Posts Tagged ‘connecting’

3 Things You Need to Burn

October 11, 2011 5 comments

controlled burn

Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

– Smokey the Bear

Despite Smokey the Bear‘s fear campaign, not all forest fires are bad.

Fire is actually an essential part of forest ecology. In addition to clearing out combustible trees, brush and leaves, it stimulates the germination of new trees. In fact, cones from sequoia trees require the heat from fire to open and disperse seeds.

But we spent much of the 20th century trying to stop all forest fires. We damaged ecosystems and created tinder boxes for huge, hot, destructive fires. We ended up killing many of our forests with our kindness. 

We do the same thing in our organizations, in our relationships, and in our lives. We label the fires of change, conflict and constraints as bad—and we avoid them at all costs.

Just as forestry experts now use controlled fires to burn off dangerous undergrowth, here are 3 things you need to burn if you want a healthy life, authentic relationships or a streamlined organization:

• Bad Habits. I never fall off the wagon—if it was that abrupt, I’d realize it was happening. For me, unhealthy living begins with an innocent snack here or there, a missed workout that’s “not a big deal”, staying up just a little later to finish a blog post. Burn the bad habits. Feel the pain of discipline and let it set you free.

• Bad Behaviors. Over time we tend to let more and more slide with those we are closest to. The biting sarcasm that’s gone too far. The lack of follow-up on commitments. The erosion of standards we both once held. What behaviors are you overlooking in your spouse, friends, coworkers, or clients? Set those decaying behaviors ablaze and start over fresh.

• Bad Commitments. Every organization I’ve ever been a part of has suffered from mission creep. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of a Fortune 100 company or a local community board, the temptation—especially after success—to add initiatives that don’t align with your core mission is inescapable. Sear away the distractions and cling to your guiding purpose.

Bad habits, bad behaviors and bad commitments accumulate slowly and inconspicuously—like fallen tree limbs and dead leaves. Soon, not only is new growth stunted—in your organization, in your relationships, in yourself—but you’ve got a layer of dead things that are ready to erupt at any moment.

So don’t be afraid of fire. Use it wisely; use it often.

What else would you add to this list? What will you burn today?

The 4 Facets of Trust

September 29, 2011 7 comments


Trust. Such a simple and complex word.

I don’t trust the guy in this picture.

I do trust my wife, who adores me. And I trust my doctor, who has a bunch of letters after his name. I trust Bob Goff, whom I’ve never actually met. I even trust the chair I’m sitting in, without even thinking about it.

One word, multiple meanings. I believe understanding and leveraging trust is core to leading at an exceptional level.

How are you at gaining the trust of others?

Here are four fundamental facets of trust and how to cultivate each one:

• Reliability. The most basic facet of trust is achieved through consistent behavior. If you regularly come through for others—they can count on you—then they begin to trust you. I consider this the simplest facet of trust, not because it isn’t valuable, but because it’s the same kind of trust we give to inanimate objects such as chairs, instruments, or tools.

• Competence. The next facet of trust is gained through knowledge or expertise. If you’ve established yourself as an authority on something, you’ve gained a level of trust with others. This is the trust you have with your doctor, your teacher, your mechanic—anyone who you believe knows more about something (that you care about) than you do.

• Compassion. This facet of trust is earned when someone shows genuine care for another person. For someone to make an emotional investment in you requires them to shift focus off of themselves and place it on you. This immediately generates a level of trust. Whenever someone shows sincere concern for your welfare, you tend to believe that they’re on your side.

• Authenticity. The most potent facet of trust is engendered by casting aside all pretense. If you’ve ever run across someone with no masks, no agendas and absolutely nothing to hide, you know what I mean. They have a realness and rawness that sucks you in and makes you feel more real, more alive. Trusting them seems as natural as breathing—and distrusting them seems as awkward as holding your breath.

Fail to provide any of these qualities and you’ll lose the trust of those you’re trying to lead. Likewise, to the extent that you successfully demonstrate any of them, you’ll gain a corresponding level of trust with others.

How do you cultivate trust?



How to Turn Compliance into Commitment

September 28, 2011 8 comments

leadership “Webb, What’s going on in the world?”

Sounds like an innocent question, right? Not when it’s your first summer at West Point and the person asking is your Squad Leader. That simple question is code for: “Summarize for me an article from the front page of today’s New York Times.”

My response should have started something like, “Sir, today in the New York Times it was reported that…” Only one problem—I hadn’t read the paper that morning. A myriad of excuses flashed through my mind—Physical Training ran late, no one else has read the paper, We didn’t have enough time—but no upperclassman wanted excuses. There was only one appropriate response.

“Sir, I do not know.”

Here it comes, I thought. I prepared for the requisite shellacking.

But it never came. Instead of fury I found something quite different in Cadet Sarabia’s eyes that morning: disappointment.

As he moved on, I was left to deal with my own lack, silently soaking up his disappointment.

What I discovered during those few minutes amazed me. I felt I had let him down. I felt an intense desire to redouble my efforts, to not mess up again, to do whatever it took. I was surprised by what he had created in me: For the first time that summer I wanted to live up to someone’s belief in me, not just avoid punishment.

For weeks, undetected by me, John Sarabia had been sowing the seeds of trust. In that moment, he reaped the harvest. He had gained something from me that all the rules and regulations, all the pressure and stress couldn’t pry out of me: My Trust. I knew he believed in me. I knew he was on my side.

John had moved me from being merely compliant to being truly committed. And he did it by earning my trust.

How are you earning the trust of those you lead? How have leaders earned your trust in the past?

How to Prepare for Poor Communication

August 23, 2011 1 comment

Leader Development

Last week I visited the Pea Ridge National Military Park where 26,000 soldiers fought to decide the fate of Missouri during the Civil War. The park is the most intact Civil War Battlefield in the country—if you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

I’ve toured quite a few battlefields and I’m amazed at how many times poor communication is cited as one of the contributing factors to a defeat. Pea Ridge is no exception.

Usually, I respond with a renewed appreciation for the importance of good communication, but last week I gleaned a new insight from this reoccurring theme.

I realized that poor communication is inevitable—in spite of all of the books, blogs, and classes. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the power of communicating well as a leader. I’m just saying that even when you’ve done everything you can, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and missed messages will still plague your projects.

So, if some degree of poor communication is unavoidable, how do you prepare for it? Here are five ways to create a team that can operate effectively in the fog of war:

1. Start with Clarity. The inevitability of poor communication is no excuse for poor communication on your part. Just as in a game of telephone—where you know your original message will be mangled along the way—your best bet is to start with clear and simple statements. Do everything in your power to help others understand; make it difficult for them to go astray.

2. Train your People. The purpose of training is to give people the skills they need to act independently with confidence. As part of your training, practice performing in an environment where communication is garbled or non-existent. If your people learn to perform in an environment of simulated ambiguity, they’ll be much better prepared for the real world.

3. Foster Initiative. It isn’t enough to give people confidence in their own abilities, you must also give them permission to use them. You must encourage and reward their choice to act on their own. Only then will your people be effective in situations where orders are unclear and rapid decisions are required.

4. Encourage Positive Assumptions. In organizations where people are well-trained and initiative is cultivated, people know what to expect from their counterparts. Encouraging your team to assume positive intent with each other can serve to quickly mitigate any negative emotions ignited by unclear or incomplete communications.

5. Decentralize your Execution. Finally, after issuing clear guidance, equipping your people, encouraging initiative and reinforcing positive intent, you can release central control of operations and delegate decision-making down to the lowest level. This creates an agile and responsive organization that can quickly outmaneuver the competition to gain the advantage.

How do you prepare for poor communication?

The Power of Listening

July 27, 2011 9 comments

listen leadershipHave you ever had someone really listen to you? I mean stop what they’re doing, drop everything, and listen…to you? Remember how that made you feel?

I’ve asked that question to hundreds of people and I’m amazed at the responses I get. Here are just a few:

valued important trusted free
strong alive cared for empowered
confident brave smart meaningful

Wow. Imagine if you could create those effects in the people you’re trying to lead. Impossible? Beyond your capability? Hardly.

Every human being has the power to engender these emotions in others. Every human being can listen. It’s not always easy—there are thousands of things vying for your attention—but the ability is there. Here are a couple fundamental things you can do to become a better listener:

1. See. Before you can listen to someone you have to know they’re there. Not just their physical form as you walk by them, but the full weight of who they are and what they’re going through and what they have to offer. The first step to listening is truly seeing the people around you.

Try This: Instead of thinking of your day as a series of tasks you need to complete (as you probably already have), reframe your day by planning it out by the people you will encounter—family members, friends, bus drivers, waiters, bosses, clients, etc. Then spend the rest of your day looking for them.

2. Focus. At any given moment, your default focus is zeroed in on one person: Yourself. Nothing wrong with that, it just is. But if you’re going to lead others effectively, you must transfer your focus to others. Unless you feel safe with someone or find them fascinating, you must consciously choose to shift your focus to the other person.

Try This: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes as they speak, imagine the world from their perspective, hang on each word like they were the most important person in the world. Banish any hint of self while you listen—don’t worry about your point of view, your opinion or what you’re going to say next. Focus on experiencing what they’re sharing.

Listening is one of the easiest and most difficult things we can do. However, I can’t think of anything that has a more profound effect on people.

Have you ever had someone truly listen to you? How did it make you feel?

7 Tips for Leading Top Performers

June 28, 2011 3 comments

leadership motivation25 years ago the best employees set their sights on the gold watch, a comfortable retirement, maybe a house in Florida.

Things have changed.

In today’s free-agent economy, top performers are building their personal brand, pursuing multiple careers, and choosing great opportunities over company loyalty.

So how do you create a culture where the thought of leaving is laughable? How do you establish an environment where the very best can thrive? Here are seven ways to lead the best of the best:

1. Keep your ego in check. Sometimes, your best performers are better than you. This is a good thing! Don’t let your pride get in the way of serving the best interests of your organization. Find a way to help them release their potential. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.

2. Give them your time. It’s said leaders spend 80% of their time with the bottom 20% of their performers. Well, stop it. Deal with or eliminate the bottom 20%. Regardless, give your top performers the time, attention, recognition, development, and resources they need. Pour your capital into the investments that are working!

3. Let them run. Let them run fast. Give them responsibility, authority, flexibility and autonomy. Listen to their ideas. Establish clear, mutually agreed upon boundaries and then give them the freedom to exceed your expectations.

4. Don’t let them be unevenly yoked. Don’t rely on your top performers to continually pull the weight of slower members of your team. Yes, it’s important that their values and goals are integrated with the rest of the team and yes, they’ll pitch in to help when needed. But don’t make that the rule. Don’t shackle them to people who can’t keep up with them.

5. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t think for a second that just because someone is good that they know they’re good. As long as you’re honest, you can never go wrong giving sincere positive feedback.

6. Talk to them about their dreams. Expect them to want bigger things. Where do they want to go? What do they want to do? Helping them work toward their personal goals will bind them to you and your team all the more.

7. Let them go when it’s time. Protegés get promoted. Kids leave for college. Star players move up to the next league. Don’t hold them back. You’ve got a limited amount of time—use it to develop your top performers into solid leaders. They’ll move on, but their gratitude and loyalty will remain.

Keep these seven tips in mind and you’ll keep your best performers happy—not to mention become a magnet for top talent in your organization, if not your entire industry.

What tips do you have for leading top performers?

Watch Your Words

June 20, 2011 7 comments

leadership communicationYou need to be careful what you say as a leader.

I remember a Beetle Bailey comic strip from years ago that begins with General Halftrack standing atop a cliff watching the sun go down. He remarks to his aide, “What a beautiful sunset. I hope the troops are enjoying it.” His aide immediately runs off. In the final frame, unknown to the General who is still soaking in the view, every soldier on Camp Swampy has been mustered to stand in formation and watch the sunset.

I saw the same thing happen recently in a corporate team. A leader mentioned an idea in passing—just thinking out loud—and it was taken as a directive, so much so that resources were diverted from the team’s main effort to satisfy what turned out to be a fleeting thought.

Many leaders don’t realize the frustration they can cause with a few idle words. Here are three things you can do to prevent well-meaning staff members from going overboard:

1. Communicate clearly what your priorities are. Be overt about it. Tell people specifically what their main effort should be. No one should have to assume or infer anything.

2. Think about how others might misinterpret your words. Put yourself in their shoes, then clarify as necessary. Telling others what you don’t mean is just as useful as telling them what you do mean.

3. Train others to listen for and learn your intent. If they can understand that, then they’ll be armed to take initiative and make smart decisions without you.

Use these three tips wisely and you’ll avoid suffering the resentment of your team over something you never intended in the first place.