The Leadership Tool Belt: Use Your Wrench and Your Mirror Before Your Carving Knife

“This just isn’t working,” you say, and you see the your employee’s face fall and their gaze drop. Or maybe you see a fire light in their eyes. Employees will all react to your carving knife a little differently. But if things aren’t going well, you have to cut the fat, right?

Well, maybe. Too often leaders are not getting the results they want or expect and go straight to the people who are not achieving those results and start carving away. Is this effective? It certainly can be. I’m a strong believer in two principles of successful management: Hire good people and then develop them. Everything else can go haywire, but if you stick to that, chances are you will succeed.

However, once we have good people on board, don’t go straight to the knife to improve results. There are a couple tools in your tool belt to pull out first.

Wrench: If you do not have a strong process your business will struggle. Sometimes, it is a simple process holding up one task, and other times it is a fundamental way your business is run. Regardless of the scope, however, your process is the first place to look when results are failing. Each process should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You should have milestones along the way to measure success, to ensure the process will not fail. Your processes also have to be ones that you will grow into, versus ones that you will grow out of. Too often we create a “new” process that is going to be a game changer. We then fail to measure success with vital milestones, and ensure that it is a process that we will not grow out of. If you find yourself saying, “This will work for now,” then reevaluate. If you can look at the process and see that its success relies on the strengths of the person executing it, then the process itself is not strong.

Mirror: As leaders, we typically look in the mirror last, and we need to look here sooner. At times our approach, our demeanor, our personal bias, has a larger impact on our business and employees than many of us realize. If your process is strong, but your results are poor, are you doing something to inhibit your team? Are you acting as a decision making bottleneck that is stifling your employees’ productivity and creativity? This is self-awareness, and this is where you identify your blind spots as a leader. You will also need to seek feedback from others as you look in the mirror… oftentimes others will see something that you do not.

Carving Knife: Your business is as good as your people. Even if your product or your technology is world class, its success will be magnified or diminished by the quality of the people who sell and support it. We are only as good as our people. You need to increase your expectations of your people. It is a privilege to work on your team, and with that privilege comes a responsibility. It is a responsibility to live your culture, exceed your customers’ expectations, and operate with honesty and integrity in all that you do. If you have a person on your team that is not living up to this responsibility, then you need to change the employee, or change the employee.

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Culture Above All

Why do so many damn talented people fail? I see intelligent people with incredible ideas constantly failing at leading groups in the direction that their vision is telling them to go. These people are not stupid. I don’t think so at least. They simply cannot get their strategies off the ground. They make videos of early airplane designers look positively hopeful.

When most people take a look at a business and want to improve results, they often take a look at processes, procedures, and strategies. They create a game plan to change or improve and then go about enacting what they have planned. Sometimes these plans work and sometimes they don’t. There is however, something that can be focused on daily that will always driver better results. It will work each and every time. That magic pill is culture. The best quote that illustrates this has been attributed to Peter Drucker, a business and management consultant:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

No matter the strategy you create or the plan you come up with, it will not work if your group or organization does not have a strong culture – or even worse has a poor one. If you walk into your office everyday and not only do people not want to be there, but they actively voice it, then you have a culture issue. If your coworkers complain about hard work, then you have a culture issue. Cultivate a strong culture and you will cultivate a strong business. Here’s a hint as well: You don’t have to be a manager to do this.

People in a group need to understand the direction of the organization and work to get it moving that way. Otherwise whatever strategy you have created is destined to fail. If you create a strong culture, truly believe in it, and act it out every single day, it will become contagious and spread like chicken pox through a Kindergarten classroom. If you neglect culture, then I don’t care how smart you are. Your ceiling is barely above your head.

So next time you want to improve one of your numbers, instead of thinking of a new process or strategy, take a look instead at your positivity, at your competitive urgency or your professionalism and work to improve those instead, both personally and within your organization. You will be amazed with your results.

Keep Them Listening

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” What in the world? What does that mean? How did she explode? Did she slowly blow up into a round ball like Violet Beauregard and then pop? Or was it more violent than that? There are just so many questions! That is the beauty of that opening line by Iain Banks’ novel The Crow Road. How in the world are you going to put that book down after reading that sentence? You have to go on.
As an English major in college I took multiple classes in Creative Writing. In all of them, the importance of the beginning of short story or novel was a topic that came up in every class. It can hook your readers and bring them tumbling directly into your story. You don’t have long to convince a reader that they should stick with you for the duration. Many people make a decision if they will buy a book based off what they can scan through on the first page and on the back cover.
In one of these classes, I distinctly remember spending the majority of a class period, almost an entire hour, just discussing the opening line. The teacher stressed how easy it is to lose a reader in beginning of a story. But she also stressed how you can immediately hook a reader with an opening line, which will then carry them far enough into the story for you to develop your characters and plots – and really sing your claws into them. I’ve included some great opening lines for you below to enjoy:
It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)
It was a pleasure to burn. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. —David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System (1987)
Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. —J. G. Ballard, Crash (1973)
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. —Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
It is not much of a jump to take this concept and apply to the sales world and our initial impact on a prospect, but I encourage you to take it and apply it elsewhere as well. Pitching an idea to your boss? Writing an important email or memo? Negotiating a raise? Rolling out a change you know will be unpopular? You need to get people interested in your story, and you need to get them interested fast. Take the time to craft a knockout opening, and you will have the audience still with you when get to the meat of your communication. If you lose them too early then payoff remains buried.

Want to Succeed? Stop Relying on Motivation.

There is a saying “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you keeps you going.” This quote is attributed to Jim Rohn, an author and motivational speaker. I will be honest in that I have not read much of Jim Rohn’s work, nor have I heard him speak, but this does not stop me from being a fervent believer in that simple declaration.
It’s easy to do. You see someone who is in better shape than you. Or is younger than you but more accomplished. Or is admired by someone who you wish spent more time admiring you… Whatever is causing it, we all know that feeling of deep-seated motivation that would cause us to run through a wall. We make all kinds of grandiose declarations to friends and families about the changes we are going to make and the work we are going to put in. We daydream about the results we are going to see from our extra work, our self-control, and our dedication. We may even go out and spend money on items we think will help us to get there!
Unfortunately for the majority of us, the alarm clock that goes off an hour early the next morning in order to help us fulfill all of those promises does not deliver with it a does of that same energy. Often the feeling is gone, just like that. In the span of 12 – 24 hours that unstoppable drive, that incredible force, has been muted and muffled by a few short hours of sleep. Some of us manage to keep the flame alive for a while, long enough to eventually retire from our new endeavors with little to no shame. But the majority of the population never even gets that far.
It is my firm belief, that what stops us from getting where we want to be – where those intense internal passions told us we deserved to be – is a simple lack of discipline and organization, a vast majority of which can be solved through habit and routine. Did you know that Maya Angelou wrote regularly in hotel rooms to minimize her distractions? Did you know that Benjamin Franklin broke his day down into hour by hour intervals, one of which included “examination of the day”? Were you aware that Ernest Hemingway liked to stop writing in the middle of an idea so he had a fresh place to get started the next day without having to stare at the page for inspiration?
When you hit the wall – and you will hit the wall, quite violently, I promise – you need to fall back on routines and habits. That way your motivation has nothing to do with it. Your body  and mind simply behave as they believe they are supposed to. The best book I have ever read on the subject is below. Give it a look. Later you will agree that it was more than worth your time when you look back at a goal you have accomplished instead of up to where it is still hanging over you.

 

 

 

Disclosure: this page contains affiliate links. This means if you click on a link and make a purchase, we will receive an affiliate commission. But in all honesty, the book is damn good. I wouldn’t post about it if it wasn’t. Enjoy.

A Rising Tide…

This entire website is based on the premise that ideas should not be locked away in a deep dark safe within every business (or every business leader) never to see the light of day. Below is an interesting story that I believe is relevant to this mission. I stumbled across it one day when researching a potential rallying cry for my sales team as we started a new fiscal year. I believe it ties in very closely to the teamwork mentality that we need more and more in a competitive workplace and can be easily connected with an earlier post Success Is Not A Zero Sum Game.
I’ll start off with a little history lesson, if you will  bear with me for a little while. Unfortunately, as some of you will come to know, I was an English major in college, but I also made the poor decision of adding on a History minor, so you will have to put up with some of my tangents from time to time no matter how much you may not want to…
Some of you may know that the phrase “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats” is often attributed to John F. Kennedy – or, more specifically, one of his speechwriters, Ted Sorenson. However, Ted Sorenson actually stole shamelessly from a regional chamber of commerce in New England called The New England Council. Kennedy used the phrase “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats” so much in his speeches however, that many thought he had coined it himself.
The idea behind the phrase seems pretty simple in terms of the economy. If the overall economy does better, then the participants in that economy should do better as well. Similarly, our goal in our workplaces is to keep the tide rising, and with it all of the individuals who contribute to the results of the entire company.
However, there are always two sides to every coin, and one of Bill Clinton’s former advisors enjoyed his own addendum to the popular phrase. He liked to say that if we do not abide by appropriate policies and procedures, “the rising tide will lift some boats, but others will run aground.” Make sure that the success in your organization does not benefit some parties while proving disastrous for others. It is easy to recognize the wins that we are seeing in our own departments or divisions without realizing that other parts of our organizations – integral parts of our organizations – are being left behind. It is not necessarily their jobs to “catch up” or to “get with the program”. Decisions do not occur in a vacuum, and as you make them within your teams, realize that they create ripples. Do not let those ripples cause your coworkers to run aground!

Are You Patient Enough to Be Great?

Imagine for a moment you are a farmer. Every day you tend your fields, build scarecrows to scare away birds, water your crops, and spend the majority of your waking hours working to ensure that your crop grows and develops. After all, this is what will feed you and your family. 
Imagine further, however, that for day after day you continue flowing water and sweat into the ground waiting for a sprout and nothing shows for three years!
At this point most people’s faith would have failed, and they would have moved on to something that seemed worth their time. However, for those with the faith required to cultivate Giant Timber bamboo, this is the struggle they face. This bamboo requires three years of cultivation before sprouting and exploding toward the sky to the tune of ninety feet in approximately two months!
Now, will it take you three years before all of your hard work pays off and you see potential gains in either your bank account, your skill set, or your status of work? For God’s sake, I hope not. However, the premise still applies. Too often, we begin a project, begin some kind of skill development, begin cultivating a new talent and give it up within months after failing to realize immediate life-changing results. Dedication via habit, routine, and incremental progress is what gets you where you want to be. Many people have heard the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of work at something to become an expert. Luckily, along the way, you should see improvement and signs of progress, which should encourage and motivate you. Those milestones should drive you. Look to the next milestones instead of the end goal sometimes.
My challenge to you is take some time to reflect on whether or not you spent the past year nurturing your skills, improving you day to day abilities, and working towards being better at what you do, or if you jumped from practice to practice looking for a quick fix. Results simply are not seen overnight. They take significant time and effort to begin to see the desired outcome. If you have been watering your bamboo, the results should slowly begin to show for you over the next year.
If you have not yet seen the video of Greg Bell covering this topic, then take a few moments to watch it and reflect on what you are doing to get better and improve your skills. How are you continuing your education on the sales process, your customer service skills, and your leadership capabilities?
If you are not steadily watering your bamboo, then now sounds like a good time to start.

Success Is Not A Zero Sum Game

Everyone knows both feelings:

  • The presenter is standing at the microphone, and he calls your name. You stand up, grinning ear to ear like an idiot as people around you clap and applaud. Someone nearby likely pats you on the back – literally! You glory in the acclaim and spotlight. Or maybe you are just in a meeting or on a conference call and your individual results or your team’s results are recognized as top notch. You blush a little bit. It’s a good feeling.
  • The presenter is standing at the microphone, and he calls someone else’s name. They stand up. Jealousy, envy, even anger surge up from your stomach into your chest and throughout your body. Or maybe it is less intense and the feeling is simple mild distaste. You can’t help but lean over to your neighbor and mention the extenuating circumstance that led to this person’s success. Your not saying the you deserve it necessarily. Just saying that they don’t really either.

I wanted to share some thoughts I had over the weekend while watching a very well respected movie during my free time. Along with my girlfriend, I have been working my way through all of the best picture nominees for 2016. While I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them (and she has slept through the second half of a good few) in some way, shape, or form, they have all stretched our thinking and challenged our beliefs. They’ve inspired us in the way that only incredible pieces of cinema can, evoking in you that feeling of invincibility as you walk out of the theater or turn off the television.

 

Yesterday, she finally convinced me to watch La La Land, which was not at the top of my list even though it is the same director who wrote and directed Whiplash, one of my favorite movies (if you haven’t seen it, please stop what you’re doing and rent it. Seriously stop reading this and do it). For those of you who watched the Oscars, you may remember that La La Land was the movie that was mistakenly announced as Best Picture when in fact Moonlight was the Best Picture winner. All of the La La Land cast was already on the Oscars stage however, and had to awkwardly resume their seats while the cast and crew of Moonlight took their place. Having already seen Moonlight, I could not help but to compare the two while watching La La Land, and wonder at the Steve Harvey level blunder that was made at the awards show.

 

After a long agonizing review of the acting, the cast, the editing, the lighting, the screenwriting, the music, and other categories I can scarcely remember the names or meanings of, I came to a decision as to which one was better. What I figured out, and what I think we can bring to our own businesses and performances is something I see in our organization is that it doesn’t matter. The answer is that both movies are incredible and the success of one does not detract from the greatness of the other. Similarly, success in any organization is not a zero-sum game. What I mean by that is the success of Moonlight does not detract from the incredible movie that was La La Land, and vice versa. Too often when another coworker, salesperson, or leader is succeeding at a greater level than ourselves, we attempt to tear down their performance or invent a reason as to why they has better results than we do. “They get more sales leads. They are in a better market. They are riding on the Mr. Incredible’s coattails. If I had XYZ resource that they have, I’d have the same results.” And the list goes on.

 

When you look at the movies nominated for Best Picture, their performances stand alone and apart from each other and are judged on their merits. In the same way, we need to give our own performances honest reflections based on our individual efforts and contributions. Other employees, sales people, and leaders performances should be used to motivate and inspire you! Congratulate them on their great work! Then ask them how they did it. And steal those ideas shamelessly.