7 Ways to Be an Agile Leader.

At a recent conference on coaching led by the insightful, Cindy Lamir, she introduced a new concept for me which is VUCA and it’s affect on leadership. VUCA, which is a military term from the 1990’s that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous is the new normal. Everything since September 11th and then, the subsequent meltdown of the economy in 2008, has pointed to one thing; we all need to be flexible. The new normal in the workplace is a barrage of information which may (or more likely) may not be useful. We now have a workforce which spans 60 years in generation, is constantly bringing in new technology and is connected globally. There is no more status quo.

Focusing just on competencies is dead. It’s not that competencies aren’t important, it’s that in a VUCA environment, knowing say the latest version of Excel will only get you so far. Focusing on building skills is not going to help you scan the environment for the latest threat from a competitor or look for patterns in customer demand. The secret is flexibility or more poignantly – agility. agile

So before we get into what an agile leader is, let’s look at what an agile leader is not. It’s not the top down style of; “don’t do anything until I tell you to”, micro managing, control freakish, old school, cigar smoking, feet crossed on the desk, pin-stripped wearing manager. It is not holding on tight to every detail, making sure everyone has their butts in their seats, folks raising their hands to go to the bathroom and most certainly the leader where not one single decision gets made without their almighty stamp of approval. It will not work in this environment.

So unless you want to be leading a bunch of no talent zombies, try some of these tactics to become an agile leader:

1. Delegate. Challenge those that work for you by delegating. I know it’s easier not to delegate and that you are the best at preparing the budget, interviewing forklift drivers and deciding what we should have at the Christmas party. It’s going to take time and mistakes will be made. It’s inevitable. Get over it. How do you expect folks to grow unless you give them a challenge, something new? How are you going to be able to conquer new territory if you are still deciding on the canapés for the Christmas party? Let go and let them grow. Delegate.

2. Teach your thought process. I have been naturally curious my whole life. Some folks aren’t. Some folks are afraid to ask why we do inventory at month end. They feel like they are intruding on the Great Oz. Show them behind the curtain. I can remember having my assistant sit in on a harassment investigation. Investigations are an unusual occurrence for most organizations but I knew she needed to be exposed to the process and learn why I did what I did.  There are things you’ve been doing for years that only you understand why you do it. If you want to develop the folks around you, share your thought process.

3. “You decide”. Once you’ve delegated and given your thought process, let your assistant or people decide. Set up the parameters, how you will measure success and let go. For example, if I ask my daughter to make dinner on Friday evening. I can say I’d like a meat, vegetable and a starch as parameters. I can say that it will be successful if the meal is hot, served by 7 PM and costs less than $25 to prepare. Then let go. Any questions? OK. You decide.

4. Transfer development ownership. In a recent article by Nick Petrie called Future Trends in Leadership Development the addresses that once folks have learned the skills like how to create a budget, lead others or finish out year end, they need to be responsible for their own development. That 45 year old executive you hired last month, needs to take ownership of what they want to learn and how they are going to do. The environment is changing too fast and they know what’s in their own tool box better than you do. You cannot be responsible for their development. Leaders need to take it upon themselves to figure out what they need to grow and be a better contributor. Transfer ownership to them.

5. Transparent. This is not the time for closed door meetings. I just saw a presentation by the Human Resource Director of Insomniac Games. The company made a huge mistake a few years ago that was almost the death knell for the company. They didn’t listen to their gut and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t seek the advice or input from their employees. When they abandoned the losing project, they made a pledge that all new projects and pitches for new games would be a conference call with senior staff that EVERYONE could call in and listen to. So if you are a young game designer, not only do you get to pitch an idea, you get to hear feedback from the founders as to why it was or wasn’t a feasible idea. How transparent is that? So from the mail room to the founders, everyone is in on the process. Assume people want a voice and they will use it. Be transparent.

6. Collaboration. Cross functional teams are the new normal. If you are implementing a new purchasing system make sure there is someone from every department on the team and from every level especially if the forklift driver, the receptionist and the accounts receivable clerk all will touch the system in some way.. Put them on the team. In fact, put the receptionist in charge as project lead. It might be a stretch but that’s the new normal. Forget about titles and where all the lines are drawn between departments, truly embrace collaboration with the belief that everyone has a voice and the ability to lead. Your organization will be more nimble than any other. Embrace collaboration.

7. Boundary spanning. Be on the forefront of scanning for internal and external knowledge. Everything is interconnected. Everyone I know who is over 14 years old and under 70 has a smart phone. This is incredibly dynamic. I have a couple of Information Technology friends who went to a Meet Up (an impromptu group that gathers on a particular topic or cause or event) on Information Technology. They were blown away by how much information was out there and areas that weren’t even on their radar. Everyone in your company needs to have their finger on the pulse. Whether it’s Information Systems, Accounting, Purchasing or Widget Optimization everyone needs to take the lead on scanning the environment or you will be left behind in the dust on your typewriter, dial phone and listening to the “Eagles” on 8 track (ask your parents). Be spanning the boundaries.

You may be overwhelmed by all these items. That’s OK. Take one step at a time. You don’t need to do all 7 in the next month. Take it one bite at a time. Maybe October will be “Collaboration” Month. Great. One step, any step is going to help you keep in step with VUCA. The more you learn, the more you adapt, the more you succeed, the faster the cycle goes. If you read this whole post, you are already on your way to being more agile.

5 Strategies to Optimize Your Strengths

As leaders and managers we seem to spend a lot of time focusing on everyone’s weaknesses or short-comings; very often our own. Performance improvement plans, appraisals, report cards and even weighing yourself can focus on the negative. The area that needs improvement. The areas we or our direct reports fell short. I can focus on the typo my assistant had in an email and totally overlook the project he took on all by himself, flawlessly. It’s always easy to default to picking out what went wrong in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Whether it’s the B on the report card with the balance being all A’s, remember the brownie you had yesterday when you weigh a pound more even though you also ran 10 miles or focusing on the budget shortfall when sales are way above expectations. We focus on the weaknesses and try and mitigate them.optimize your strengths
How about focusing and leveraging your or others strengths? I can remember a Marketing Director who was horrible at catching typos. Catching typos is pretty important when it comes to marketing collateral. The director was outstanding at design and implementation but wasn’t that great at details. I can identify with this. I’m horrible at details. Grammar even. So do we send the Marketing Director and me to a course on finding mistakes and typos or do we find someone who “loves” to find all the flaws? They actually find it a challenge to make sure an entire document is flawless. We can send us to courses, school and for an MBA but it’s only going to mitigate the issues. We will never be flawless. It’s best to play to our strengths and find someone else to pick up the slack on our weaknesses.

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So here is how to do that:

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1. Inventory. Take an inventory of what you are good at. In Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, he suggests recalling what you loved to do when you were 10 years old. What could you spend hours at? I can remember setting up class rooms and pretending to be a teacher or creating plays when I was a kid in our basement. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I like facilitating and coaching. Another option is to take an assessment like Strengths Finders. If you purchase the book, they give you an access code to take the assessment. My top three strengths are Strategic, Relator and Positivity. It’s good to know. Being a claims adjuster or mortician might be a bad fit. Inventory your strengths.

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2. Delegate. Figure out your weaknesses, and if possible, delegate them. I’m really fortunate that one of the members of “Cathy’s Brain Trust” (folks who give me feedback before I post these posts) is an English Major. Actually, you all are very fortunate that she is an English Major because grammar isn’t my strong suit. I also don’t have a very good handle on Excel. I can do the basics but it’s tedious to me. I have no desire to attend classes to become an Excel wiz. If I can avoid working on a spreadsheet, I delegate. So look at your team. Are you trying to make someone who loves sitting at a computer trouble shooting, try and improve their customer service skills? If they aren’t friendly and accommodating, perhaps there is someone else who is better suited to take phone calls. As any good team coach would say, put your aces in their places. Delegate your weaknesses.

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3. Dedicate. Now dedicate some blocks of time to your strengths and get into the flow. Csíkszentmihályi (the psychologist who coined the idea of flow) described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Parlay what you are good at so that you can do your best work. This is much more productive (and enjoyable) instead of trying to fix your weaknesses. It’s also a much more positive experience. Dedicate blocks of time to flow.

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4. Reflect. Takes some time to reflect on your accomplishments. From my years of coaching experience, this is something most of us don’t do. Take a look back on what you accomplished with your strengths. Acknowledge yourself for all that you have contributed to the world. Even small things can add up. Did you just run your fastest time for a 5k? Did you spend a half hour with your aging mother? Did you pay it forward by buying a latte for the car behind you? Did you make a contribution to ALS? Did you make sure you smiled at a stranger at the grocery store? All of these things add up. Take stock and reflect on all that you have accomplished.

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5. Assess. Assess your optimization of your strengths. The strengths that you have are your gifts. Make sure you are using them. Take my biggest strength, Strategic. I’m talented in creating alternative ways to proceed. If there is any given scenario, I quickly spot patterns and issues. When I am coaching or facilitating, I’m open to all options which enhances my students and clients thinking. When I am given a set curriculum that is regimented and unbending, I might as well be in a straight jacket. I suffocate. I make sure that I have an outlet for my strategic strengths. If you were a concert pianist, a toy xylophone would be an insult and unbearable. If someone enjoys people, don’t put them in a window-less office for 8 hours a day. Assess the utilization of your strengths.

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I realize that most of us can’t spend 60 hours a week on just our strengths and delegate taking the trash out for the rest of our lives. I do think you can strike a balance so that you and the folks around you can feel empowered by making sure that their gifts are being utilized on a daily basis.

6 Ways to Stay Focused. Keeping Mind Clutter in Check.

Last week I wrote about physical clutter, this week it’s about interpersonal time suckers in your life.  The force of other people’s priorities into your life to distract you from your true passion.  Someone drops by your office just as you are hitting your stride on a project.  Your boss voluntolds you for a local board that you really aren’t interested in.  The school calls because (according to the rules) your daughter’s skirt is too short and you need to come to the rescue with a potato sack.

Most Human Resource professionals live in a constant state of interruption.  Meetings with Human Resource are rarely scheduled.  There is normally a fire smoldering (or raging out of control) before someone decides to drop by or pick up the phone – do you have a minute?  It’s rarely a minute.   It’s the nature of the beast. index

Someone else’s failure to plan, schedule or otherwise handle an issue can easily leak into your life and weigh you down.  If you want to stay on track to your best work, you need to work on keeping people from treading on you.  Don’t be a doormat. Here’s how:

1. NoSet up some boundaries.  Let your family, friends, and colleagues know where your limit’s are. Business mentor Christine Kane calls this your “Proactive No”.  I’m not available from 9 until 10:30 AM.  I only work with charities that are aligned with my goal of helping disadvantaged children.  I’m always home on the Sunday to be with my family.  I set my schedule according to my son’s wrestling meets.  No television or phone calls during dinner.  I check email and voice mail on the hour. Draw a line in the sand.

2. Barriers.  Shut your door.  Put on some headphones.  Turn off your phone.  Mark out your space.  A colleague of mine used to put police tape across his cubicle when he had an important conference call.  In the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman, the author has prescribed work hours in his home office and his children know that they may not interrupt for any reason.  If the door is shut – don’t interrupt Daddy.  Other barriers can be turning off all alerts for phone, email and text.  I have a little piece of post it note over the place on my monitor where the little envelope shows up when I have email.  Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Cue.  When someone comes in asking if you have a minute – give them a cue.  Mark out a time limit.  I’ve got fifteen minutes.  I have a conference call at 2.  I’m in the middle of a project but I can give you ten minutes.  Give them the parameters before they get started.  This will help them hit the highlights before heading down a long meandering tale of whoa.  If you find out this is bigger than you thought it would be, you might need to stop and quickly reschedule impending appointments.  Being up front will help soften transition back to your own priorities.

4. Delegate. Can someone else do this?  Don’t be the hero.  You do not need to be responsible for everything that comes across your desk or desk top.  I know.  It so much easier to just take care of it yourself.  Especially if you are impatient like me.  You’ve been doing that report for the last 3 years and it only takes you 30 minutes to complete. Training someone else will take at least an hour and they will probably make mistakes the first few times around.  Ugh.  Invest the time and, in the long run, it will pay off in additional hours to spend on what brings you joy in your life.

5. Gossip.  Hanging out at the water cooler isn’t the greatest use of your precious time.  Discussing the latest episode of “Modern Family” or who got kicked off of “Top Chef” is usually a procrastination technique.  Gossiping about Suzy’s new haircut or Joe’s constant lateness can damage your relationships in the long run.  Gee, if Cathy will talk about Joe that way…what is she saying about me behind my back.  More mind clutter.  Your prefontal cortex doesn’t need to be fed that stuff.  Keep the stage clean.

6. Select.  Being more selective about who you hang out with can improve your use of time.  Hanging out with Debbie Downer or Negative Nancy can suck the time and energy out of you.  Being around optimistic folks helps you stay of away from your lizard brain and fueling the flame of fear.  Surround yourself with some carefully selected Pollyanna’s and let them lift you up to your best.  This is advice that I have given my daughter frequently.  When she complains about a “friend” being consistently critical of her actions or associations, I ask – why are you hanging out with this person?  What value are they bringing?

Frequently it’s best to back away and seek out those who will help you stay clutter free.

What would you do?

Carrot or Stick?

How do we get people to fall in line?  Is it best to use a carrot (incentive plan, appreciation or chocolate cake) or a stick (“you’re grounded”, late payment fees or speeding tickets).  As Daniel Pink outlined in his book “Drive”, it can be a puzzling question.  There is a study outlined in a book done by Dan Ariely where three different groups in India were given tasks to do in a same period of time but they were compensated at three different rates.  The equivalent of $.50 (a day’s pay), $5 (two weeks pay), or $50 (five months pay).  The group at $.50 and $5 were comparable in results but the $50 group underperformed! More compensation had the opposite affect.  Those who receive the larger amount of incentive actually perform slower.  This really doesn’t seem to make sense.  Wouldn’t more money mean more output? Wouldn’t 5 months pay drive performance in an underdeveloped  country?  It didn’t. Carrot or Stick

I was in training at a “Telling Ain’t Training” workshop taught by Harold Stolovich.  In one of the sections of the training, we all did a Boggle challenge with 16 letters to use to make as many 3 letter+ words as possible.  On my page, it stated that “You have 3 minutes to make at least 20 words of 3 letters or more.  People at your level usually obtain this result.” Half the group had this instruction, the other half did not have it.  I was in the group that had the expectation that I would be able to make at least 20 words.  My brain locked up!  The expectation for performance shut my brain down.  The group that didn’t have the expectation of 20 words out-performed my group. So how do we go about motivating people?  How do we get them to perform in a maximum way?

Here are some tips to drive performance:

1. Simple.  If the job is simple, the carrot will work.  If it doesn’t take creativity, imagination or analysis, then use the carrot.  I have a very weak stomach.  If someone says their kid is throwing up at home, I immediately feel queasy.  I inform you of this because once my beloved dog got sick in the middle of our living room.  I went to my purse and took out a twenty dollar bill, gave it to my son and said “Take care of it.”  Simple and straight forward.  Telling him to clean it or be grounded, would not have worked. There are times when a carrot will work.

2. Pain.  There are some things that require pain to drive performance.  Pain generally will work if the result is immediate and is obvious.  If there is going to be a painful result, such as a late fee, or loss of use of a cell phone (oh no!) and the person knows that will be the result of paying the bill late or staying out past midnight; it will drive performance.  I implemented a wellness program some 4 years ago in which the penalty was up to $200 more per month additional for health insurance premiums.  We had 100% participation.  Most other wellness programs with a reward attached were considered successful with 30% participation.  Pain works in the right situations.

3. Autonomy.  Most of us want to decide for ourselves what we are going to do today.  Micro managers who dictate every “dot of an i and cross of a t”, in the long run actually diminish performance.  I can assure you that if I come in the house and tell my son to clean his room “right this instant”, I am not likely to have a great outcome.  But, if I say, “I’d like your room cleaned.  Can you get it done by 6PM when your grandparents arrive?” the outcome will likely be better.  Now my son understands the rationale and is given the latitude to decide when and how he will get it done.  Autonomy sparks performance.

4. Time Warp.  I get my best work done early in the morning after I have mediated, eaten and exercised.  My daughter gets her best work done in the afternoon and rarely is well rested.  My son is a night owl.  His peak performance could be from 8PM until 2 AM.  Here is the problem.  Many bosses, teachers and organizations want you to work a certain set of hours….or else! So what are we giving up in creativity and performance by shoe horning folks into certain hours.  Find your (or your employee’s) best time warp.

There is a time and place for all carrots, sticks and autonomy.  They all don’t work for all situations.   If you want to drive the best performance, you might want to try out a few of these ideas to see if you can move the needle on performance.

Chunky Monkeys

imagesDelegating monkeys is an important part of being a leader, partner or parent.  There is a delicate balance between abdicating and delegating.  Abdicating can happen when a leader chooses to ignore a situation (usually a sticky, messy and uncomfortable monkey) which allows the issue to slide down to the next level of management.  Not good delegation.

As Ken Blanchard said in his book, The One Minute Manager meets the Monkey, “for every monkey there are two parties involved, one to work it and one to supervise it”.  The monkey is the task or project.  You may have given the monkey to your child, co-worker or assistant but that doesn’t mean that you have absolved yourself of any other responsibilities.  You’ll need to make sure that the monkey is getting fed….and not over fed.  You don’t want to have a bunch of chunky monkeys running..er swinging around.

So how do you take care of the monkeys without getting them back?  Here are some ideas:

1. Pick.  Pick the right time and place to delegate.  If you are in the middle of serving twenty people a Thanksgiving meal and your daughter has never made gravy before…maybe you should wait until there is a little more time and (in my case) more patience before you give a gravy clinic.  If you are going to give a monkey to someone, pick the right time to do it.

2. Decide.  Decide if this task or project should be delegated.  If it’s not clear who is caring for a particular monkey, then you have decided.  You have abdicated and the monkey is running loose and no one knows who is in charge.  Like that annoying employee that reports to you but that no one likes and is afraid of.  You aren’t handling the monkey, so everyone else has to.  Decide if the monkey is yours or…not.

3. Select.  Once you have decided it’s the right monkey to delegate, select the right person or group to take care of the monkey.  If the new incentive plan needs an Excel expert, then find one.  Don’t just give the project to the closest person who seems available (especially if you don’t know their Excel abilities).  The monkey needs the right talent to take care of it.  Not just another animal at the zoo.

4. Define.  Define what success looks like.  If you ask your child to mow the lawn, you better be clear with timelines, parameters for what mowing the lawn entails (leaf blowing, edging, bagging of grass, etc.), and if there will be any compensation involved.  There have been plenty of family squabbles over something as minor as what mowing the lawn entails.  Make sure you define how to take care of the monkey.

5. Ask.  Make sure that they are up to the challenge of caring for a new monkey right now.  Maybe their plate is full.  Maybe they already have 50 monkeys and 13 of them are sick and in need of intensive care.  If I ask my daughter to edit a blog post for me (and I frequently do), I better make sure she’s not in the middle of mid-terms.  It’s important to ask if she has time for one more monkey.

6. Delegate.  Once you have completed steps 1-5, then hand off the monkey.  Knowing that it is the right time, place and person will make this much easier.  Instill your confidence in their monkey care-taking abilities and then walk away.  If they think there is any chance that you will be back for the monkey, it will erode their confidence and commitment to care for the monkey.

7. Track.  Track progress after you delegate.  Make sure they’re grooming, training and not over feeding the monkey. Make sure they aren’t taking on too many other monkeys or that the monkey you delegated to them may not get as much care and attention.  Let them know their progress along the way.  Just because you delegated, doesn’t mean you have absolved yourself of all responsibility.  Check in on the care and feeding of the monkey.

People who effectively delegate their monkeys are ultimately better leaders and citizens.  The team around them is more highly skilled and feels more empowered.  Try these steps and see if you can’t be more effective with your monkey management.

How do you delegate your monkeys?

Burn your doormat.

Last week I wrote about physical clutter, this week it’s about interpersonal time suckers in your life.  The force of other people’s priorities into your life to distract you from your true passion.  Someone drops by your office just as you are hitting your stride on a project.  Your boss voluntolds you for a local board that you really aren’t interested in.  The school calls because (according to the rules) your daughter’s skirt is too short and you need to come to the rescue with a potato sack.

Most Human Resource professionals live in a constant state of interruption.  Meetings with Human Resource are rarely scheduled.  There is normally a fire smoldering (or raging out of control) before someone decides to drop by or pick up the phone – do you have a minute?  It’s rarely a minute.   It’s the nature of the beast.

Someone else’s failure to plan, schedule or otherwise handle an issue can easily leak into your life and weigh you down.  If you want to stay on track to your best work, you need to work on keeping people from treading on youDon’t be a doormat, in fact, I recommend burning it.  Here’s how:

1. NoSet up some boundaries.  Let your family, friends, and colleagues know where your limit’s are. Business mentor Christine Kane calls this your “Proactive No”.  I’m not available from 9 until 10:30 AM.  I only work with charities that are aligned with my goal of helping disadvantaged children.  I’m always home on the Sunday to be with my family.  I set my schedule according to my son’s wrestling meets.  No television or phone calls during dinner.  I check email and voice mail on the hour. Draw a line in the sand.

2. Barriers.  Shut your door.  Put on some headphones.  Turn off your phone.  Mark out your space.  A colleague of mine used to put police tape across his cubicle when he had an important conference call.  In the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman, the author has prescribed work hours in his home office and his children know that they may not interrupt for any reason.  If the door is shut – don’t interrupt Daddy.  Other barriers can be turning off all alerts for phone, email and text.  I have a little piece of post it note over the place on my monitor where the little envelope shows up when I have email.  Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Cue.  When someone comes in asking if you have a minute – give them a cue.  Mark out a time limit.  I’ve got fifteen minutes.  I have a conference call at 2.  I’m in the middle of a project but I can give you ten minutes.  Give them the parameters before they get started.  This will help them hit the highlights before heading down a long meandering tale of whoa.  If you find out this is bigger than you thought it would be, you might need to stop and quickly reschedule impending appointments.  Being up front will help soften transition back to your own priorities.

4. Delegate. Can someone else do this?  Don’t be the hero.  You do not need to be responsible for everything that comes across your desk or desk top.  I know.  It so much easier to just take care of it yourself.  Especially if you are impatient like me.  You’ve been doing that report for the last 3 years and it only takes you 30 minutes to complete. Training someone else will take at least an hour and they will probably make mistakes the first few times around.  Ugh.  Invest the time and, in the long run, it will pay off in additional hours to spend on what brings you joy in your life.

5. Gossip.  Hanging out at the water cooler isn’t the greatest use of your precious time.  Discussing the latest episode of “Mad Men” or who got kicked off of “Big Brother” is usually a procrastination technique.  Gossiping about Suzy’s new haircut or Joe’s constant lateness can damage your relationships in the long run.  Gee, if Cathy will talk about Joe that way…what is she saying about me behind my back.  More mind clutter.  Your prefontal cortex doesn’t need to be fed that stuff.  Keep the stage clean.

6. Select.  Being more selective about who you hang out with can improve your use of time.  Hanging out with Debbie Downer or Negative Nancy can suck the time and energy out of you.  Being around optimistic folks helps you stay of away from your lizard brain and fueling the flame of fear.  Surround yourself with some carefully selected Pollyanna’s and let them lift you up to your best.  This is advice that I have given my daughter frequently.  When she complains about a “friend” being consistently critical of her actions or associations, I ask – why are you hanging out with this person?  What value are they bringing?

Frequently it’s best to back away and seek out those who will help you burn the doormat.

What would you do?