“I Didn’t Do It!” A brief story about responsibility, leadership and more.

From the very moment that I didn’t pen those timeless words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, I knew that it wouldn’t change my life and the lives of countless others who didn’t read what I hadn’t written.

As I contemplated that truth, my eye didn’t look at that painting of the woman with the gentle smile that I didn’t paint.  Her peace and calm didn’t speak dignity and warmth to many hearts over the years.

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As I didn’t sit before my piano, the notes of a powerful and moving hymn which I had’t written, didn’t touched my soul and bring me nearer to the divine.

One day as I wasn’t imagining possibilities, I didn’t happen on an idea to start a business to help everyone stay in closer connection with friends and family.  Quickly, I didn’t put my ideas down on paper.  As I didn’t inquire around, I didn’t discover that this was something that many, many people would be glad to pay to have.  I didn’t find investors to back my idea. Quick as a flash, I didn’t organize a company to  make my discovery a reality.  I didn’t hire workers to help produce my product.  I didn’t secure the services of lawyers and accountants to protect the patents and copyrights.  I didn’t enjoy a career of operating my own company and helping others to become something better.

I didn’t spend just a few extra minutes with my son playing catch with a football.  I didn’t laugh as he tried to catch a ball that was almost as big as he was.  A few years later, I didn’t almost burst with pride as he didn’t catch the winning touchdown in a high school football game.

After college, when he didn’t meet a sweet woman who accepted his marriage proposal,  I didn’t sigh with satisfaction that my son wasn’t becoming a responsib

As time went by, I didn’t laugh out loud as I wouldn’t push my beautiful little granddaughter above my head. And when I wouldn’t do that, she wouldn’t laugh and laugh and laugh.  I wouldn’t take her with me to the store and she wouldn’t hold my pinky finger and look up and smile at her grandpa.le, caring, contributing citizen.

Because I didn’t, she didn’t and she didn’t grow up and live happily ever after.

Letting Go of the Past – a Key to Leadership

GET OVER IT!

ImageEver been told this?  They were right, of course.  Your brooding, hesitating to take action, constantly hashing over the details in your mind does not do you any good! If we lead a team and want to be effective, we have to clean out the files of our heart and mind to eliminate the trash.  What trash do we carry around? Slights, grudges, embarrassments, failures regrets, old ideas, images of how it used to be, and much more.  The big question is, “How?”  Here are three suggestions to help let go:

  1. (a) On a piece of paper write one of the thoughts (you’ll realize why only one thought per page in a moment) that negatively affects you.  (b) Now write how you feel when you think about that. If it deals with someone else, write their name.  (c) When you have 1-3 pages, pick one up, think of a good thought you’d like to think for instead of the negative.  (d) Say, out loud (I suggest you do this in private, not in the hallway at work), “I control my thoughts and feelings. Instead of you I’m going to have thoughts about [put in the positive thought you have identified].”  In your mind visualize and imagine the feelings as you focus on the positive thought. Then with vigor, crumple the paper and throw it in the trashcan, fire, or hole in the ground! (Make sure you don’t litter.  If you bury it in the ground, make certain the paper is biodegradable.)  Don’t do too many ideas at a time or they won’t stick.  I’d suggest no more than three per day. (e) Write the positive idea or thought together with the situation or image that you want to trigger it on a piece of paper and review it twice a day for three days.
  2. It’s an old idea, but it has great power even today.  Write a list of your blessings.  If you don’t see things in terms of blessings, make a list of all the good things in your life – people – family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc;   experiences; education or knowledge insights; music, tv shows, movies, or books you really enjoy; anything that makes you feel positive or stronger mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.  Keep a list by your beside or put it in your wallet/purse. Add to it as you think of new things.  Many who have done this, struggled to come up with items at first, but over time were able to develop a long list. Once you have your list, any time you start feeling a little down, discouraged, or frustrated pull it out and review some of the items on the list.
  3. If it has to do with relationships with another person, the most helpful method I’ve found is to talk to the person. But you need to approach it with the right attitude.  Your purpose is not to change them. If that is you intent, most the time you will fail. However, if your purpose is to unload a burden off you, that can be achieved whether they accept it or not.  It also takes the load off you, and now the burden is on them to take action in the future.  Here are a couple of approaches:
    1. “When you said, ‘This information is not clear’, I took that personally, because I had spent 2 1/2 hours gathering and organizing the information. Maybe you could clarify how you want it next time, so I can provide it the way you need it.”
    2. “I’m feeling upset, because it seems we are not working well together. And it seems you are sometimes resentful, too. I sensed your frustration when I asked about the status of the mailing list this morning.  What can I do to help you?”

Some of these sound a little over the top, but they work.

What methods have you used to help “let go of the past?”

Leadership & Self-Accountability

Over the past 50 years, there has been an increase in the emphasis on ‘people-focused’ leadership styles.  Many have interpreted that to mean that we shouldn’t discipline or hold people accountable, that we should only give praise and never correction, that we should encourage but never  be firm with individuals. That kind of thinking is wrong!

People-focused leadership is successful as it provides training, encouragement, praise, and holds individuals accountable for their choices.  And the first person a leader holds accountable is herself. If a leader looks inside her own heart and mind, identifies ways she needs to improve or mistakes she has made, and actions needed to resolve the situation, as she holds others accountable, it significantly improves others willingness to receive correction positively.

To hold ourselves accountable, I would suggest at the end of each day a leader conduct a brief self-assessment by asking these three questions and write the answers in a daily journal:

  • What did I do today that was not as effective as it could have been?
  • As I worked with others, what comments, facial expressions, or body language did I observe that was not what I expected?
  • What do I need to do tomorrow to repair these?

As you do this, it will not only identify specific actions you can do to repair the situation, but it will make you more aware of what you do and how it impacts others.  By becoming more aware, it will empower you to change your actions and words to create a positive effect the first time!

What other ideas might help us to hold ourselves accountable?

Giving Specific Communication

When I was eleven years old in Des Moines, Washington, I would go to our small community library to check out a couple of books. One time, I found this book about a young boy who wanted to be a journalist. It looked interesting so I checked it out. As I read it, the boy learned that a journalist answers five ‘W’ questions with each and every article – who, what, when, where and why.

As we communicate information to others, this is a good formula to make sure we are being specific. Some examples of those questions are:

  • Who is involved, who made the decision, who does this apply to, who is working on it, who do I need to talk to
  • What are we doing, what is going to happen, what has happened, what is it, what  limitations do we need to know
  • When did this happen, when will it take place, when does it need to be operating, when will supplies (or equipment) be available, when will we report or follow-up
  • Where is this going to be used, where do the materials come from, where are others who will be involved, where are we going to do the work
  • Why is this important, why was I chosen, why do we need this, why not use an alternative approach

As we ask and answer these basic questions, we communicate more specifics.  As we are more specific in our communication, there is more clarity and transparency in our own minds, as well as, the minds of others.

Do you have an experience where a lack of specifics led to confusion, failure or frustration?

Getting Along with the Boss

One of the most important actions you, as a middle manager, needs to do is develop a good working relationship with your immediate supervisor.  Our positions exist to support and assist those above us in the hierarchy.

In order to do that, we need to communicate with our supervisor.  Here is a short list of some key information we need:

  • What are her primary goals? (Focus on the 1-2 that you can have the biggest impact on)
  • What are her priorities right now? (Not just what is urgent, but what is important)
  • How does she prefer to work? (Early or late arrival at work?, stay late, work weekends? in office, out on floor, at home, coffee shop?)
  • How does she prefer to communicate? (Weekly or monthly reports?  Formal written, email, verbal, phone call, hallway report?)

Information such as this helps you to set priorities and provide your supervisor with what she needs to be successful.  With patience, it can even reduce or eliminate micromanagement by our supervisor.

One of the ways to communicate with your supervisor is to schedule a regular meeting.  In a that meeting, discuss three areas:

(a)  Report what has happened in the recent past.  Mostly this will be successes and progress you’ve achieved.  Sometimes it will be a heads up of negative issues that might be developing.

(b) Provide a brief description about areas or issues you intend to focus on in the near future.

(c)   Inquire about changes in your supervisors priorities.

The meeting should be short, maybe 15-30 minutes. Regularly scheduling this meeting will help you keep your supervisor informed and you on track supporting both your and your supervisors priorities.

Studies show that about 75% of all people who leave jobs, do so because of a poor relationship with their supervisor.  While a lot of the responsibility for relationships may be on the supervisor, each of us can improve the situation as we improve communication with our supervisors and managers.

What actions would you suggest to improve upward communication?

People Are Like Seeds

An experienced gardener recognizes that some seeds/seedlings grow better in certain climates and soils.  Instead of planting any seed in any climate or ground, she selects varieties that will thrive in the soil and climate where the garden is located.

As leaders in the workplace, the same principle applies.  The book Good to Great by Jim Collins tells us that the very best organizations ‘get the right people on the bus’.  They don’t get caught in the “he was the best  we could find” mentality (for proper effect, shrug your shoulders here with a resigned ‘sigh’) .  They search harder to find the right person for the job.  They carefully define the job so they know just exactly what qualities they need.  They structure the interview to gather the information that will tell them how well each candidate meets those criteria.  And if they don’t have someone in this round of interviews that will be a good fit, they continue the search.  Recently I became aware of a position that an organization finally filled after a year-long search.  They weren’t dragging their feet or just unable to make a decision.  They just had a clear picture of what was needed and were unwilling to settle for less.

People, like seeds, will prosper better if the situation and job fit their needs, temperament, personality, skill and/or knowledge level.

What steps would you suggest to better select the right people?

Communication & Weeds

Leadership is like growing a garden.  Tilling the soil represents our communication.  As we loosen the soil we remove weeds.  Weeds lead to wasted resources, wasted effort, and reduced productivity.  A leader that doesn’t eliminate the weeds in the workplace will have people that are doing the wrong things, in the wrong way, at the wrong time.

In the workplace, we eliminate weeds through effective communication.  And weeds crop up constantly in gardens and the workplace.  A few small weeds are a small problem, but if they are allowed to grow, they become large and numerous, and clearing them out takes substantially more effort.

To eradicate weeds in the workplace, I’d suggest leaders need to build multiple channels of communication with their subordinates.  A minimum of four channel types are needed – (a) informal one-to-one, (b) formal one-to-one, (c) informal team, and (d) formal team.

The informal one-to-one provides a setting to enable us to get to know people and build a positive relationship with team members. Also, it helps us pull small weeds as they come up.

The formal one-to-one gives us a forum to remove bigger weeds and provides a return/report function that builds accountability.

The informal team setting allows us to convey information that is important, but neither dramatic or traumatic.  This channel can stop weeds before they begin.

The formal team channel provides a setting for training, addressing broad issues and team problem-solving.  It is the place for the dramatic and traumatic that affects the entire team.

The leader that uses all four channels will have a well-weeded garden.

What are some of the methods of communication you’ve seen used effectively?

GPS & Middle Management

My wife and I decided to move to Texas to get closer to family.  My son came up to Utah to help me drive the truck with all our household goods.  As we travelled, I found myself comparing the way we travel today with how we used to travel a number of years ago.  Before technology, we would get a map or atlas that covered the area to be travelled and would mark the route with a yellow highlighter.  Particular attention was paid to transitions from one road to another, places where we could stop for gas, food, sleep, etc.

As we drove the road, if we got off the chosen route, it frequently involved stopping to refigure where we were and consider how we might get back on track.  It usually required extra time to make adjustments and get back on target.

On this move, we used a GPS.  It required no advance planning, maps, markers, or consideration for stops. We entered in the goal (an address in Texas), determined where we would sleep for the night, and let the GPS calculate the route.  We could have tried alternative routes, but chose to follow the GPS in this case.  The GPS told us about our next turn (a) two miles in advance, (b) a half mile in advance, and (c) as we needed to make it.   The one time we missed our turn (because we weren’t paying attention), it recalculated quickly what we needed to do to get back on course.

The GPS is a good analogy of the role middle management plays in an organization.  Upper management determines the goal and the basic course an organization should take.  The ability of an organization to adapt to changes in the workplace and market is greatly influenced by how well middle management recognizes challenges, communicates information up and down the structure, and adapts to changes required to stay on target.

What examples have you seen of how middle management helps keep upper management on track?

Leadership Basics ARE the Leadership Secrets

Over many years of training leadership and management skills, frequently someone will approach me looking for some different wording or new technique to help with a ‘difficult’ situation or issue. When I then share one of those ideas with the individual, sometimes I will get a response like, “Oh, I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.” What many people fail to accept is the right words and techniques are only effective if leadership basics are in place.

A gardener knows from experience that when the roots are nurtured, the fruit, vegetable, or flower crop will be abundant, beautiful, and/or delicious. She also knows that when the roots aren’t cared for properly, the crop yield will be small and weak. Leading others can be compared to a gardener attempting to grow her garden.

So what are the basics that a leader needs to focus on in order to “nurture the roots”. I’d suggest the basics can be divided into 5 key areas:

  • Trust & Respect – An effective leader will create an environment where followers trust leaders and leaders trust followers. They both show respect for others.
  • Communication – A leader that truly understands the basics will foster broad communication, starting with listening. He will understand how to communicate clearly and positively. He will communicate one-to-one, in small groups, large groups, in-person, in-written or digital forms.
  • Relationships – The truly effective leader knows team members and they know that she knows and care about them. They understand what motivates different team members, where they have been and where they want to go. The caring leader is concerned with their well-being, wishes and needs as much as their own.
  • Direction – The dynamic leader not only understands where the organization is, where it needs to go, but also, how it will get there. He is able to communicate this so that his excitement and energy is absorbed by others.
  • Accountability – A caring leader holds herself and others accountable for their commitments. She will discuss not only successes with team members, but mistakes and weaknesses. She cares enough to help individuals grow that she will not let an uncomfortable situation deter her.

To solve most of the problems in the workplace, leadership focuses on these areas first. Then the words or techniques become powerful and effective and people follow. The true secret of effective, powerful, caring, dynamic leadership is that focusing on the basics of leadership is the secret of every great leader!

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