network of enterprises," he was promoting career and interest diversity.  It was good for our creative thinking.  But he emphasized they be "networked" with each other. 

Lately, I've wondered if our constant spreading out of business ventures is good for our level of quality.  Some have a career consulting, supplanted by writing, overlaid with blogging, and then they develop myriad products on top of that.  The result?  A thinner voice and less you can sink your teeth into. 

I've taken a new approach lately: My projects must feed each other to remain on my calendar. Since I've started writing my next book (more on that later), you might have noticed that I've stopped blogging.  In fact, this is just a short break from my singular focus on the book to tell you I'm alive and well...and that I'm trying a new tact in life by focusing on the book above all. 

Sure, I still do my speaking engagements (which have either been about Love Is the Killer App principles or my new book subject).  But other ventures, not so much.  

You should give this a try also. Look at your calendar or your To-Do list or your project list and ask yourself: Are they all connected to the point that work on one improves the quality of the other? 

This is beyond time management.  It's about the quality of our work in a try-everything society. 


October 21, 2014

Are You Letting The Voices Around You Crush Your Effectiveness?

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It's late October, the heart of the Fall season where we finish off the year and set strategies for the next one. Of all months, it's the crunch one that counts. By mid-November, you are into the holiday season and before you know it, January is pressing down on you asking, "What have you done for us lately." 

You are only as strong as the voices around you. You think you can resist their message, but you are only human, and will succumb to their tone eventually. Everywhere you turn, there are voices broadcasting gloom, doom and misery. Your attention might be trapped by current events (Disease, Recession, War, etc.) and you can't focus. You are unable to work-on-your-work. 

As a leader, you are flailing at your job. Napoleon Bonaparte was often quoted as saying that, "the leader's role is to define reality, then give hope." And those voices go way beyond recognizing reality - the crush hope by conjuring up end-0f-your-world messages. Those voices are often internalized, becoming your voice...which is not moving the conversation at work forward. 

You are only as hopeful as the people you listen to. Think about the voices around you: The cable newscaster, the radio announcer, the people at work, the stars/celbs you follow, your social media feed. Are these positive or negative voices in your head? Are you getting smarter and better at your job from ALL of them? 

You should be as careful as to what you put into your head as what you put into your mouth. Voices of doom are toxic to your confidence and creative thinking capacity. So vanquish them. Shun them. Dismiss them. Ignore them. 

Although all of that sounds simple enough, you'll have a hard time managing these voices. So let me help you.  First, turn off the TV. These days it is literally the boob tube.  There is NOTHING there for your as a leader or a contributor. Next, scrutinize the radio shows and podcasts you listen to. Are they constructive, helpful or are they newsy (bad, mostly). Keep listening to just the ones that pass the "reality, then hope" sniff test. 

Next, reduce your time grazing online. Whether it's blogs, news websites of social media networks...there's bad stuff out there waiting to infect your mind and drag you down. I'm only on facebook these days to post helpful content. Any time spent surfing leads to Ebola or stock market or ISIS hysteria and various link-baiting headlines on fear-aggregation sites.  Be intentional about how you use the internet...make it a tool and not a mentally carciogenic habit. 

Finally, clean house when it comes to the people you hang out with at work, home and in your community. Give them a warning, and if they persist beating the drum, cut them off.  You can't be any good to anyone when you let them bring you down. 

Managers: Don't reward Chicken Little for his or her declarations that the sky if falling. They aren't adding value. Tell them, "You can't be freaked out enough to improve our Customer experience 1%!." In fact, it's during times of turmoil that all the great innovative leaps happen (read Hanging Tough for the proof.) This is your time to shine, not shirk in horror.  

If you feed your mind good stuff, even during these times, you will be part of the solution instead of a source of the problem.  See this video (Chicken Little Must Fry!) for a clip of me talking about a potential solution for managers at embattled companies during tough times. 

                    


September 25, 2014

What It Means To Be Creative At Work

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If you've attended a conference or visited the business section of a bookstore recently, you've likely been encouraged to bring your creativity to work.  There are dozens of books out, promising help you get unstuck and start your creative juices flowing.  Almost half of the lectures involve a discussion on the pressing need to be innovative and creative to survive.  A recent piece on this in the New Yorker (Creativity Creep) quotes a 2010 IBM study of 1500 executives to identified creativity as the #1 attribute they valued in employees.  

It makes sense, actually.  The business world is more complicated and turbulent than ever, putting pressure on everyone to "think outside the box."  This reminds me of all the marketing and branding books that came out at the turn of the 21st century, along with the proclamation that "Everyone is in the marketing department now!"  The best of those books (The End of Marketing As We Know It) finally defined marketing functionally, which empowered readers to actually become effective at it. 

We are at that point with the business creativity boom.  We know we need to be creative.  What most people aren't clear on is as to exactly what the heck 'being creative' means in a business context.  I'm writing a new book on creativity in the sales process and doing quite a bit of research along the way.  I've been looking for a very practical definition of creativity that applies to professional life.  And I think I've found a good one. 

In The Handbook of Creativity, Cornell professor Robert Sternberg offered a crystal clear business-centric definitinon of creativity: "The ability to produce work that is both novel (unexpected) as well as appropriate to the situation (useful)."  While other creativity experts argue that any new idea should be deemed creative, I like Sternberg's framing of the concept.  Like any other piece of business acumen, the proof is in the pudding. 

If you are creative at work, you produce the unexpected, the new...but it solves the problem and doesn't produce complications.  Notice I didn't say that creativity required completely original ideas as there is no such thing.  It's all about approaches that are unexpected.  

The reason we need to produce unexpected work (processes, products, ideas) is because people quickly develop tolerance to our expected approaches (often termed "best practices").  Think of the joke that you laughed at the first time you heard it, chuckled a little the second time you heard it and then didn't even respond the third time you heard it.  That's how a prospecting or closing technique plays out with customers.  That's how products become stale with customers, creating opportunities for incumbents to be disrupted with a fresh approach.  

The opposite of creative thinking is reproductive thinking.  This is where you use a conventional approach to reproduce success.  Your tried-and-true products yields customer delight.  Your conventional sales tactics yield revenues.  In the past, best practices had a long shelf life.  Companies could hatch them quicker than customers grew tired of them.  But those days are long gone.  To be successful, we have to take it upon ourself to produce the solution and not just rinse-and-repeat.  

What does it take to produce unexpected work that is appropriate to the problem at hand? Sternberg points out that creative work stems from ordinary thought processes that happen to produce extraordinary results.  It's not divine inspriation or genius thought processes.  Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile describes creativity as the "Confluence of intrinsic motivation, domain-relevant knowledge and creativity-relevant skills." That's it.  

If you care enough, learn enough and develop chops relevant to the problem space, you can produce creative work.  You can solve the problems that stand between you and success.  Creativity requires a lot of hard work on your part, and it starts with a clear understanding of your product, your customer and the processes that drive your business.  If you have the motivation to do all of this work, the fresh and useful ideas will emerge.  

In the end, regardless of your desires or effort, you'll need to be objective about the efficacy of your ideas.  You need to be able to test them for usefulness and be ready to jettison the out-of-the-box-never-been-done-before ideas that don't solve the problem.  They aren't creative.  They are merely imaginative and that's not what the CEOs in IBM's study were looking for in their talents. 

To borrow from designer Tim Gunn's lexicon, "Be the new, but make it work!"


September 09, 2014

Why Stars Don't Always Make Good Leaders

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Quick, name a Hall Of Fame player that was also a head coach.  It's quite rare, actually. but if you take this test on a company's sales or product group, the answer would be different.  We often graduate the rock stars of business to middle management and beyond.  That's the bench strength program of the average organization. 

Too often, though, the Peter Principle applies as the new manager struggles to make the leap from Rock Star to Director.  Why?  Because most stars are deeply scripted to focus on their personal improvement above all, so they can outwit and outlast.  Many stars are also good team players, but that's more about the give-and-take of strategy than it is coaching.  

Occasionally a star player exhibit's otherish tendencies, and that's when and only when they should be promoted to coach the team (manage a group).  Michael Jordan, who should know, once said: "It's one thing to get better and better, it's another to make everyone around you better." 

To offer a football analogy (It's Fall, after all), that's why so many of the top coaches in history were not rock star players: Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, etc.  Sure, they all played football in college, but they were not Pro Bowl caliber.  Why were they selected to lead others? In every case, they were spotted as having two key coaching talents early on: They lifted up others' performance and had a high football IQ. 

That's what should drive our management assignments.  We should learn to ignore the individual performance and zero in on that leadersish style, combined with a strong sense of the business.  When Jordan talks about the ability to "make everyone else better," he's talking about the ability to deliver the following: 

  • Education - The practice of gathering, distilling and sharing insights.  Great managers are well researched, candid and enthused when others learn from them.    
  • Enforcement - The willingness to challenge those that stray off course.  They enforce the culture and best-practices of the organization without fear of losing popularity. 
  • Encouragement - The tendency to be the first of the scene to cheer for someone who's made a great play.  When a team mate is down, they are there to pick them up and focus them on the next play.  They find a way to balance empathy with an eye on the potential that lies ahead. 
  • Esprit de corps - The ability to lift an entire team's spirit up, even in the most adverse situations.  The great manager fulfills what Napoleon Bonaparte described as the leader's role: "To define reality, then give hope." 

Marcus Buckingham, co-author of the management classic First Break All the Rules, directly applies this thinking to cube-farm living.  He once told me that the superstars soar with their strengths, while the average performers struggle to conquer their weaknesses.  The superstar manger, on the other hand, it the one that focuses the superstar on his or her strength to begin with.   

Here's the takeaway for leaders and HR professionals: Before you promote that superstar to the next level, question his or her leadership strengths.  You might be robbing the system of several more years of top production, just to fill a mangement role with a strong resume.  What you are looking for will not usually show up on paper, which means your ability to pick managers is going to be driven by your eagle-eye on others' ability to lift up others rather than break records. 


September 04, 2014

If I Was the Opening Keynote At Your Convention, Here's What I Would Talk About

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Over the last decade, I've had the opportunity to be the opening keynote speaker at over 300 conferences, meetings and conventions around the world.  Agents at speaker bureaus instinctively knew to recommend me when a meeting planner was "looking for someone to set the tone for our event."  Instead of defining my current vocation as professional speaker, I think of myself as a Conference Kickoff Specialist.  

Why me? I have enthusiasm, offer business-action content and have the right message (from Love Is the Killer App).  I find a way to validate the theme of the event and highly customize my keynote address to connect with speakers or sessions to follow over the course of the event.  Besides, I'm not afraid to speak at 8am, even to non-morning people. 

I've been studying the art of the Opening General Session for several years now, and have a perspective about them.  First, it's important to understand the purpose of conferences and conventions: They are the engine of innovation and human connections for an organization or industry.  In just a few days, you can create hundreds of friendly collisions, which lead to new ideas and robust relationships.  This is why they exist, even when times are tough.

If that's the charter, then what is the role of the Opening General Session? It encourages attendees to share knowledge with each other.  It sets the stage with a theme, objectives for the event (often learning oriented) and if successful, generates a thirst to learn and teach.  The session should also encourage networking and if possible, give insights on how to make meaningful connections.  If the session drives these two activities (Knowledge sharing and Networking), then the event will drive real value that lasts long after the buffet food is digested and surveys are completed.  

If you look up the definition of keynote, you'll find my role in that session: A prevailing tone or central theme, typically one set or introduced at the beginning of a conference.  

What would I likely talk about if I was the keynote speaker at your Opening General Session?  

  • Learners Are Leaders - The landscape at work and in the market is changing fast.  It rewards learners and punishes coasters, who try and get by on yesterday's education.  Some of the smartest and most successful people I've worked for (e.g. Mark Cuban) are first and foremost students with a voracious appetite to learn.  For them, a conference would be a feeding frenzy of intelligence.  Attend sessions, walk the trade show floor and open your mind up to learn. 
  • Knowledge Is Only Power If We Share It - Information silos kill organizations. They bottle up all the learning and dribble it out politically.  This is how legacy companies get passed by when times change and startups show up...with a culture of sharing not protecting. 
  • If You Share Ideas, You Gain Insights - When we use conference time to share ideas, learnings and research with each other, we enter a virtuous cycle of learning.  The more we invest in sharing with others, the more we receive from them.  The reciprocity habit is ingrained in our psyche: When someone gives you a tip, you try and give one back.  
  • We Are Only As Strong As Our Collective Know How - Sure, times change, but the learning organization benefits the most from the disruption.  If parts of our organization or industry aren't current in their thinking, bad things can happen for everyone involved.  It's the struggling division or company that drags down the whole, and often, their problem is a lack of intellectual capital. 
  • Your Network Is Your Net Worth - Our professional connections are our greatest resource at work.  When we build up a rich network of smart, generous and tenacious people, there's nothing we can't tackle.  On a personal level, your network offers you everything you need from mentorship to encouragement to resources.  
  • Networking Is About Giving, Not Gaining - The best networkers in history were highly generous.  They leveraged every interaction into an opportunity to identify opportunities to connect people that "should meet".  They expected nothing in return, other than follow up on the part of those they connected.  Their networks grew exponentially as a result.  
  • You Are Not Your Title, Following Or Wealth - You live a story about the difference that you made.  At work, it most comes down to educating others (including clients) and problem solving.  You will do this best if you believe that there's enough to go around, enough to share.  If you want to make a name for yourself, take this opportunity to introduce yourself around the event and find your way to make your mark.  

Example: Here's a clip from my keynote address at the opening general session for the Association of College and Technical Educators.  My goal was to get them hungry for the rest of the program content and eager to connect with each other.  

I'd love to open your next conference or convention. Please suggest me to your meeting planner or speaker bureau agent.  For more information, contact me


August 21, 2014

Do You Have the Courage To Mentor Up?

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Mentorship is an opportunity to build relationships and give gifts. Mentoring up, to those above you in rank or stature, may be one of your best career boosters. Really. This post will show you how to do it without getting shot for the message. 

There's a common misconception in our business culture that mentorship is a top-down activity. In The Hero's Journey, the mentor is often case as the Wise Old Man or the Wise Old Woman. Think Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or Miyagi in The Karate Kid. In this theory, one must have achieved success to pass on wisdom to the young or the new. 

If you actually research the origins of the mentor, however, you'll find a different story. According to the fabulous writer's tool The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler,  "the name 'Mentor', along with our word 'mental', stems from the Greek word for mind, 'menos', a marvelously flexible word that can mean intention, force or purpose.  Menos also means courage."

He illustrates why courage can be required to mentor: "Many of the Greek heroes were mentored by the centaur Chiron, a prototype for all Wise Old Men and Women. A strange mix of man and horse, Chiron was foster-father and trainer to a whole army of Greek heroes including Hercules, Actaeon, Achilles, Peleus and Aesculapius, the greatest surgeon of antiquity. In the person of Chiron, the Greeks stored many of their notions about what it means to be a Mentor. Chiron was not always well rewarded for his efforts. His violence prone pupil Hercules wounded him with a magic arrow which made Chiron beg the gods for the mercy of death."

Here's the idea: When you mentor others, you are a provider of knowledge to assist them in their journey. Regardless of their seniority, you do this because they need the help and no one knows everything.  This is especially true when times are filled with disruptive changes.  

In my experience, mentoring up has been a tool to build powerful relationships and a source of inspiration for my continual learning. When I worked at broadcast.com (1997-1999) and Yahoo (1999-2005), the Information Age was just taking hold. I poured myself into books and trade publications that gave me insights on topics such as eCommerce, permission marketing, digital technology and new media. I became wise beyond my experience in years.  

When I had opportunities to sit with legacy leaders such as Howard Stringer at Sony or Jim Keys at 7-11 or Mike Rawlings at Pizza Hut, I mentored them on the new world of Internet enabled business. I shared insights from books, case studies from trade journals as well as my perspective on "how the new world would work." 

At first, much like Hercules, some of them pushed back hard. One leader wrapped up our conversation within five minutes and reacted dismissively to my suggestions. I apologized via an email and sent him a book that underscored the point I was making about the disruptive nature of eCommerce. I included my cliff notes from the book.  Within a month, he invited me back and included his VP staff in the meeting. Eventually we did millions of dollars of business together. 

I've also had the audacity to mentor my managers and even executives a few clicks above me. By mentorship, I mean that I shared information and perspectives that I felt would assist someone in solving a problem or gaining a strategic insight. Usually, it was a single point or observation, backed up by experts or statistics. I knew that because I was mentoring up, I couldn't just make an assertion based on my experience. Only the Wise Old Tim could get away with that. It led to strengthened relationships and in one case, a champion who enabled me to become the Chief Solutions Officer of Yahoo!.  

Today, you have a unique opportunity to mentor up. It might be to your customers, prospects or your bosses or executives. The world is changing fast. Digital/Cloud/Mobile/Social/Global forces disrupt business in a compressed period of time. Whether or not your superiors (I use that term loosely) know they need it, information if required for their continued success. 

Or as George Clooney's character in Our Brother Where Art Thou often said, "When times are tough, people are looking for answers." 

Here's how to mentor up without getting hurt: 

* Gather knowledge. Lots of it. Become a knowledge pack rat. If you tell someone something they already know, it's not mentorship. If you fully commit to this, others will sense it as you share with them and be more receptive. 

* Seek first to understand, then to be understood: This nugget of wisdom from Dr. Stephen Covey applies here. You need to listen to your superiors to understand what they already know, what they fear and then what they need to know. If you jump in too quickly, you may offend or worse, miss the mark completely. When mentoring up, you likely have one chance to impress. 

* Make sure you are helping a benevolent hero. I've always looked for superiors that I respected and trusted to be the-bigger-person in any conversation. Every time I mentored up, I really wanted those legacy leaders to succeed and admired their past accomplishments. If I sensed they were mean spirited or overly defensive, I kept my trap shut. Remember Hercules. 

* Be respectful and follow up with proof. No one is ignorant or stupid just because he or she isn't yet calibrated to the times. There is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled. While he may not know how to use social media or why digitization is a threat to the core business, he can likely run circles around you in areas like finance, strategy or operations.  

I'm aware of the concept of reverse mentoring, where a senior leader asks for help. But this is a different concept all together, because it's the junior leader that takes the initiative. And that's why it's so much more impactful. 

If you follow these simple rules, you'll enable yourself to become closer to leaders that will help you on your journey too. My mentorship efforts to Stanley Marcus Jr. in the area of eCommerce led to him sharing insights with me about Customer Relationship Management and Talent Experience Design. As he told me in our last lunch meeting, "You'll never get dumber by making others smarter."  


August 07, 2014

Great Leaders Can Change the Subject

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Your work culture is a conversation, led by leaders or troublemakers, about how things are done around here.  If the leader isn't driving the conversation forward, troublemakers can move it sideways or backwards.  Troublemakers include the naysayers, doomsdayers and taker-types.  

Much of our work life is spent in conversations with others. When these conversations move forward, we make progress. When they go sideways, confusion reigns. When they slide backward, conflict and negative emotions ensue.

“Conversation is a game of circles,” wrote Ralph  Waldo Emerson. In other words, a conversation is useful but often is complicated by each player’s agenda. And yet, through this highly interactive process, we shape our attitudes and beliefs.  That's why it's important for leaders to take charge of the conversation.  

Too many conversations at work are moving everyone in the wrong direction. They can be historical, bringing up old-and-outdated subjects.  This leads to a collective hangover, where we can't shake off the weight of our past failures or the phantom menace of a long faded competitor.  There are conversations which exchange gossip information, usually about people.  Gossip is the fast-food of workplace conversation and often reduces its participants to base level thinking.  

The most paralyzing conversations are led by the Chicken Littles, who drum up fear through declarations that "the sky is falling."  They have the blogosphere and big media as their stronghold, and often punch much bigger than their weight.  All of these conversations must be led by leaders to a better place. 

One way that leaders can change the conversation is to directly challenge the historian, gossip or Chicken Little.  One manager who attended one of my talks took this to heart.  "When I spot a Chicken Little spinning up his coworkers unnecessarily, I ask him where he's coming from: Fear or confidence.  I use the experience to coach him on the difference between constructive information and fear-mongering."  

A second approach is to divert the conversation forward.  One way to do that is to reframe the bad news as an instant brain-storm about what each conversational participant can do about it.  Focus on the solution, not the problem. You can introduce a connected issue that leads to a discussion about a current project that everyone can contribute to.  You could simply introduce a progressive subject and drive the conversation towards it and away from the previously bad one.  While this requires finesse, great leaders have the strength to drive the conversation forward.  Each. And. Every. Time. 

Ignoring a sideways conversation is not an option.  Like a sore, they fester without your attention and often bubble up as a collective malaise.  Your job is to find the balance between empathy at a personal level and leadership at a conversational level.  

This comes from Principle Two from Today We Are Rich: Move the Conversation Forward. 


June 24, 2014

Your Schedule Is Killing Your Creativity

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Most people I know sabotage their career by being to efficient with their time.  They fill up their daily schedule with meetings and phone calls, thinking that they are being highly productive.  The result is a week of conversations, with little time left to "work on work."  

A recent IBM survey of over 1000 CEO's found that creativity was the top skill required for leadership success.  This makes sense, as innovation is the prescription for dealing with a highly disruptive business environment.  Technology, media, globalization all come together to put creative demands on leaders and manager everywhere. 

The problem is, creative thinking requires a lot of white space on your calendar.  It's not something you can schedule or squeeze in on a long flight or a Sunday afternoon.  Filmmaker David Lynch believes that "It takes four hours to get one hour of creative work done."  By that he means that we must enter into a problem consideration mode for extended periods of time to induce free association...which leads to innovative business solutions. 

But if your calendar is full of every call request and meeting invitation that comes your way, you won't have any time to think.  This is why I block out two hours of unscheduled time daily to work on my projects, research problems, white board solutions and passively think creatively while doing low mental-requirement tasks.  It's in these gaps where our breakthroughs occur.  

As a leader, you aren't paid to meet or talk to others.  You are paid to think.  Einstein, Edison and Jobs put their feet up on their desk or took long walks to actively consider solutions – and that's where their eureka moments happened.  

Make every meeting and calendar item fight for its life.  Pick the ones that are truly business drivers.  Limit your "getting to know you" lunches and out-of-office meetings to one a week and make them count!  If you find enough time during your most fruitful mental states (M-F days), you'll achieve the creative breakthroughs you need to make your mark. 


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