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Posts Tagged ‘planning’

Replace your Resolutions with a Plan

January 23, 2012 12 comments

Leadership Leap ChallengeI’m not a fan of New Year resolutions. Why? Three reasons:

  1. I stink at them.
  2. I feel compelled to think them up on the last day of the year, in a post-holiday coma, with no clear plan of how I’m actually going to accomplish them. (Is it any wonder that 88% of New Year resolutions fail?)
  3. They promise hope but deliver guilt.

So we’re 23 days into 2012—how are you doing on your New Year resolutions? Odds are you’ve slipped up a little here and there. That’s assuming you haven’t tossed the whole idea after temptation tackled your willpower in a moment of weakness and beat you back into submission.

The good news is you can start all over today (if you want to). Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year. Don’t worry though, if you need more time, you could wait until April and celebrate the Hindu New Year. After that, you’ve got Rosh Hashanah in September or even Hijri New Year in November.

You see, what you know as January 1st is actually an arbitrary date that was set by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. That’s the year he introduced the Gregorian calendar to correct astronomical inaccuracies in the Julian calendar the Romans used. It took over 300 years for most of the world to adopt the Gregorian Calendar, but today we don’t give it a second thought.

The truth is, every day is the start of a new year.

That’s what gave me the idea for The Leap Challenge. If January 1st is essentially a random start date, then why not take January to recover from the holidays and get used to writing 2012 on everything. Starting February 1st, we could take an entire month to set ourselves up for success—refining our vision, gathering support, developing a plan, and preparing to execute it. Then on Leap Day, February 29—arguably the most astronomically arbitrary date in our calendar—we could take the leap on accomplishing not just a resolution but one of our biggest dreams.

If you’re interested, then join us for The Leap Challenge and trade in your hasty resolutions for a fighting chance at accomplishing one of your biggest dreams.

How do you feel about New Year resolutions?

5 Things I Learned Flying a Desk

November 22, 2011 9 comments

Leadership staffMy first real job as an Army Aviator was as a junior staff officer in an Attack Helicopter Battalion. Instead of helicopters and soldiers I was given projects and paperwork. Instead of employing combat power, I was employing PowerPoint.

My turn in the cockpit would come—and it would go—but the lessons I learned in that first staff job have stuck with me to this day. Here are 5 things I learned early on:

1. The BLUF Principle. BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Every communication (e.g. memo, report, message, etc.) should start with what’s most important. Forget the structure they taught you in English class, get to the point, then—once you have their attention—share the pertinent background, analysis, and exposition.

2. Execution trumps planning. A poor plan executed brilliantly is always better than a brilliant plan executed poorly. As a planner, don’t go for a brilliant plan. Instead, set people up for brilliant execution. Often that means creating a simple, elegant plan that’s easy to understand, easy to communicate and easy to believe in.

3. Leaders are everywhere. Your best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones getting the most out of people on the front line. They may be the ones in the back room helping part-timers understand how the mundane and seemingly inconsequential tasks they perform everyday help ensure the success of the entire organization.

4. Don’t sit on information. The longer you take to process and pass on information—any information—the less time everyone down the line has to think, plan and act. Information is the fuel of informed decisions, do everything you can to maximize the time decision makers have with critical data.

5. Those bastards at Squad HQ. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at in an organization, the folks at the next higher level will seem like incompetent idiots who only exist to make your job—and life—miserable. Get over it. Assume positive intent and give them the benefit of the doubt. Make time with them face to face on a regular basis to have open and honest discussions.

What did you learn from working on a staff?

5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders

November 14, 2011 18 comments

VeteransI was stunned to learn that the unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is up to 12.1%. That’s more than 3% higher than the national average. The more I looked into it, the more misconceptions I discovered employers had about military experience.

A few weeks ago, Mark Norton, my friend and coworker at McKinney Rogers, asked me a great question. He was preparing a speech to a group of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo and asked me which aspects of military leadership I thought were most applicable to business leaders.

I came up with four things on the spot that I learned in the Army that I’ve seen lacking in the corporate and non-profit worlds. I’ve since added one more. Here they are:

1. Develop Junior Leaders. Junior officers and NCOs win today’s battles. Developing their judgment and empowering them to take initiative enables decentralized execution—which gives organizations the agility needed to operate in highly complex, rapidly changing environments (sound familiar?).

2. Leverage “Commanders Intent.” As Ike said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Understanding the leader’s intent—her purpose, key outcomes, and defined endstate—empowers individuals and teams to adapt, improvise, and succeed.

3. Task Organize. Missions and teams are not all created equal. Form specific teams to achieve specific outcomes. Establish universal standards and train people to operate globally in different multifunctional teams.

4. Use your Operators as Trainers. In the military, training falls under operations—not HR. Operators understand what skills the field needs, and they’re the natural choice to teach those skills. Human Resources tracks and records individual progress, but never delivers or resources training.

5. Focus on “Mission first, People always.” The forced choice between making your numbers or caring for your direct reports is a false dichotomy. Taking care of your people is taking care of business. Likewise, taking care of business is taking care of people.

Don’t assume that a veteran’s experience is void of business relevance. There are exceptions of course, but the vast majority of veterans have learned to get results by working hard, thinking creatively, and taking care of people.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take someone like that on my team any day.

What other aspects of military leadership do you think would benefit business leaders?

How to Push through “Good Enough”

October 20, 2011 5 comments

Leadership BreakthroughYesterday we discussed the snare of Good Enough—how it entices you to give up, give in, and settle for less than you originally aimed for. Today we’ll talk about how to break free from the comfort of Good Enough.

After moving across the country this summer, my family and I had to quickly set up our new house. I was working full-time on Walmart’s Leadership Academy and my pregnant wife was working full-time keeping up with our two toddlers and getting everyone settled.

Needless to say, once our home reached an acceptable level of functionality (i.e. “Good Enough”), we pressed on to more immediate tasks. And it was fine. For a while. But with Sarah’s due date approaching next month, we both knew that if we didn’t unpack those last boxes, finish the rooms and get the house under control now, it might never happen.

So that’s what we did last weekend. We hunkered down, laid siege to our own home, and came out the other side victorious. Looking back, here are 5 things we did to bust out of Good Enough:

1. First, Focus on what’s at stake. Sarah and I started the weekend with a date. We went out to dinner (sans children) and aside from the usual catching up and enjoying each other’s company, we discussed the consequences of failing to get our house ready. It kept us from inviting people over and engaging with our neighbors. The general disorder was affecting our kids’ behavior. The state of things dragged down our moods and sapped our energy.

2. Fully commit the required resources. I took Friday and Monday off from work. We had planned on cleaning for two days and camping for two days. It soon became apparent, however, that we needed more time for the house so we cancelled our camping trip. It was a sacrifice, but we just weren’t willing to live with the consequences of keeping our house at Good Enough.

3. Bring others along with you. I actually considered sending my wife and kids somewhere else for a few days so I could knock out all the work myself. I’m so glad I didn’t act on that fantasy. I’m certain I wouldn’t have gotten as much done as we all did working together. The combination of accountability, collaboration, and camaraderie not only made the journey enjoyable, it made it successful.

4. Create a realistic plan. Did I mention that we have two small kids? And that my wife is 8 months pregnant? We had to be careful not to let Sarah over do it and we had to account for the daily needs of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. So we also set reasonable goals for each day that kept us motivated and on track. We got our kids fired up and solicited their help where we could, but for much of the four days one parent was always playing with the kids.

5. Celebrate Successes (then keep going). At each room’s completion we threw a mini-party with our kids. We made sure they knew where everything was and the freedom they had within each space. We also shared some new rules, like clearing your own dishes from the table (which they absolutely love) and cleaning up the playroom before going to bed (which they aren’t as crazy about). The trick here is not to celebrate too long—keep moving forward!

With these 5 steps we successfully gained the upper hand on our house. We’ve been maintaining the ground we gained—while continuing to isolate and eliminate remaining areas of resistance. I hope you can use some these steps to help you push past Good Enough and get into something truly Great!

What other tips do you have for pushing through Good Enough?

Out-of-Control Leadership

September 7, 2011 5 comments

leadership adventureWe all want control.

We want to control our finances, our projects, our teams, our relationships, our future. We yearn for that sense of security that control promises. Just look around—nine out of ten advertisements are selling you some form of control.

Control, however, is an illusion and the security it offers is hollow.

Truth is, there are a million things just beyond your grasp at any given moment. The weather. The price of oil. The competition. The people around you. Your next breath.

You can respond to that truth in 3 ways:

  1. Do Nothing and be tossed around by the wind and waves of life.
  2. Try to control the uncontrollable and wear yourself out in the process.
  3. Learn to adapt to any situation life throws at you.

Exceptional leaders don’t waste time trying to change the wind—they learn how to sail. An experienced sailor can use wind from any direction to propel her boat in the direction she desires. Depending on how she trims the boat and sails, she can run with the wind, cut at right angles or even beat a course upwind. She can’t control the wind, but she can use it.

In the same way, exceptional leaders adapt to changing environments, harness the emotions in a situation, and adapt to the needs of those around them.

True power doesn’t come from control—that’s a small, limited substitute for power. True power belongs to those who can harness the uncontrollable, adapt to the inconceivable, and maneuver in the unknown to accomplish their goals.  This is true power, true security, and true freedom.

How are you at Out-of-Control Leadership?

To Change Or Not To Change…

August 30, 2011 1 comment

Azimuth Check

One of the toughest decisions a leader has to to make at any given moment is whether to stay the course or make a change.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about strong leaders who stayed the course—through distractions, trials and temptations—and won the victory in the end. Unfortunately, I’ve heard just as many stories of leaders who kept doing what they were doing only to be surpassed by more agile competitors who adapted to change quicker than they could.

So how do you know the difference between a challenge to be taken in stride and a challenge that demands you to change your plans?

The key is to keep focused on your purpose, not just your plan.

While none of us can see the future, we can all keep our eyes on what’s important—on the reason why we are doing whatever it is we are doing. That “Why” can help us answer any question—be it strategic, tactical or anything in between.

If a challenge makes the journey more painful or uncomfortable, but doesn’t endanger the fulfillment of your purpose, then suck it up. However, if a new challenge significantly hinders your purpose, adjust your plan immediately.

How do you choose between sticking to your guns or changing things up?

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?