Taking the Initiative and My Favorite Metaphor

skiingI love metaphors. The spark of an image can light up whole new understanding for me almost instantly. It’s like a light bulb turning on (see!). So I collect them and over-use them as code for concepts when I teach, consult and work with my team.

“Leaning in”, as it were…

One of my favorites is a skiing image my instructor Dave painted for me more than 5 years ago. A very patient and effective teacher, Dave always tries to visualize things in multiple ways for different learning styles. This is particularly important as you try to help a bunch of 40 somethings figure out how to navigate a slalom course using skills that are not at all natural to them. There’s a lot of teaching people to do counter-intuitive things. Continue reading

Start Small to Win Big (or Fail Quietly)…

green shootsI don’t know about the rest of you, but I have had to learn to avoid making some goals virtually unachievable from the get go. Lose 20 pounds! Improve efficiency by 35% in your area! Grow your business by (ridiculously large) percent!

The chasm between where you are and where the dream might put you can seem really wide. Some folks are great at ignoring obstacles and blindly plowing ahead, sustained by some mix of endless optimism or ignorance. Most people I know can’t do that, nor do I think they should. One person’s dream is another person’s fool’s errand.

So how do I have big dreams or goals, make progress and NOT kill myself, my colleagues or those around me? Start small! Continue reading

Clarity: Your actions speak so loudly, Part 2

reflection of manakinLast post we discussed being honest with yourself and whether you see yourself clearly. The next logical question then is, “do you understand how the world sees you?” Understanding our own motivations, actions, successes and missteps is important. We often fail to understand or forget how powerful a message we are sending through our actions. To repeat Mr. Emerson, “your actions speak so loudly, that I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

My father used to observe that as a leader, he couldn’t see into people’s hearts. All he could see was what they did. I think that’s exactly right. His point was that trying too hard to discern “intent” or “the content of people’s hearts” can be really challenging. Continue reading

Clarity: Your actions speak so loudly…

reflection of manakinRalph Waldo Emerson famously said “your actions speak so loudly, that I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I shared this with my son recently as one explanation for why effort matters. People can see your effort, or lack of. And in the end it shows in results.

But I think Emerson speaks to a broader theme about the games we play with ourselves and with others. I’m going to focus on the importance of being honest with yourself and others, as well as the importance of reading your environment.

Do you really see yourself clearly?

It is incredibly powerful to “know yourself”. It helps you make good choices about priorities, helps you be a strong teammate and in general makes for a happier existence. It’s also a journey, as we all change over time. I am both very much the same and very different today than 20 years ago.

For example, You say you really are committed or love something? Are you really? Continue reading

Setting & Achieving Goals: My Weightloss Journey

This is intended to address any journey that’s tough and you’ve been resisting even though you know it’s better for you than where you are. For me it’s been my weight. For years…

My nickname in college was “doughboy” (Thanks Mike) and justifiably. I wasn’t really heavy, but for a really active guy I wasn’t “lean” either. As my career progressed I gained and lost weight  but seemed to always be ~200ish lbs when I should have been 175. I peaked at 218 in MBA and 215 at 3M. I’d comfort myself by saying my BMI was below “obese” and rationalize the indexes as “too simplistic”. We’re all good rationalizers. Continue reading

Critical Thinking: Step 1 – Write the Problem Down!

Have you ever gotten down the path of a project or some chunk of work you’re grinding on and thought “what are we trying to do here?”

Well you’re not alone.

I have taught “critical thinking” methods for years now to undergraduate, graduate and experienced professional audiences. The vast majority consistently fail to use a coherent and consistent method of problem solving.

I’m going to focus a few posts this term on some of the core tools and techniques I teach to help individuals and teams be more disciplined in their thought process. If you really engage them you’ll be more efficient and effective as a professional.

The first we’ll call “Problem Definition”. I mean this comprehensively. The core of the exercise is writing down the one sentence question or description of the problem as you see it. But to do that we’ll talk about other aspects of the problem  to think through and document to ensure that we’re not missing “knowable” things from the start. Continue reading

Driving Results: What Closes Deals?

One of the joys of my job and life is the number of smart folks I get to be around. I gain a ton from their collective wisdom.  I picked up a gem this week from friend Chris Kopka. He passed on one of his colleagues’ distilled views of what it takes to make sales consistently.

It goes like this, “Conviction sells, Emotion buys, Logic pays for it.”

Perfect. It immediately struck me as exactly right and neatly sums up years of sales and marketing experience and it’s a bit Yoda-like in brevity (“No try, only do”).

In my experience, to drive through to a final decision you really need all three working at the same time. Like a three legged stool. Continue reading

Keys to Success: Never Underestimate the Value of Sheer Effort

The value of sustained commitment and focused effort is incredibly powerful. I think it is also underestimated.  

 The Changing Nature of Effort

 “Work smarter, not harder” is an oft repeated and overemphasized axiom that lies at the core of the misunderstanding. It would be better stated as “Work smarter” and left at that.  I say this because working “smarter” generally depends on working harder. At least at first.  You always have to work hard if you want success. The nature of that work will change as you get “smarter” and develop knowledge and experience in a given field.   Continue reading

Driving Results: Managing Stakeholders Effectively

It doesn’t matter that you’re right if no one cares what you have to say. I can’t emphasize this enough.

So often what is emphasized in school and management/professional training focuses on analytical clarity, technical skills and how to be “persuasive” in the context of presenting and telling your story clearly (and even this last part doesn’t get enough attention).

These are all valuable skills, worthy of developing. But if you want to consistently be successful in getting buy-in to your efforts, they aren’t enough.

You need to effectively manage relationships with relevant “stakeholders” if you expect consistently good outcomes.

A stakeholder is anyone who can affect or is affected by the decision you are trying to reach. So if you are trying to re-organize a business unit, stakeholders might include customers, staff, management, corporate officers etc.

Why should I care?

It’s simple. Do want to get things done? Here are few practical reasons why you need to bring people into your process (as appropriate). Continue reading

Distracting Performance Killers: Give them a “Ball of Yarn”

As in, sometimes you need to “give people a ball of yarn.”

Ever had that team member who messed stuff up, just couldn’t get it right? They can’t get stuff done on time, or it’s no good and needs major rework from other team members. These folks need to be given a ball of yarn. Like a kitty – give them a nice, enjoyable distraction that keeps them occupied. Stated differently, how do I make them virtually disappear without a big scene?

I spend the better part of my professional life trying to help people improve their skills and personal effectiveness. Having said that, some people just aren’t that strong and/or motivated in a given position. That doesn’t make them bad people, but for whatever reason, they’re a bad fit for the current role and can’t get it going.

For this post I’m assuming you’ve tried to redeem the person in question and it just hasn’t worked.

So who are we talking about?
I’ve developed a sophisticated, statistically significant, 2×2 matrix for colleagues to illustrate this point. Call it the “how good is this colleague?” matrix. You could also think of it as a quality of work life indicator. Put capability on one axis and motivation on the other and you get precisely 4 categories of colleagues. No more, no less. (As a consultant, I have to work in a 2×2 as often as possible or I lose my membership card.)

The category names are fairly self-explanatory. There’s probably more to say about this in a future post, but I wanted to lay it out as a set-up for talking about effectively occupying productivity killers.
Continue reading