Sometimes Being a Leader Means Saying Goodbye

DrowningThere is a romantic notion that a leader is like a knight in shining armor.  They can save anyone and anything in any situation and everybody will cheer their efforts and laud them a hero.  As great as that sounds, that is not always the case. 

Sometimes, the best way for a leader to lead is to remove themselves from the situation.  The circumstances dictate that the right move is for new blood to tackle the issue.  Even the noblest of leaders cannot fix every issue.  Their skill set, belief system, or team constraints force them to step aside and let someone else try to resolve the situation.

In many instances, it is better for a leader to leave them wanting more instead of staying too long.  It is better to be seen as going out on top because when the failure to achieve occurs, the fall may be too great for the team to bear.

We see this a lot with celebrity CEOS, TV personalities, politicians, and athletes.  But it also happens every day in companies, non-profits, and schools.  The leader reaches a point where they are no longer effective.  Their message is tuned out, their results are not what anyone is accustomed to, and rather than accepting that they had a good run, they hang on too long.

Often times, the demise is self-imposed by doing things illegally or by cutting corners.  Other times, it is just the natural business cycle.  Someone was lucky enough to catch the wave and not smart enough to get off before the crash.

If you are a leader who does not feel they are being effective anymore, you need to evaluate whether you should still be leading that team.  Be proactive to figure out how to recharge your team and honestly access what they need to be successful.  If the answer is not you, you need to be the leader that you are and move on.

It may be scary to change positions or to be between positions, but your reputation and the team you leave behind will thank you.

Yes is Only the Beginning

bigstock-Business-people-shaking-hands-38603158I have been talking to colleagues who work in a variety of industries, different sized companies and all over the corporate ranks about the difficulty to execute projects in today’s business setting.  Even in meetings where everyone agrees to green light something, the next steps are taking weeks, months and years to execute.

We came to the conclusion that when people say “Yes”, what they really mean is “Time to start the arduous task of making this happen.”  The reasons are complex, but a simplistic view is that companies are more siloed and centralized than they want to admit.

Getting projects through the myriad of approvals, checks and balances, and legal clearance is taking longer than ever and is greatly affecting companies’ abilities to innovate, change and grow.

Take a company like mine, Halo Health, which provides patient education in waiting and exams rooms that customized to the health system or practice’s needs.  On the surface, the question is simply do we want to replace cable TV with a digital education system?  Which usually leads to a yes decision.

But in the environment we live in, from “yes” to installation becomes ten meetings, four requests for sample content, three rescheduled installation dates due to “IT” (which is never the case, so Techs don’t hate), and months of ultimately patients losing out on the ability to live healthier.

There is an overall fear of making a decision.  People are hiding behind workloads, data, and insecurity.  We as leaders need to break through this muck.  99% of the decisions that you make can be reversed, altered, or forgotten about.  Do not let “no-brainers” get bogged down because you are worried that in the above case, a patient may switch doctors because they like watching CNN.  WHAT!?  That flawed logic tells me that you need to spend more time on making sure people know your differentiation from the competition.  And hopefully a lack of patient education is not seen as a positive.

Leaders must balance flexibility and conviction.  If you believe in the project that you just turned on, take it by the horns and run it through your company, knowing that you are going to run into roadblocks and challenges.

Communicate to stakeholders on the status of the project.  If it is a low priority project, tell everyone.  They appreciate knowing where they stand.

Hold people accountable.  Projects losing steam because of bureaucracy are costing everyone millions of dollars in hard costs and thousands of hours in soft costs.

Shorten time from yes to go and you will be a corporate hero.

The Key to Success is Knowing What Details to Attend

checklistI tend to snicker when people tell me that they have great attention to detail or that they are big picture strategists so details aren’t their thing.  Both kinds of people raise red flags to me when assembling my team.

People who are self-proclaimed detail oriented tend to look only at what is in front of them and fixate on the current issue.  Big picture people often overlook their day to day responsibilities as they try to “take the long view”.

When assembling your team, you need to identify people who know what details they need to perform their tasks while keeping their focus on both short term and long term results.   This is especially important as most companies can slice and dice data on every piece of minutiae regarding their business.  Start asking yourself:

  1. What is the goal of this piece of information? Does it help me perform my job better?  Help a corporate or customer issue?  Solve a problem?  If the answer is no, look for better data points.  Sales reports that just show units and sales are a good example of this.  You need to understand so much more before you decide what the best-selling items are like average price, gross margin, net margin, availability, etc.
  2. Is this information “repeatable”? Meaning, is this something that I need to share with my team to help them perform their job better?  A report that shows customer payment terms and trends can be a great report, especially if a customer who is complaining about their margins does not take their discount terms.  That type of report is good for anyone who touches your customers, including finance.
  3. What if I don’t know this data? Or more likely, what if I forget the data?  How will the lack of knowledge affect my team?  If it is something that is easy to look up, like a list price, then don’t commit it to memory.  If it is something that you need for a presentation like a deadline or project milestone, you better remember it.

Use the 80/20 rule when going through the details.  Remembering the 20% that drives progress is the key.  Good luck.

Leading When Your Team is Not 100%

unmotivated-employees-in-meeting_pop_18933When your team is firing on all cylinders, it is a beautiful thing to watch.  High quality work gets done on time, on budget and everyone is moving in harmony.  Your team works as one and becomes the envy of your company, heck even your industry.

But what happens when life gets in the way?  Maybe a team member or their family is dealing with a private health issue, or someone just gets into a funk.  How do you work to bridge that noise in the system to get the team back up to speed?

1.       Communication- you need to talk to your team member about what is going on and how you can help them.  You also need to discuss with your team how to improve its performance with that team member potentially pulling less than their weight for a time being. 

2.       Confidentiality- However, you are not to disclose what the issues may be.  That is for the team member to share if they feel comfortable.  The leader should never be the one to break that type of news nor should they speculate on that person’s condition or state of mind.

3.       Clarity- you need to keep the team’s focus and goals in plain sight.  Changing or wavering on the team’s direction because of a personal issue brings great unrest to the team.  Keep everyone focused on the tasks at hand.

4.       Comfort- depending on the situation, you are going to need to assure your team that they can achieve their goals- even if a key contributor is not able to perform at their normal level.  You also need to reassure the team member that they are valued and will have plenty of room for growth when they return to 100% focus.

5.       Confidence- now is not the time for you to lose faith in your team.  You need to believe in them even more in times of adversity.  They look to you for guidance and strength.  Be a pillar for them to build momentum and peak performance off.

One more thing, you need to get HR involved.  They are experts in helping team leaders get through issues like this.  Their insight helps you steer and guide your team through the trials and tribulations of life.  Ignoring them would be foolish.

Good luck and become well versed in the 5C’s.  Unfortunately, your leadership road is going to be filled with adversity.

Leading Means Watching Your Team’s Time

man late looking to his watchAnyone who knows me, knows that I am not a clock watcher.  I believe you dedicate the time to get a job done- whether it is completing a project or perfecting a skill.  But as a leader in the new workplace, I find myself watching the clock.

 

Labor laws were not made for our 24/7 social media world that we are living in today.  The laws are based traditional 40 hour work weeks with overtime laws based on working more than the 40.  This leads to a huge issue for leaders.  You have a mix of professionals, support staff, and production workers who are all classified and compensated differently. 

 

Not only do you need to be mindful of what your team is doing during traditional work hours or shifts, you need to be aware of their personal time too.   Contacting hourly employees or salaried employees who earn less than the Department of Labor’s thresholds during their off hours needs to be documented, and the employees’ hours need to be adjusted.

 

You might just be asking your admin to check your flight, but that fifteen minutes of work while he is at home needs to be tracked.   The same goes for the texts and emails that get sent (and you expect the recipient to answer) from customers, colleagues on different shifts, etc.  Don’t forget the “Can you post this?” requests as well.  They are all work requests that are not happening during traditional work hours, but need to be tracked.  Otherwise both your team and you are out of compliance with the law. Remember every communication sent and received is time stamped.  It is not hard to figure out that your team is answering out of work.

 

This is especially dangerous with shared services, especially when you are responsible for the cost center, but not all of the work comes from your team.  Multiple bosses may be asking for a person to complete tasks without them realizing it. 

 

There are some ways to make sure your team is covered and compliant. 

 

1.       Ask your “affected” employees to track their time spent out of work on work issues and deduct it from their weekly in office rules.  For instance, if you notice that a person spends three hours a week working at home, let them leave at 2 pm on Fridays. 

 

2.       Encourage non-essential workers to not bring home their laptop, check email or answer company related texts.  This way they are truly out of pocket. 

 

3.       Be more mindful of your requests.  If you are no longer emailing at 2 am, chances are your team will stop too.

 

4.       Shorten your “in office” work week to compensate for the out of work responses. Working 8:30-4:30 reduces your work hours to 37.5 hours meaning that the first 2.5 hours working out of work are covered.

 

Some labor attorneys are going to make a lot of money on this with a class action suit.  Make sure your team is not the reason your company goes under.

 

Don’t Ease Up at the Finish Line

lady-at-finish-lineAt this point in the year, everyone is comfortable in their company.  They know how the company should finish the year, what kind of bonus to expect and whether their position is likely to move forward into the new year.  They know what is expected of them to perform their tasks and who to work with to accomplish that.

As a leader, you are also probably feeling good about your team.  You are looking forward to the natural ramp down due to the holidays and recharging your batteries to drive your team starting in the new year.  Budgets and goals have been approved and unless you work in a seasonal business, meeting frequency has dropped.

But a true leader knows that now is not the time to rest on your laurels.  You need to keep your forward momentum going.  There is no on/off switch on your team’s performance.  Allowing the bad habits of being content creep into your culture will take months to remove.  Everyone deserves a little coasting time, but not at the expense of team performance.

Now is a good time to:

1.       Review holiday vacation schedules.  Coverage is key.  Clients (both internal and external) will still need your team to perform at peak efficiency.  Having your entire team out at the same time will surely hurt your company’s performance.

2.       Do a “final review” of this year’s goals.  Before bonuses and performance evaluations start, take the time to go through each member’s goals and challenges to see where they will end up.  If they need to schedule a continuing education class, now is the time to do it.

3.       Have a preliminary 2017 team meeting.  Let your team know what may be expected of them in the coming months so they can mentally prepare for it.  Go over challenges, rewards, and plans.

4.       Review your goals with your management.  Without their buy in, getting anything done will be next to impossible.  Ask them specifically for ways for you to improve personal and team performance and efficiency.

Use this slow period to position your team and yourself to have the best year as possible.  Waiting until January to do that is not smart and will only cause your team to not live up to their potential.

Leaders- Don’t Underestimate

balanced-livingYou are sitting in yet another meeting.  The same old gang is bringing up the same old ideas.  Then something happens, someone comes up with a brilliant solution to your problem.  Everyone takes a clue from the spark and suddenly your meeting is exciting and worthwhile.  The results will be so strong; they will erect a statue in the lobby of you being hoisted by your team.

Yeah, that usually doesn’t happen.  However, one of the truest measures of being a leader is not underestimating the ability of your team.  This can be either in performance, potential, or awareness.  Any of these three areas can damage your ability to lead.

1.       Performance-  this is the obvious one.  Underestimating how your team can perform will undo your leadership.  You need to give your team realistic and challenging goals.  Goals that half of the group may not achieve.  Bonuses are not extra salary.  Giving everyone easy targets will yield them to be lazy and not put forth the effort to excel.

2.       Potential- your goal as a leader is to maximize everyone’s potential; whether that is someone who will end up as the CEO or as a key contributor in a key position for years.  By underestimating what everyone can individually achieve, you are doing their careers a disservice.  And guess what?  Leaders who do not get their teams promoted don’t get promoted either.  Understand where each person wants to go and help them achieve it.

3.       Awareness- despite working for you, your team is not stupid.  People are keenly aware of your perception of them, what is going on in the company, and how other teams are treated.  You are sadly mistaken if you think that people will follow you just because you are their boss.  They may listen to you and do the job asked, but you are not inspiring them and building your village.

You need to take the time to analyze how you treat your team, how you perceive your team, and how your team performs relative to the rest of the company or industry.  By being truthful with them, you will be truthful with yourself- which is the real key to becoming a leader.

Lead by Listening

old-man-business-suitNext to “Waiting Your Turn”, listening is the hardest thing to do.  In our Type A, fast paced work environment, the popular feeling is that you only get ahead by telling people your ideas, telling them how to do their jobs, and telling the customer what they want.

But that is exactly how a leader should not act.  To become a leader in your industry, company, or team, you need to listen and hear what your key stakeholders have to say.  A leader needs to listen, hear, comprehend and process what is being told to them.  They need to understand not only what the person is saying but what they actually mean.

As you develop your skills as a leader, remember that conversations are two way communications.  You need to listen at least 50% of the conversation otherwise it is a lecture.  I have developed some techniques that work well for me.

1.       Take Notes.  By writing down what the person says, you are able to remember and reference their points during the conversation.

2.       Maintain Good Eye Contact.  By actually looking at the person talking, it makes you feel what they are saying.  This will help you look between the lines.

3.       Let Them Finish.  Too often you interrupt the person because you want to make a point or interject a rebuttal.  Wait until their point is made.  It gives you extra time to process their point of view.

4.       Say Nothing.  This works really well when someone is worked up.  Nod so they know you are listening, but let them get it off their chest. 

5.       Paraphrase Their Point.  By repeating the issue or idea back to them, you build consensus in what the topic is.  Reiterating the point also shows you listen and understand them, even if you do not agree.

6.       Ask More Questions.  When someone is really intense about a subject and you are having an issue understanding, ask more questions until you can guide them into what they are actually talking about.

These issues are even more important when you are reading emails or other correspondence.  It is immensely frustrating when someone requests a meeting to discuss something and you answer with a sales pitch.  Listen to what they are asking for- even if ultimately you are trying to sell them something.

Close 2016 with a Bang

2017_new_year_template_design_with_runway_6824428Now that Labor Day is behind us, it is time to enter the final push to make 2016 successful.  There are roughly 80 days until Thanksgiving, which basically ends the work year.  That is less than 60 work days to make an impact on your year.  Instead of freaking out, figure out what you need to do to make the year a success for your company, team and yourself.

I would focus on the following areas.

1.       Your Professional Development.  It is time to stop procrastinating and get your continuing education credits (and other training) done.  It is important that you invest in yourself but also that you are current.  One of the easiest ways to get overlooked for a promotion is because you let your credentials lapse.

2.       Your “Stated” Goals. It is a great time to check where your progress on your performance goals.  Are you going to make bonus?  Where are you missing budget?  Do you have the tools to fix it?  This should be a quarterly exercise any way, but for the fourth quarter, now is the time to review.  Waiting until October is too late.

3.       Your Short Term Projects.  Stay motivated and get all of those annoying quick projects off your desk.  Need to analyze some boring reports or reorganize an office area?  Take care of it now. You get to cross them off your To Do list and add them to your accomplishments for the year.

4.       Your Long Term Projects.  Guess what?  The end of the year is upon us.  All of those reengineering programs that you were going to do, need to be sped up and finished.  Was reinventing the sales cycle or the AP process all year a project?  The time to get it done is now.  What is great about this type of pressure is that it unclouds you and enables you to work through the project with renewed interest.

5.       Your Personal Development.  Look at the relationships you developed over the year and see how they impacted your ability to perform your job better.  If you did not invest in building deeper relations with your co-workers, customers, or colleagues, then you need to do it now.  Focus on growing your sphere of influence.  The more people who like you, the easier it is to get your tasks completed.

End the year on a high, work hard to improve your performance and you will reap rewards.  Who knows, you may figure out how to coast all year and surge your way to greatness.

What Happens When Your Leader Leaves?

control-tense-situation-150x150This is a question that gets asked a lot in terms of team sports.  Just this week, the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers had to ask that question before and after their trade of two clubhouse leaders.  NFL teams ask themselves that every time they cut a trusted veteran and decide to keep a younger player.  Their businesses are built on cohesion and chemistry.  Tinkering with that mix may yield a disastrous season.

In the business world, these changes happen all of the time.  CEOs and other senior leaders change companies constantly, taking their “team” with them from job to job.  The leadership void that is left behind can potentially cripple a team or company until the next regime comes in and starts implementing their plan.

Regardless of your spot in a company, when your leader leaves, you have a chance to improve your company standing.  Being ready for that opportunity is a key to your upward mobility.  You should focus on the following:

1.       Interpersonal relationships within the current organization.  If you are a good teammate and have made positive relationships in the key departments that affect your team, you are already on the radar for moving up.  Continue investing in these relationships when there is a leadership void.  Your presence will help you become a go to person.

2.       Global perspective.  Looking at your corporate landscape and understanding where the company needs you will help you gain the access needed to become a more valued leader.  If your former boss used to present quarterly numbers to the Board and you were the person running them, volunteer to fill that void.

3.       Being the calming influence.  People hate change and tend to overact to it.  Be the person who people can vent to and be reassured that the situation will improve.  Our positive outlook will help the team stay together and people will look to you for more important issues.

One of the biggest things you don’t want to do is self-appoint yourself as the heir apparent.  No one wants you to be a “grave robber”- waiting for your opportunity to advance during a time of mourning.  You need to state your desire to be the next leader, but not in a sneaky or grandiose way.

Being a leader is earned, take the time to invest in yourself and your team and people will see you as the next leader whenever the old one is traded, released or goes somewhere else.