I’ll Just Make Up The Rest…

The biggest movie of 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens left open a few mysteries. Is Rey Luke’s daughter? How did Poe survive the tie-fighter crash? Why is C-3PO’s arm red? Is Captain Phasma still in the trash compactor?

The internet is abuzz with speculation about a familiar galaxy far, far away.

What does internet speculation about a space fantasy have to do with leadership? It’s simple. When people do not have information about something they care about, they fill in the blanks with their own story.

Companies who are, either by circumstance or design, secretive or slow to share information invite rumors and speculation among team members. There is no quicker poison to a company’s culture than gossip over rumors.

Companies and leaders sometimes plead the Fifth, choosing silence over explanation. For example, when a high-profile person within the company is let go, many companies make the mistake of pretending it never happened. They trudge along without addressing the missing elephant in the room. Their reasons might be sound (for example, they may not want to smear somebody’s reputation who was a long-time and popular employee but was caught stealing and justly fired). Nonetheless, by not addressing the obvious they leave the story on a cliffhanger… and people chime in with their interpretation of the rest of the story.

Transparency is clearly important (ha–see what I did there?). The message does not have to be, “Attention Everyone: we just fired John because he’s a scumbag thief!” The message only has to address what happened honestly and tactfully, “Team, we’re sorry to tell you John is no longer with the company. Out of respect for everyone, we can’t really share details around why we parted ways, but we wish John well and hope to lean on many team members to help fill the gaps in the interim. Please direct any questions to Michael in HR. Thanks.”

Rumors might still crop up, but with a polite and timely message, the nature of the information being filled in will put the company in better light. In other words, team members will assume the best (Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter) instead of the worst (Poe is secretly a double agent) .

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The Final Word on Leadership

The last word on leading others hasn’t been written. The absolute best book on leadership out there… isn’t out there.

It turns out there are as many ways to lead as there are leaders and if any leader had all the answers, then people like John Maxwell would have only one book published on the subject, instead of more than 40.

Take your leadership advice with a grain of salt, whether it comes from me or someone rich and famous for writing a lot of ineffective advice. (How do I know it’s ineffective? Because if it was effective, you would not need 40 different books to prove it works.)

All advice on leadership is not bad (in 40 books of trial and error–or 40 blog posts–there has to be at least a few gems, right?). The point is there are many styles and methods to lead. Find one that works for you, and try others now and then.

Baskin-Robbins used to be famous for having 31 flavors of ice cream. They had the right idea and it works the same for leadership. There are many flavors to choose from and you can sample as many as you want. You will find your favorite and least favorite, for sure, but you will not know which is which, until you try each. You might find mixing and matching works best or you might be a die-hard vanilla sort of leader.

Regardless of the additives, though, the core ingredients of leadership–just like the core ingredients of ice cream (milk, ice, sugar)–remain the same. For leaders, the core ingredients are: Listen, think, act… in the right measure. 3 parts listening to the data and people around you, 2 parts thinking about the appropriate action and predictable consequences, and finally 1 part action… because after listening (gathering data) and thinking (planning), taking action is the easy part. It will become obvious and seem instinctive if the rest of the recipe is right.

Listen, think, act… because the opposite never works.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

 

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Do You Know What Motivates Your Team?

Leading a high-performing team requires understanding how to motivate individual performers. When you know what motivates your team, you can better lead them to drive results. Even better, you will be able to help them lead themselves.

Let’s start by acknowledging that most people do not know what motivates them. If you ask one of your team members what motivates them, you will probably receive a vague answer (“money”, “family”, “praise”), if any answer. One reason is because they are trying to guess what you think is the right answer. No one wants to give the boss a bad answer. The other reason is because they legitimately do not know.

Few people spend the time to consider what drives them forward each day and what they want from life. They are moving too fast to consider it. Still, it does not hurt to ask. If you really want to know what motivates someone, though, the best way to find out is through observation. Pay attention to their interactions with other people. Notice what types of situations and conversations energize them and what challenges they shy away from or reluctantly accept.

I used to lead a sales team and I found 3 primary motivators among my employees. These 3 motivators extend beyond sales, so I thought I would share them with you, as I have seen them:

1. Motivated by Greed. Some people seem motivated by money–by financial goals. They want to make all the money they can and they will do whatever it takes to have more than the person next to them. Of course, money itself is not the motivator. The motivator is what they believe money brings–status, luxury, a reputation among their peers or family. They want to feel famous in their own world.

2. Motivated by Deed. Some people are motivated by winning. Money is nice but what they really want is to be the best. They enjoy recognition of their ability and they are not only “in it to win it” but they are also driven to perform as role-models. They take intentional, conscious action to learn, and work hard to do whatever they do better than everyone else. They love to see goals in front of them almost as much as they love blowing past those goals. They want to feel proud and accomplished. They are motivated by the action of perfection itself.

3. Motivated by Need. Some people just want to do right by others. They work in alignment with a moral code. They never want to be seen as a slick “car salesman”. They have to fill a need to be in service to others, volunteering for a greater charitable calling to help their church, or the environment, or local charities. Moreover, they need the people they serve to acknowledge their nobility or fortitude. They want to help people and they feel a need to have people know how much they sacrifice. They need to feel good about themselves.

 

By helping a team member or friend play to their strengths and motivations, I find they compel themselves to excel. Often, this is done by simply framing a conversation to align with their motivational view-point. For example, during a sales contest, I might frame a conversation like this for each motivator:

  1. Greed: Pat, if we finish number one in this sales contest, you will have an extra $1,000 in your pocket, which will make a nice first payment on that new Lexus you want. Just throwing it out there…
  2. Deed: Chris, you owe it to yourself to finish at the top. I know you can do it. You know you can do it. You have worked and practiced for this. Now let’s show everyone else why you are the best at what you do.
  3. Need: Sam, finishing number one in this contest means you could be a hero at the shelter. What a cool gift that would be to donate, and honestly, if Pat wins it, you know that money will not go to a charity. I want to see the look on your face when you write the check. Make me proud.

 

The important thing, of course, is to be authentic to yourself in these conversations. If you don’t care if Pat gets the Lexus, or Chris leads by example, or Sam gives the money to a charity, then don’t pretend to be on their side. If you are not motivated by them feeling motivated, then they won’t be motivated by you. Use a different tactic.

Either way, it is good to know what energizes the people around you so you can have conversations that energize you both. Whether your thing is Greed, Deed, or Need, knowing the prime motivators will help you succeed.

 

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Would You Have A Beer With Me?

When I choose people for my team, I look for the right skills and experience but I don’t bank everything on someone’s credentials or qualifications. I can teach a new team member how to do what I need them to do but I can not teach charisma, candor, or personality.

One thing I think about when I am interviewing is, “Would I want to have a beer with this person?” In other words, do I like this person? Are they interesting? Do I want to learn more about them? Could I see myself hanging out with them in a non-work environment?

One of the most important things you can do when choosing the people around you is choose people you genuinely like.

Working with people you enjoy being around makes life more interesting, work more engaging, and relationships more enriching.

(If you don’t drink beer, by the way, just replace it with “tea” or “lunch” or something else that works for you.)

 

 

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Stay Cool Everybody

As our new hires wrapped up their training, I asked what was the thing they would most remember about their experience after we flew them back to their home markets.

“Everybody in the company is just so cool…” was their biggest take-away.

As a company, you can offer a lot of things to lure talented workers… money, benefits, job perks, starting bonuses, etc. The catch with that is there will always be a company that can offer more of those.

The thing no other company can offer is your culture. When employees know they are working with a purpose, surrounded by other motivated, friendly people who are there to support them, those other things melt away.

Every company has a culture and a subtext to the culture. The subtext lives in the parentheticals, fleshing out the full culture. It looks like this:

Our company culture is based on  Teamwork (but not across teams, only with the few coworkers in your trusted circle), Empowerment (but we do not actually trust you or want you to make decisions), and Integrity (but we have never looked that word up in a dictionary or defined what it means, specifically, to our company–it just sounds like a good, important thing to have).

Lofty words sound nice. As a new employee, I would assume the company I chose to work for believes in things like Honesty, Transparency, and Trust–but just because it is in the Mission Statement does not mean it is in the culture.

Creating a powerful company culture is a modern complexity and many (indeed, most) companies struggle with it, but it is super simple. Culture starts at the top, with the examples set by the company leaders.

Leaders lead.

If they live the culture they want others to follow, what fills the parentheses will take care of itself. In other words, a duplicitous leader creates a duplicitous culture. Leaders who show Teamwork, grant Empowerment and Trust before those things are begged for, define Integrity and demonstrate it, are Transparent about the what and why of decisions, and hold Honesty as high a value as proper hygiene… well, those leaders have employees who leave the corporate office saying, “Everybody in the company is just so cool!”

Be calm and stay cool, leaders.

 

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Lead With A Light Touch

There is a pervasive fear among inexperienced leaders: “I can’t trust my people.”

They never say it that way, of course. They may not even realize they feel that way. It comes out in more innocuous ways. It is the leader who is a borderline micro-manager (because people need direction), the person that resists delegating a task (because it has to be done “right”), or the time-watcher who judges their team’s commitment by what time each member’s day starts and finishes (rather than by the results they produced).

In other words, these people are heavy-handed leaders. They believe they have to be involved in everything, every step of the way. They worry if anyone else takes the wheel, that person will promptly drive the bus off a cliff.

I prefer to lead using cruise-control, adjusting course with a light touch, as needed. I grant my team a lot of authority and let them do things their way. In fact, one of the trade-offs of being a leader is you no longer get to decide what the “right way” to do something is. You give up having the only answers and trust people to reach the same results you would, but in their own way. In other words, I might show a team member how I perform a task but I do not expect them to do it the same way I showed them now and forever. I expect them to do it whatever way works best for them.

The way I see it, my job as a leader, has three primary functions:

1.  Teach my team to think for themselves and create their own ways of getting work done. Essentially, as long as we are doing nothing that is immoral, unethical, or illegal, we are on the right track.

2.  Stay out of their way. I provide their assignments and some direction. I am here for questions. Outside of that and asking for a regular update if I am not hearing from them (in case I have to update anyone), I trust them to do their work.

3.  Remove obstacles. The time when it is appropriate to step in as a leader is when your team hits a roadblock. Then, you jump in and clear that roadblock–whether it is to provide tools or  political cover or simply moral support–and then get back out-of-the-way.

 

Leading with a light touch helps your team rely on themselves, trust their decisions, and grow both personally and professionally. It helps you grow, too. When you learn to clear roadblocks instead of being a roadblock, you become an effective and trusted leader. You set the example for others and you end up determining the course of the whole organization, almost invisibly.

It is simple when you think about it. Just be someone you would want to work for.

Go. Lead.

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Don’t Pay For Performance

I use a radical hiring ideology: pay the most we feel a position is worth.

In other words, when I look at an open position, the question I ask is not, “What is the cheapest we can get someone for?” It is not, “What is the competition paying?”. The question I ask is, “If we found the perfect person for this position, someone who will knock it out of the park and make our team even better… what would I be willing to pay that person if she was the world’s best negotiator? What is the price she would command?”

That’s where I start. Then I do a deep-dive compensation analysis of the market, the cost of living, unemployment rate in the area, etc. and adjust according to what we can afford.

This flies in the face of nearly every employer I have ever worked for… and it has been an incredibly successful approach.

There is a fundamental breakdown in the way employers approach hiring. Most companies have an entrepreneurial philosophy–start with a lower wage and reward performance as people help the company grow.

It makes sense on its face, especially in Sales. If you drive the business and bust hump, you will reap the benefits of “unlimited earning potential!”. Except there is no such thing. You might as well offer free unicorn rides to your potential hires… and they know that is what you are offering.

Performance-based pay generally breaks down in at least two ways…

1.  Potential hires know if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If I could simply out-work my fellow team members to enjoy the laurels of success, then I would already be a multi-millionaire, and so would most of my friends. The fact is performance based pay is presented as a carrot when it is actually a stick. The target to success is a moving one (sales quotas always go up, never down), politics become involved, and, quite honestly, most employees do not understand how the financials of a company work–they just know the company made X millions of dollars last year and they made X thousands.

2.  When you start with a lower base-pay, you lower the quality of people in the running. This is the big one that most employers miss. You might have a starting pay of $8 per hour but you know that a decent employee will end up making $23 per hour if they are good at their job and earn bonuses. The problem is, the person you hired applied for an $8 per hour job. They didn’t do the math. They don’t know how your bonus structure works or what obstacles might be placed in their way. You are hiring the type of person who applies for an $8 per hour job. Why not hire the type of person who applies for a $23 per hour job from the start?

 

I get it. Most companies were started by, or are run by, entrepreneurs at heart. They are the rare few people who find a way to succeed no matter what. They see the world in a unique way and leverage their vision and nearly limitless drive to make things happen. Their folly is they assume the rest of the world is just like them. They assume that a meritocratic salary structure that rewards performance will automatically weed out the weak and reward the best in their best people.

Sometimes it works. There is always a diamond in the rough waiting to be found and developed. Here is another approach to consider, though:

Find the people who are already top performers and hire them. The guy that is already earning $23 per hour is not looking at jobs advertised at $8 per hour “with unlimited earning potential!”. He is looking at $30 per hour jobs. He has already put in his time to prove his value. He is already successful and motivated–that’s how he got to where he is. With rare exception, he is not looking to start at the bottom again.

If your hope is to find a total rock star employee, then start at the top–where they live, not the bottom.

Or better… don’t. I like not having to compete for the best people.

 

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Principles Instead of Goals

One of my goals this year is to do away with goals.

I have been wondering about the effectiveness of goal-setting for some time and it is hard for me to accept that setting goals is not worthwhile. Yet… in a world of constant fluctuation, I find goals to be merely placeholders instead of targets.

When you set a goal, one of two things happens. You achieve it or you don’t. If you don’t, typically, you just move the goal. Many people set a goal of “lose weight” at the beginning of the year, for example. Many people do not achieve their goal or, if they do, they quickly slide back. For those that do not reach the goal, they move the goal. “I’ll try again next year,” or, “I’ll just try to lose 10 pounds by March instead of 20.”

The same thing applies to business goals. Sales teams try to hit their target–sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. If they do, the target gets set higher–it moves. If they don’t, the date to reach the target is adjusted–the goal still moves.

The point of a goal is to inspire people to do better but I think there is a better way to do that. Rather than living for goals, live by principles.

Principles work differently. If I live by the principles of eating healthy and staying active, then I probably will never have to worry about reaching a weight goal. If my organization lives by the principle of “deliver amazing service for a fair price” then the sales will take care of themselves.

Wherever I see a goal now, I am going to look at the underlying principle that is supposed to be driving it and examine why the principle is not being lived up to rather than why the goal is not being met.

I think if we identify the correct principles, we will never have to waste our time or energy on chasing goals and targets.

Goals are a finish line at the end of a race. Principles are what make you want to run in the first place.

Principles over Goals.

 

 

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Light Hearted Leadership

I attended Seth Godin’s Leadership Workshop a couple weeks ago and “Rule 6” has been sticking with me. “Don’t forget Rule 6,” Seth admonished us attendees. Rule 6 is “Never take yourself too seriously.”

As an adolescent, I worked at my uncle’s restaurant, washing dishes. One day, I opened the faucet and the handle snapped, creating an instant water fountain in the kitchen. The cooks scrambled to save food. The bus boys scrambled to cover surfaces and keep things dry. The waitresses fled to keep their hair from getting wet. And the water kept gushing toward the ceiling. I was the only who didn’t move. I froze, panicked. I knew my uncle was going to kill me, I just knew it.

What I did not know, though, was my uncle had learned Rule 6. While I stared in awe and terror at the water-spout, my uncle grabbed a towel and forced the water down. “Mikey!” he said, snapping me to attention. I thought I was about to get fired… and then terminated. When I glanced up, though, my uncle looked like a dog who went swimming for the first time. He was soaking wet, hair in his face, and water dripping off every corner of his body but he had the biggest smile I had ever seen. Unbelievably, he started laughing. He said, “Guess we didn’t see that coming, huh?” I had no idea how much food we lost or what the clean-up was going to cost us but I knew it was a big hit financially that day, and it was somehow my fault, and my uncle was going to have to pay for it all and was about to fire me, and he was laughing?

“Hold this while I grab a wrench,” my uncle said, putting my hand on the towel holding back the water-spout. Seeing him laugh also eased the tension with everyone else in the kitchen. Within minutes, the cooks and bus boys were singing songs while they frantically cleaned up and sent orders out. Everyone was laughing and making jokes about what just happened.

After the water was mopped up and everything was put back together, I knew the yelling would come but it never did. I learned, over time, that my uncle had a light heart about the worst disasters. It was not that he did not respond or take appropriate action when bad things happened. It was that he did it while appreciating the absurdity of the unexpected. He knew things do not always go the way we want and when bad things happen, there was no point in reacting badly and making them worse.

Today, I lead with a light heart, too, and I appreciate Rule 6.

Problems are serious. Situations are serious. Strategy is serious. Emergencies are serious. But you don’t have to be. When problems arise, you do not have to be the type of person everyone expects to die from a stress-induced heart attack or brain aneurysm brought on by yelling so angrily you burst a blood vessel in your forehead.

Try being someone who understands life is not always perfect and knows the unexpected is the fun part. It’s okay to smile when bad things happen. It does not mean you do not recognize things have gone badly. It means you are committing to not making them worse. What good will lending a bad reaction to a bad situation do?

Life would be boring without the challenges, anyway.

Leading with a light heart during tough times endears your team to follow you and rise up, keeping light hearts as well (of course, some people will feel angry that you are not being “serious enough” for them–but that is their problem, isn’t it?). Think about it. If there was a disaster, which team would you want to be on?

The one singing and smiling while they continue to serve customers and get the job done, or… well… the other one?

You can choose to smile.

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Theory of Business Complexity

The father of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing, created a theory of computation which describes the limitations and capabilities of any computers we can imagine.

Turing’s theory, dumbed down to a basic of rule of thumb, tells us computing power is limited by only three things. These three things are also, I think, the limitations of human ability.

Consider that humans are essentially extraordinary computers. What we call “computers”, after all, are merely tools we have made to replicate facets of human behavior. Therefore, Turing’s limitations of computers applies to human brain power as well.

As a leader in your organization (or just as a leader in your life), these are the same three limitations you face against any complex problem. Here they are:

1.  Size. An easy way to think about this is to compare us to, let’s say, chickens. Why can’t chickens solve problems like transportation, communication, and space travel? Well, one obvious reason is they simply do not have the brain capacity. They are simply maxed out on storage space and memory. If their brains were big enough, though, they would have the capacity to know anything.

As humans, we have an abundance of capacity. Our brains are big enough to understand the mathematics of the universe and still leave room for remembering where our car keys are (most of the time).

Is the size of your team or organization large enough to handle the problem(s) you are facing? Do you have far more capacity than you can use?

2.  Speed. Chickens simply can not compute as fast as humans. If they could, they would be able to outsmart us (assuming they had enough capacity for planning), and perhaps even overthrow us as kings of the Animal Kingdom.

The reason a computer can outsmart a person when playing chess, is not a size issue. The human has the storage space in her head to know all possible moves and think through them accordingly. The obstacle is speed. A computer can calculate those possible moves in a fraction of the time a human can. Given enough time, a human can (and does) beat a computer at chess.

Does your team have the resources needed to move fast? How much of your return on investment goes back into improving training and providing better tools? Are you allowing your team the flexibility, trust, and authority to make decisions quickly, without you as the middle man? How can you go faster?

3.  Society. Actually, the word I want to use here is “culture”, but “society” keeps the alliteration with the “s” sounds. Nonetheless, think about the society chickens surround each other in. It is not a social norm or cultural expectation for them to develop their brains or think about complex problems. Chickens did not create fire or invent the wheel because chickens have not evolved a culture of learning, of problem solving, tinkering, or exercising creativity.

What is the society or culture of your company or team? Do you have a culture that embraces creativity or stifles it? (If you are stifling it, then you are probably doing so by limiting the Size or Speed of your team.) Do you have a culture of problem-solving, tinkering, and trying new ideas?

 

Turing came up with his theory of computational scalability in the 1930’s. The concept remains useful and relevant close to a hundred years later and in areas he probably never thought about it.

When facing what seems to be an insurmountable problem, take a step back from the issue itself and look at the three things that are actually limiting you from solving it: Size, Speed, and Society. If you focus on the underlying problems of capacity, timeliness, and culture (size, speed, and society), then you just might be able to solve any problem you come across.

I’d like to share more about this but my tablet’s battery is running low, I’ve got to hurry to another appointment, and my pets are looking at me like I spend too much time writing.

Size, Speed, Society.

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