Monday, April 30, 2007

Get Out of Their Way

Can you over-lead or be so engaged in your business that it is to a point where your leadership becomes a hindrance? I personally believe that there is a time when a leader must get out of the way and let their people perform. You cannot be permanently perched over the shoulder of an employee and expect him or her to perform at optimal levels. This has been likened to a track coach running behind one of his or her athletes yelling "Run Faster!" This approach to leadership simply does not work. If you have surrounded yourself with a team of talented folks that have a successful track record, you have to reward these individuals with the autonomy to execute.

"Don't tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results." - George Patton

The time that leaders are removed from the immediate execution process needs to be invested in the development of new initiatives and business strategies. This time can also be invested by increasing focus on a struggling area of your business as you "measure what you treasure." Getting out of the way can be difficult for those in leadership positions that typically enjoy being in the role of field general. A benefit of this action is that you start to see people shine in roles of increased autonomy. You can convey this process in a positive fashion by defining your culture as autonomous and one in that if you need direction you seek it verses having it forced upon you. This is a very enticing proposition when recruiting those with advanced leadership skills. Not only will this build value in your organization, but in you as the leader. Give your people the room to perform and they will, more times than not, reward your trust with positive results.

What were the circumstances the last time you over-managed? How lasting was the negative impact of your actions?

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Have you ever noticed how a business will take on the personality of its leader? Another example is when a leader truly takes ownership over an initiative and his or her staff members follow suit. I see examples of this everyday in our business. What is important to the leader of any given piece of our business is also important to those that report to the leader. Is it due to the anticipation of inspection of results or efforts? Maybe in some cases this applies, but in most it is due to the elevation of the level of passion for a particular piece of the business that the leader has embraced that causes the increase in revenue, income, activity, etc.

Understanding this can give a leader an advantage when dealing with their teams. You can increase the overall effectiveness of your people by not only keeping your message consistent but by the manner in which you deliver the message. Even if you are having a bad day, you need to deflect or filter your inner frustrations from those that you lead so you can keep the environment positive and productive. All too often leaders fail in this regard. An example of this would be if traffic was bad on the way into the office and the leader gets upset, lets this spillover into the workplace and allows it to set the tone for the entire day. Be cognizant of your mind set, body language and verbal communication to your team. This is especially true early in the workday. Sometimes leaders derail their operation without even realizing it. Being keenly aware of the completeness of the impact you can have on your people will elevate your leadership skill set.

Always remember that people emulate their leaders. This can be great if the leader is confident, capable and always able to deliver the right message at the right time.

Start your day tomorrow in a unique way that would be completely out of character. What kind of impact did that have on the rest of the work day? Did anyone else on your team step outside of the norm? People emulate their leaders....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Failing Forward

Leaders have to know and understand when it is acceptable to allow people to fail. Failure is a part of the professional development process. As long as all related risks to the business are low, leaders can afford to occasionally allow their folks to experience personal and professional growth via "failing forward."

Proper management of the failure experience on the part of the leader will help ensure the desired development is attained. A leader has to make the time to have a discussion with his or her team member on what caused the failure, how to avoid the same mistake in the future, and finally to ensure that the individual completely understands the cause of his or her failure. If each of these steps is accomplished, there is a much higher probability that there will not be a repetition of errors or failure. This process also aids in furthering the team member's professional growth and is quite necessary in developing heavy lifters as well as the future leaders of your business or organization. When having this discussion with one of your team members, be sure to begin by explaning the failure in logical terms at the beginning of the discussion. Be direct in your coaching; you have to make certain that there is a complete understanding not only of the failure but also of the implications it is having on your business. Once that is accomplished, you can start the process of pointing the person in a new direction and give him or her a nudge down the right path.

Everyone (leaders included) must be open to learning from their mistakes or bad decisions. If you are in a leadership position, it is likely that you comprehend the process of allotting the amount of time you should give to each decision based on the long-term implications it will have on your business. Obviously, the more critical and long-lasting the impact, the more time, thought and investigation is warranted. The ability to make effective decisions is part of the reason you are in a leadership position today. This talent can be taught and developed in others and is part of the "failing forward" process. By helping your employees learn how to make better decisions you will elevate and lead your organization to higher levels of performance. A big part of this developmental process requires giving employees the room to fail. This requires the leader to not only be receptive of some failure but also (and this is sometimes the tougher part of the process) requires the leader to get out of the way and let people do their jobs.

How comfortable are you with allowing your people to develop by "failing forward?"
"Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes." – John Dewey
"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." – Henry Ford

Monday, April 23, 2007

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

The title of this post is a well known phrase with regards to the sales process and customer-service side of business. If you over-commit yourself or your services to an initial customer, you are at great risk of losing their business in the short-term. More importantly, you will most likely never regain their trust or their business.

This concept is also important when it comes to leadership. A leader has to stand behind his or her word and deliver on what is communicated. If you over-promise and under-deliver to your people, you will lose their respect while simultaneously extinguishing their enthusiasm. Leaders cannot get caught up in trying to please everyone all of the time or in winning popularity contests. Leadership requires the ability to make the tough decisions. Sometimes these decisions can negatively impact an individual while being in the best interest of the business. Effective leaders will always make sure to take whatever time necessary to have those tough discussions with their clients or staff members when necessary, and they will take the extra step to keep their folks informed as to why certain decisions are made.

Leaders have to be just as aware of over-promising and under-delivering to the individuals they lead as sales executives must be when walking a prospect through the buying process. As a leader you can set yourself up to be successful by doing the reverse (under-promising and over-delivering). Make this a general rule in how you interact with others and you will always do well in establishing your credibility as an effective leader.

What commitments have you made recently? Have you lived up to your "promises?" If not, are you still committed?

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Run

Have you ever noticed how true leaders will run towards a problem, not from one? The most effective leaders are the ones who have their senses so in tune with the business that they can smell smoke before there is a fire. Problems will exist in every business. There are even people in leadership positions who will ignore problems in hopes that they will dissipate or go away on their own. Typically, what they find out is that the problem or conflict will expand quickly and will end up impacting multiple personnel and departments.

A leader who runs towards problems and spends time seeking out these types of issues will earn high levels of trust and respect from his or her team. If the people that you lead know that you are on the front lines removing bottlenecks and are willing to fight the good fight when needed, they will inevitably charge the hill for you when it's their turn.

When hiring for leadership positions, I will always delve into the reasons why an individual left their previous employers. This is a great way to determine if there is a pattern or history of behavior that demonstrates a willingness or unwillingness to deal with problematic issues. Individuals in leadership positions have no choice; they will have to deal with problems (sometimes severe). In the end, a leader's success or lack of success can be solely determined by his or her ability to sense problems in the making, and by his or her willingness to make "the run" for the resolution.

Smell any smoke today? Is the issue resolved?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Clarity is always important in terms of the communication you have with others, but is magnified when in a leadership position. All too often leaders walk away from conversations with a strong belief that there is a clear understanding of their goal, strategy or initiative without gaining confirmation form those that are ultimately tasked with execution.

This can be quickly rectified with a summation of the conversation and the main points conveyed back to you as the leader from those to whom you have just communicated. This goes one step beyond the typical use of, "Does that make sense?", to end a conversation and supposedly gain assurance on a complete understanding of a message. I have found that this practice can lead to a deeper conversation on certain points of the intended message to achieve complete understanding. This can be critical when you are dealing with delicate situations such as a progressive disciple process. This extra step also removes trepidation on the part of the recipient of your message to nod in agreement that they understand you, when they truly do not have a complete comprehension of what it is you are asking or communicating.

Reflect on the last two to three conversations you had with your folks today. Can you say with 100% accuracy that you accomplished complete clarity? Now go back and find out. How did you do?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


How much ownership do you have over your business even if you are not the outright owner? Now ask the same question with regards to your staff. Ownership derives high levels of self-accountability and responsibility, which are both qualities that exceptional leaders possess and strive to instill in teams.

Our company, The Employment Guide and is very autonomous and entrepreneurial in nature. There is a lot of decision making ability left to those that are leading our local efforts. This gives our business a unique ability to be nimble in how we are dealing with real threats to our business units. The more responsible a leader is with their autonomy the more autonomy they are given. This process builds the ownership factor in our leadership group and further differentiates our business from competition that may or may not have a local operation or local leadership championing their efforts.

Going about the creation of ownership among your team is a worthy investment. The building of responsibility through the assignment of task and the inspection of results is a great way to get the process rolling. Individuals who display higher levels of ownership are good candidates for succession planning. Keep these individuals close, they are the ones that will be able to help position you for an easy transition into a role of increased responsibility.

What does ownership look like and how is it identified? Looking back at my own personal experience I think first and foremost this trait is easily identifiable in people who who are problem solvers or who are defined as "heavy lifters." Do you have people on your team who are your "go-to" folks? Is someone taking on additional responsibility or making a conscious effort to go above and beyond your expectations without you personally having to lead that person to that level? Is someone a "clock-watcher" or do they commit to a job and get the job done on time and with the desired results?

Here is a very simple test to measure the level of ownership in your office. Crumble up a piece of paper and put it in a somewhat obvious place on the floor in a general work area. Now sit back and without being obvious, observe. How long does it take for that trash to find its proper home? I know this might seem a little corny (did I really just use that word?) but it might open up some eyes, mainly yours. A reverse practice or exercise of like kind could be allowing your folks to see you picking up trash out in front of your building, in the parking lot, etc. People will emulate their leaders. A public display of ownership in its simplest form can go a long way in developing the culture you need to be successful.

What percentage of your team is made up of "owners?" What are you going to do differently to build this quality among the remaining members of your team?

Friday, April 13, 2007

What is Your 20%?

Most individuals in that are in leadership roles have an understanding of the 80/20 rule. Just for the purpose of this post I will quickly summarize it. The 80/20 rule is the rule that 20% of your actions, efforts or work will result in 80% of your success, results, etc. From a sales perspective this could mean that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customer base. At a higher level it could mean that 80% of your throughput will come from 20% of your operations. Obviously, clear identification of your own personal "20%" is going to have a major impact on your success as a leader. As a leader, it is important to continually (if not daily) ask yourself, "What does my 20% need to be today?" Once these items are clearly identified, you will know where to invest your time and efforts to generate the greatest impact towards the accomplishment of your goals.

Given the hectic pace and speed of today's professional environment it can be easy to lose this focus. I can tell you from my own personal experience that staying on course and focusing on the "20%" can be a tough assignment when you are in a role that requires having a lot of balls in the air at the same time. I can also attest that if done successfully, focusing on your "20%" will have a very positive impact on your own personal productivity and your ability to lead the individuals who are on or support your team. Another important piece of the 80/20 rule that I like to utilize, but is not often attached to this theory is delegation. If a task falls into your 80% and could potentially be completed by someone who reports to you, delegate the task. This is especially true if the assignment will result in that individual experiencing professional development.

When was the last time you completed a personal 80/20 assessment? Try this out over the course of a few days and let me know if it aids in your ability to have a positive impact in your leadership role.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Attitude Change

In order to increase the ability of a team to accomplish a goal, the leader must first gain the all-important "buy-in" factor. The one consistent barrier to achieving the goal of having a team working as a cohesive unit is that perceptions and attitudes of team members might have to be altered prior to execution. In my opinion, possession of, or the development of this skill and the ability of a leader to execute this task is the first step in the process of becoming an effective leader. Leaders put focus on cause and effectively build advocacy among their team in order to produce long-lasting perception changes and desired results. How does this process take place? Here is a chart that I found online that I think does a pretty good job of displaying the process that individuals go through in determining whether or not they are going to change their attitude about a subject.

Chart originally from -

The ability of a leader to accomplish a change in attitudes comes down to their individual leadership skill level. You might know people in leadership positions who do not have to work very hard at this or to whom this skill comes naturally. On the other hand, and good news for all in a leadership capacity, is the fact that this skill can be learned, practiced and professionally developed. Yes, leadership is a skill and can be developed through studying, practicing and developing one's own ability. I have yet to come across a subject matter expert who thinks otherwise. Maxwell, Blanchard and others all agree on this topic. I have even been an eye-witness to some amazing transformations and professional growth in some individuals who are within The Employment Guide and organization. These experiences add weight to the argument that leadership skills can be developed. Have I changed your attitude about that yet?

Prior to setting out to achieve a specific task or goal, a leader must have a clear understanding of the perceptions and attitudes on his or her team. Even if a leader does not gain 100% buy-in from their team from the beginning, this process will allow for greater clarity of internal obstacles. This knowledge is very powerful and should give the leader more control of the guidance of their organization as they navigate towards exceeding his or her goals. Start the leadership process at this point and you will focus up front on what could become your biggest obstacle to success. By-pass this process and you are likely to end up with conflicts in opinions that give way to doing battle internally verses with the competition.

What has been your experience with this issue?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Leaders Reward

One of the fun parts of being in a leadership capacity is the ability to recognize good performance. Most businesses have a reward system in place that offers a bonus, plaque, etc., to reinforce positive behavior or actions. While these are effective and serve a purpose, there is another quality way to reward your employees for good performance. A simple "good job" or "thank you" can go a long way in letting someone know that you recognize his or her efforts and you are aware of the contributions the employee is making to the overall success of the organization. Through recognition and making an effort to catch people doing the right things a leader can reinforce positive actions and build morale while building the level of buy-in into their leadership.

If you want to try something fun, try making an effort to catch everyone in your operation doing something right on the same day. This can be a lot more difficult than one might think. It will take your time and attention, which is really what the act of personal recognition is all about. It is the fact that the leader invested a few minutes of their time to recognize individual performance and contributions. In many cases this simple process can make the difference between job satisfaction or conducting a job search. This action will also build additional equity with key performers on your team who will be willing to step up and offer their assistance when you need it due to unforeseen circumstances.

Make the time to recognize performance. Your folks will greatly appreciate the gesture.

I would like to hear back from you on your experience with this subject. Comment on how this experiment goes. Were you able to successfully complete the task? Did you get any unexpected reactions from those that you lead?

"I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement." Charles Schwab

"Note how good you feel after you have encouraged someone else. No other argument is necessary to suggest that one should never miss the opportunity to give encouragement." George Matthew Adams

Define Your Core

Being passionate about what you do for a living is fundamental in how effective you are as a leader. People gravitate towards people who love what they do for a living. You can instill your passion into your current leadership role no matter what you do professionally. This will not only energize your efforts, but will also make you a better leader. So how can you do this?

First make a list of the core beliefs and principals that govern your professional development. Be sure to also include what you are most passionate about from a business development perspective. Include everything just as though you are conducting a personal brainstorming session. Now take that list and create categories that would be inclusive of multiple items such as "organization" and "productivity" which can both fall under the category of "Time-Management." Now review your business strategy or your current business plans. You will increase your own personal effectiveness as a leader by increasing the levels of what you are most passionate about in how you are going to attain our goals.

A benefit of this practice is that people will emulate their leaders. If your level of passion about the things you and your team need to accomplish increases, your team's passion to accomplish the goals of the organization will also increase. This can transcend into building a work atmosphere that changes your office culture and elevates the energy level. One day you will walk into your office and the culture will be one of self-accountability. This means that the individuals that make up your team will be the ones that hold their peers accountable due to their increased level of commitment to accomplishing the goals of your office or business.

Increasing your own level of passion as to how you are planning to accomplish your goals will also create a higher level of ownership. Once again, people emulate their leaders, so this behavior will also improve the overall proficiency and mid-set of your team(s).

A clear understanding of what makes up your core is critical to your success. There are many roads you can take to accomplish your goals. Choose the road that keeps the "fire in your belly" alive and well.

What core values are at the top of your list?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Leaders Learn

If a leader expects their organization to be centered on the development of its people, he or she needs to be personally engaged in the process of improving his or her own skills and knowledge level. Effective leaders utilize all of their resources to accomplish this, including followers who can elevate their ability to be informed and make better business decisions. By having a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each team member's talents, a leader can better tailor his or her search and interview questions to find qualified people who will improve internal resources.

We have all heard the saying, "You are only as good as the people with whom you surround yourself." I know I am surrounded with the most talented folks possible who are a complement to my skill set. These are individuals on my team that I can lean on for advice, direction and knowledge and who are engaged in the leadership and direction of our business. Personally, I am on a professional development journey that I do not expect to end. Learning and growing professionally makes what we do fun. Even more enjoyable than the learning process is the benefit of being able to teach increased or new-found knowledge to others to effectively elevate our organizational knowledge level. Leadership development or the continued development of the leader transcends into an organization being centered on the continued development and professional growth of its greatest resource, its people.

What have you done recently to work on your own professional development? How have you utilized your new-found knowledge in developing your people?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Manage Your Vision

I like to look at our business in terms of cycles. I categorize our business cycles into initiatives, sales, product and industry cycles. New initiatives influence new product cycles, which are completed prior to the beginning of a new sales cycle. The introduction of a new product to a customer base through the sales process can lead to industry shifts or in this context, "cycles." It is the leader's responsibility to cast a vision for the future and build their organizational infrastructure to be prepared for the future while simultaneously executing in the current sales cycle or business environment. Proper development and execution of initiative and product cycles affords a leader to move his or her organization from one sales cycle to the next seamlessly. The leader is also responsible for timing this transition so it occurs as soon as there is a declining return on the investment of time in the current sales environment.

With regards to our businesses, The Employment Guide and ,this is best demonstrated through the introduction of new and exciting ancillary events, initiatives or electronic media products. People in our industry love to have a new and compelling story to tell. What is it about your organization that is remarkable or will create excitement on the part of the key people in the businesses where you provide your products or services? Is it a new twist on a current product? Is it new technology? The creation of a new compelling story ushers in with it a new sales cycle and represents the graduation of a product cycle. Tied to this process comes the responsibility to once again engage in the initiative and product development cycles. Effective leaders can manage multiple initiatives, products and sales cycles concurrently. This is how effective leadership and the leader's vision continuously breathes life into a business and positions an organization to become an industry leader.

Can you identify each of the "cycle" components in how you are currently leading your organization? Initiative -> Product -> Sales -> Industry

Monday, April 2, 2007

Murphy's Law and Leadership

1> If anything can go wrong, it will (e.g. if you drop a piece of toast, it will inevitably fall jam-side down.)
2> Nothing is as easy as it looks.
3> Everything takes longer than you think it will.
4> Whatever you've planned to do costs more than the original estimate.
5> There is nothing sadder than a great idea whose time has not come.
6> Whatever project you set out to do,some other project must be done first.
7> Although you can't fool all of the people all of the time, you can sure fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.
8> By making something perfectly clear, someone will be totally confused.
9> Every great idea has a disadvantage equal to, or exceeding, the greatness of the idea.
10> Precise planning, minute attention to detail and exact timing never succeed like dumb luck.

Here is the link to the above list that I found through a search on Google.

You might be wondering what Murphy's Law and leadership have in common or how they could be relative. I am using this as a demonstration of why it is important for leaders to invest time in the proper preparation of their resources to execute their strategic plans despite the emergence of unforeseen obstacles. A vision needs to be cast by the leader, and then the real investment of time, efforts, money, etc., will begin. As a leader, I encourage you to slow down your efforts or "pull back the reigns" on yourself to make sure that the journey is one of not only accomplishment but of professional development. Even if you do everything right, Murphy's Law can still render itself in an attempt to negatively impact your ability to be successful. Good leaders are prepared and knowingly have a contingency plan or excess capacity in order to deal with detrimental issues. If properly prepared, strong leaders will overcome and lead their teams to higher levels regardless of the magnitude of obstacles. Just like the Boy Scouts say...."Be Prepared."

In what way has Murphy's Law made an appearance with regards to your business? Did you have your contingency plan ready?