Leaders: preoccupied with all you have to do?

The inconsistent, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy. ~Kerry Gleeson

The most common answer I receive to the question “how’s work?” is “busy.” As I’ve become more involved with helping leaders wrangle all that busyness, I’ve discovered that what makes it so consuming is the lack of a system to house and organize all that stuff that’s swirling around in their minds.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, puts it this way.

What should be different?

Most often, the reason something is on your mind is that you want it to be different than it currently is, and yet:

  • you haven’t clarified exactly what the intended outcome is;
  • you haven’t decided what the very next physical action step is and/or
  • you haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system you trust.

That’s why it’s on your mind. Until those thoughts have been clarified and those decisions made, and the resulting data has been stored in a system that you absolutely know you will access and think about when you need to, your brain can’t give up the job.

Clear your mind.

Nearly every author I come across regarding personal productivity (David Allen, Chris Bailey, various FranklinCovey authors, etc.) says the very same thing in their own way. So I think it’s worth repeating, here’s my version.

  • what do you want to be different (which is quite dissimilar from what you want to do)
  • what’s the action step you need to take, this week, to help make that difference happen
  • where are the physical reminders of both the difference you want to make happen and your action steps stored so that you reference them often and rely upon to make decisions how to spend your time

That’s it. It’s both that simple and that challenging. And leaders should be setting the example in their organizations. These are the very basic steps for effective planning, whether it’s on a personal level or an organizational level.

Social psychologist and author Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson says that “When people engage in the right kind of planning, their success rates go up on average between 200 and 300 percent.” That’s really important because, as Dr. Halvorson also said, “Succeeding in something hard is more pleasurable, gives greater satisfaction and happiness, and increases your overall sense of well-being.”

As a leader, are you ready to show others how to shift from an unproductive preoccupation with all you have to do, to planning your priorities and freeing your mind to really lead?

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Leaders: Are you building a safe organization?

Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful overarching idea: We are safe and connected. ~Daniel Coyle

It’s not uncommon these days in my work for people to say that they don’t feel “safe” in their organizations. That means they aren’t speaking up in meetings or when they see that something can be improved they stay silent. If they have a differing view, you may never know, because they feel if they disagree it could cost them their job. Safety is one of three key components to building a thriving culture. Looking at it another way, safety is one-third of your culture, so yes, it’s significant.

Daniel Coyle breaks down each of the three culture components in detail in his book The Culture Code. He says one of the reasons people don’t feel safe is that they don’t feel that they belong. Belonging is critical. What really makes a difference is not the big events or grand rollouts, it’s the small, subtle ways that we communicate.

As an example, Coyle shares this research study to illustrate the point of communicating in a way that connects so others feel like they belong.

Would you give a stranger your phone?

The research study compared two scenarios.

Scenario 1: You are standing in the rain at a train station. A stranger approaches and politely says, “Can I borrow your cellphone?”

Scenario 2: You are standing in the rain at a train station. A stranger approaches and politely says, “I’m so sorry about the rain. Can I borrow your cellphone?”

So, to which stranger are you more likely to respond?

As Coyle says, “both strangers are making an identical request that involves a significant leap of trust.” However, the second scenario caused the response rate to jump 422 percent! “Those six words – I’m so sorry about the rain – transformed people’s behavior. The words were an unmistakable signal: This is a safe place to connect.

Leaders: Belonging is a narrative, not a tagline.

“Belonging needs to be refreshed and reinforced. It’s a narrative—you have to keep it going. A mere hint of belonging is not enough; one or two signals are not enough. We are built to require lots of signaling, over and over,” says Coyle.

Building belonging into your organization is not a one-time event. It’s a new way of life, a new way of communicating. It’s connecting first. We live in a “communicate fast” society. Slowing down to connect might feel unnatural but the long-term return will be exponential.

Leaders, slow down today and look for ways to connect.

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3 Signs You’re Squelching Your Emerging Leaders’ Passion

When you can make the connection between passion and mission, you can truly propel your organization to a new level of performance.  ~Jim Whitehurst (President and CEO of Red Hat)

1. You poke holes.

When employees come with an idea that steps outside of their job description boundaries, the first thing you tell them is what’s wrong with it, why it’s a bad idea, or it’s a waste of time.  You don’t even ask a question to better understand their thought process, their rationale, or to find that nugget of gold that might be hiding in their idea.

I see this frequently. Emerging leaders are trying to be innovative, trying to be forward-thinking, and they aren’t going to get it right every time or come up with life-altering ideas. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be praised for their willingness to think out of the box, move out of their comfort zone, or challenge the status quo.

Instead: to fuel passion, appreciate employees’ action, even if the idea itself may not have merit, right now.

2. You don’t help them actually emerge.

You aren’t giving emerging leaders space to spread their wings.  You tell them they are part of an emerging leaders group, but then there’s no career path identified, no mentoring or coaching.  In other words, nothing changes except they’re being referred to as an “emerging leader.”

Instead: to fuel passion, really coach and mentor. Give them projects that stretch their abilities, come alongside them and coach them to success. Let them come alongside you. I remember hearing a leader once say that he made it a practice to never travel alone. What he meant by that was, he always brought an emerging leader with him to meetings and on trips so they could be gaining experience and learning, first-hand.

3. You lose sight of your mission.

You’ve become more focused on the “margin” than the “mission.” 

Every organization has financial demands. When the focus of an organization (not-for-profit and for profit) skews in the direction of finances over purpose, passion quickly fades. When passion fades, so does performance. This doesn’t mean leaders should not be concerned about finances, but they should be concerned if employees are hearing them talk about money far more than mission.

Instead: to fuel passion, highlight mission moments. Always start your communication with the mission first, and the finances will follow.

Jim Whitehurst said, “It’s my belief that every organization has the potential for world-changing impact. The role of a leader is to foster passion around that impact and to keep that passion alive by reinforcing it every day.” 

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Selfless Leadership: Rachel Held Evans

Many came forward with testimonials of how her writing and personal encouragement changed the trajectory of their lives. ~Julie Zauzmer

Photo by: Maki Garcia Evans

I sat in my condo on Saturday, shortly after noon. I glanced one more time at the blog written by Dan Evans, husband of Rachel Held Evans. For two weeks Dan had been writing in her blog providing updates about her health crisis. He hadn’t provided an update for several days. I thought, “this can’t be good.”

As I scanned the recent blog post I jumped ahead to the single sentence paragraph: “Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.”

“No, that can’t be possible,” I said out loud, to no one. “No, that can’t be!” I read the sentence several times before the truth really started to sink in. How could a young woman (only 37) with two young children, enter the hospital with the flu and an infection, and lose her life a few short weeks later?!

Like many others, I’m still processing the suddenness of her death. I didn’t know Rachel, at least not exactly. I heard an interview on NPR with her sister who said that whenever people would ask Dan what Rachel was like, he would say “just read her books, because that’s who she is.” So maybe I did sort of know her.  

While Rachel’s writing was about her faith; the way she lived her life was a model of leadership. After reading numerous tributes, it was easy to identify a number of attributes that put Rachel at the top of my list of examples of selfless leadership. Here are four that especially stood out to me.

Amplify and Encourage Others

“Rachel used her significant platform to amplify and encourage others. She not only took her well-deserved spot at the table of writing and teaching; she also pulled up countless more seats for others to sit next to her.”

Use Influence to Create Opportunities for Others

“’Rachel held doors open she didn’t have to,’ wrote Candice Marie Benbow. ‘She used her influence to help create opportunities for people she believed deserved[d] them.’”

Engage with Grace and Truth

“Even those she disagreed with, sometimes fiercely, she found a way to engage with grace and truth. She showed us how to hold multiple perspectives in tension.”

Make a Difference

Make a difference, and that’s exactly what Rachel did in her short life. Over the weekend, #BecauseofRHE was trending on Twitter. Endless numbers of people sharing how the trajectory of their lives had changed because of Rachel Held Evans. It’s hard to imagine a tribute more evident of selfless leadership.

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Leaders: Are you a noble soul?

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.  ~John Milton

Leaders need to be reminded that gratitude is the last of the three qualities of a positive climate – compassion, forgiveness and gratitude – highlighted in Kim Cameron’s research on positive leadership.

It’s surprising to me how much research has been done on gratitude with very similar findings and conclusions, yet we don’t strive vigorously to integrate gratitude practices into our daily lives or our organizations. Gratitude is relatively easy to implement and the effects are both powerful and significant.

Leaders overlook gratitude.

Maybe it’s because we’ve been taught, encouraged, and even programmed to focus on what we can measure. In many organizations, what is most easily quantifiable may dominate how we prioritize our day. Felix Frankfurter, former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said that “gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep.” Because we struggle to put it in a nice and neat “outcomes box,” we are quick to overlook gratitude as we rush through our day.

Gratitude really is easy to put into practice. In study after study it’s been found that doing things like visiting someone to say thank you, writing letters of appreciation, sending a note or card, and the daily (or weekly) gratitude journal has a significant positive impact on individuals and their performance. This isn’t some secret motivational tactic known by only a few select organizations. It is common knowledge backed by scientific empirical evidence.

Leaders build their gratitude muscle.

Dean Savoca, of Savoca Performance Group says that, “Gratitude is a muscle to be built, just as we build a physical muscle. It takes practice and exercise.” He offers some ways to begin to build your gratitude muscle.

  • Before you go to bed, ask “what three things am I grateful for today?” and write them down.
  • Use the philosophy of CANI (Continued and Never-ending Improvement). Whenever you complete something, ask yourself two questions. What was great? What are opportunities for CANI? This can help to create an “attitude of gratitude” and appreciate what you’ve done well and identify where you can learn and improve in a way that supports your future success.
  • Think of someone who has helped you recently, or has really out-performed in your organization. Write them a note, visit them, or give them a call and let them know how much you appreciate them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” And what organization couldn’t use a little more joy throughout their hallways, their conference rooms, and their social media.

Leaders are noble souls.

It’s simple, it’s doable, and it’s very effective. Aesop stated it quite well, “gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” Shouldn’t all leaders really be noble souls?

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