How to get aligned

getting alignedYou’re driving your car and you notice the steering wheel is vibrating, you have to hold it off-center to go straight, if you let go the car veers to the right or the left. When you bought the car the wheels were aligned and the car drove straight. Over time, general use, bumps over curbs, and potholes caused the wheels to be misaligned. If you want to have an easier time driving to your destination and save the wear and tear on your tires, you need to get your wheels aligned.

You are leading a project at work and it’s not meeting the deadlines that were set. When you started the project, everyone on the team understood and bought into the vision. Over time, other priorities came into focus, missteps, and mistakes, caused the project activities to be misaligned. If you want to have an easier time reaching the project milestones and save the wear and tear on the team members, you need to get your activities aligned.

How to get aligned. Getting out of alignment with car wheels happens all the time. We expect it, look for it, and deal with it by adjusting the suspension so the wheels sit on the road the correct way and move in the direction that the driver is steering. What about projects? It happens here all the time also. It’s actually just as easy to diagnose, but will take a bit longer to align than when you take your car to the mechanic. Here’s what you should do:

Go back to where you first got aligned – the vision of the end state. The reason that projects get out of alignment is that over time a team of people can forget why they are doing what they are doing. When we forget where we are going, any road seems like the right road.

Someone who knows quite a bit about cars, teamwork, and success is Mario Andretti. He is the only person to be named Unites States Driver of the year in three decades, the first driver to win IndyCar races in four decades, and the first to win auto races of any kind in five decades. On the importance of always knowing where you are going he said, “Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal.”

Revalidate that each team member knows how what they do fits into the end state. Day to day activity can become unfulfilling if we don’t understand how what we do makes a difference. Everyone needs to feel connected to something bigger.

Vince Lombardi, one of the most successful NFL coaches and namesake of the Super Bowl trophy said this about teamwork, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Get everyone back on the track to success – delegate with a plan. The project won’t work unless everyone is out working on their individual part. Don’t keep the control too close to home, you can’t keep directing everything.

Eli Broad founded two Fortune 500 companies in different industries (KB Homes and SunAmerica). His view on successful delegation is simple, “The trick to delegating is to make sure your employees share your priorities.”

A second chance.

second chance

Sometimes good people make bad choices, that doesn’t mean their bad, it means their human. A bad choice isn’t the end, but it makes the next choice that much more important. Legendary NBA coach Pat Riley said, “You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.”

“We cannot start over, but we can begin now, and make a new ending.” – Zig Ziglar

Give yourself a second chance. We are often hardest on ourselves when things don’t go as planned. You think you let the team down. As long as you stay focused on your goals, sometimes second chances work out better than the first because you can learn from your mistakes and improve on your success.

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” – Benjamin Franklin

Give others a second chance. Allow other people to try again. Encourage them to get back up and do it again. Tell them what they did well and ensure they understand why the first chance didn’t work and what they are going to do to make the second chance work. Keep your belief that everyone genuinely wants to succeed.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Robert Kennedy

Make the second chance count. A second chance should bring us closer to succees. Don’t just jump back in and try harder, try smarter. Second chances are not given to make things right, but to prove that we can be better even after we fall.

“If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”– Claire Cook

Don’t focus on your weakness.

strengths and weaknessNever compare your weakness with someone else’s strength. What may be easy for others can be difficult for you. I am going to let you in on a secret – you have strengths that others call their weakness.

Here are three tips for not focusing on your weakness:

Don’t give up. Don’t say I can’t because, say I can if…You may have tried ten, twenty, or even more times already. But if you didn’t succeed yet, then you just haven’t tried the way that works for you. Think of what you have done that has worked before and try it again. Research what others have done in your situation and adapt it to your strengths.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison

Work together. I recently heard a very successful person say that he could easily count the mistakes that he made on his own, but they are far outweighed by the successes he had while working with others. Don’t just do what you can do alone, partner with people who share your dream and support each other on your journey.

“An arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other become a strength.” – Leonardo Di Vinci

Build your strengths. If you want to achieve the best from life, then you have to give your best to life. In whatever you are naturally good at doing, become great. In whatever you like to do, love it.  Be the best you!

“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” – Marilyn vos Savant


Lessons on how to lead from being childlike

childlike leadershipWhen we think of what it takes to lead a project, or lead a team, or how about lead a company, what is the first thing that comes mind? I going to guess that we don’t think of being childlike. As we grow into adulthood, being childlike is usually not our goal. The experience and wisdom that is obtained through our lives is important, but there are some lessons on how to lead from being childlike that bear remembering:

Have fun, be excited.  Children have a knack for making everything fun. Leadership can be hard work but it doesn’t have to be boring. Enjoy talking with your team. Celebrate successes. Encourage and empower new ideas.

“You can be childlike without being childish. A child always wants to have fun. Ask yourself, ‘Am I having fun?’” – Christopher Meloni

Be curious, ask why. Children aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know something, and are willing to dig to find out. Leaders don’t and can’t know everything. Learning should be a life-long pursuit for the leader and for the team.

“Don’t pretend to know all the answers – quite the opposite, in fact. Ask loads of questions of everyone.” – Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why

Say wow, be in awe. Children are impressed with things that seem larger than life. Leadership is a big responsibility. Never take it for granted that you can have a huge impact on the people you lead.

“To be more childlike, you don’t have to give up being an adult. The fully integrated person is capable of being both an adult and a child simultaneously….and being full of awe and wonder at this magnificent universe.” – Wayne Dyer

Whose vision are you following anyway?

lead-followYou have a vision for where you are leading your team and your team is following you.

If you are doing this right, you’re leading your team where you are following – your boss’ vision. Everyone in every company is both leading and following someone at different times. Whether you are a one person show, a middle level manager, or the CEO of a large corporation you are ultimately following your boss’ vision.

Walmart founder, Sam Walton, said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And they can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending their money somewhere else.”

It all starts with the customer’s vision of what they want. Then it leads to the head of the company’s vision on how to organize to deliver the customer’s vision. Next it comes to the manager’s vision on how to fulfill the company’s vision. Lastly it is the individual employee’s vision on how to complete the job that provides the output needed for the manager’s vision.

You will be at different places on the chain of leading and following throughout your career. Be involved, give all you can and learn all you can to take with you on your next role.

“Followership, like leadership, is a role and not a destination.” – Michael McKinney

Just because you are following someone’s vision, it doesn’t mean you ignore your knowledge and wisdom. You have something unique to add to every plan and person. Be willing to speak up when needed.

“If I had to reduce the responsibilities of a good follower to a single rule, it would be to speak truth to power.” – Warren Bennis

Your ultimate goal in all situations is to achieve the positive outcomes set out by the vision. You don’t need to be the one given credit for creating the vision, but you do want to be part of that which accomplished the vision.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton


How can you have confidence it will work?

confidenceConfidence: I may not know how it will get done, but I know I will find a way to get it done.

Richard Bach wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1970 and has sold more than 60 million copies. It’s a short story about a seagull who has confidence that he could fly higher and faster than any seagull before. Through diligent experimentation and exhaustive practice, he learns the skills necessary to accomplish what he was confident he could do. The key to Jonathan’s confidence is revealed when an older seagull says, “You have less fear of learning than any gull I’ve seen.”

Here is how you can use the lesson on confidence shared in Jonathan Livingston Seagull in your leadership.

New project. You may have been successful before, but this project is different. The outcome is much more important than anything you have led. Where will your confidence come from? Your confidence comes from your past success not just in winning but in learning what needs to be done to win. Rely on what you already know, and work on where you need to grow.

“Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.” – Jack Nicklaus

New team. The most important aspect of a successful team is trust. Trust comes from the confidence that is built in your teammates’ ability to deliver on their commitments. You were a success in leading your former team and your new team has confidence in your ability as a leader. Begin by ensuring your team learns to trust each other through a series of quick wins before you attempt to lead them on a large scale deliverable.

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” – Lao Tzu

New company. You changed jobs and are working with people you have never worked with before. They may have read about your prior success, but few have worked close enough with you to have confidence in your leadership. The best way to build confidence in a new company is to build personal relationships. Get to know your peers and your direct reports first. Set up time to talk with your employees so they see the real you. People trust people, not just resumes.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Andrew Carnegie


Invest your best in the future leaders.

succession planningYou may be the best leader for today, but your company needs the best leaders for tomorrow. What are you doing to ensure your company has the next generation of future leaders ready to lead? As T.D. Jakes says, “Success is not success without a successor.”

According to a PWC CEO study, future leaders need to be adept in the following areas: Agility, Authenticity, and Sustainability

Agility: Anticipate, adapt to, and lead change.

Authenticity: Take a stand on critical issues regardless of what is popular.

Sustainability: Work for bottom-line results while also focusing on the public good.

Here is how you invest your best in developing your future leaders:

Focus on future needs not just past accomplishments. When you select future leaders to develop don’t just look at what has worked in the past. Those you develop must be able to not only survive change, but thrive in change. Look for examples of their ability to do this already, and focus their development on perfecting this skill.

“You’re going to have to have a company that is ready for the next five years where the only constant is rapid change. For that, you need people who can adjust to that change and comprehend the ecosystem” – Ajay Banga, CEO MasterCard, US

Encourage difference of opinions. The ability to drive to a consensus is an important leadership trait. To do that you need to gather the opinions of those involved and work to align them on the vision and plan to accomplish the vision. The very first step in this process is for those involved to have opinions and be willing to support them. A leader should not feel pressure to have every idea, but they do need to formulate their opinion about the end state and be able to develop an opinion after hearing everyone’s ideas. Future leaders should be encouraged to develop and support their own opinions in order to be ready to lead.

“Don’t think about it as when you are ready to leave…think about it as when the next generation is ready to lead.” – John Davis

Provide Exposure.   Learning is not the same as doing, and doing is not the same as living with the results. This is where what you built is measured not just in the short term profits, but the long term impacts both for your company and for others around you. Future leaders need to see this and be seen leading this aspect of their business.

“One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens.” – Anne Mulcahy



Do your employees love your company’s service?

employee experience leads to customer experienceWhy do people love Starbucks? If you have ever received surveys asking you to rate your most recent stop you know what Starbucks thinks is important. There is one question about the product and one about the price, all of the rest of the questions are about the service. Everything from the speed of service, to my favorite – did the employees make the visit special. If you visit the same Starbucks frequently, the employees usually know your name and the drink you order before you tell them – that certainly makes for a special visit. Yes, some people say the cost of a cup of coffee is too high here, but as Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz says, “Cutting prices or putting things on sale is not sustainable business strategy.”

Higher cost with better service – how does Starbucks make this work? It started with the predecessor company to what we now know as Starbucks, Il Giornale Coffee Company. In his 1986 letter to employees Schultz outlined how a focus on service for the employees would lead to a focus on service for the customers.

“We believe in hiring exceptional people who are willing to work for exceptional results. In exchange, we are committed to the development of our good people by identifying, cultivating, training, rewarding, promoting those individuals who are committed to moving our company forward.”

I summarize it like this, “Customers are willing to invest in your company when they receive great service from your employees. Employees are willing to serve your customers when they receive great investment from your company.”

Here are the three ways you should invest in service of your employees to bring about great customer service:

Serve them. The leaders job is first and foremost to take care of their employees so they can take care of the customers. How do you do that? Talk with them, coach them, mentor them, invest your knowledge wisdom and time into them. This is the best way.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with customers. Because we believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in employees.” – Howard Schultz

Support them. Give them what they need. Anticipate and deliver what you think they need. Ask and then deliver what you know they need. Think of the employee experience as they deliver the customer experience.   What do they need to make their job more productive and more enjoyable?

“You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management.” – Howard Schultz

Share with them. With service and support of the employees you can expect to see the results in the success of the company. Make sure you share that success. While every company is different in its means and methods of sharing, this is an important motivator. At Starbucks, employees are called Partners. Each year most Partners receive restricted stock called Bean Stock.

“Success is best when it is shared. Every time we raise value for a shareholder, we raise value for our people.” – Howard Schultz

Here are a few facts on the results of this service to employees:

Starbucks is the fifth most admired company in the world, according to Fortune magazine, and is the number one company worldwide in the food service industry.

  • Starbucks is ranked in the top 50 best companies to work for by Glassdoor.
  • Starbucks stock is up 17,300 percent since it went public in 1992.

Leaders: Does your team really know you?

getting to know youHow can your team get to know you? Is it through emails, team talks, and presentations? It’s all of those and more. Is it by observing you in action? Yes, that too. How about from the results you drive? That’s an important one. If you had to pick the most important way for your team to get to know you what would it be? The answer is all three together.

Your team needs to feel connected to you. Your team needs to see that you are consistent. And your team needs to be convinced that if they follow you they will be successful.

Connected. Are you available and approachable? Your team should hear you and see you on a regular basis; and not just on stage – although that’s a good start. How about meeting with them in person. Of course you are in meetings with people on projects, but are you talking with them about them? The best interactions are the regular, “How’s it going?” talks where you ask questions and they ask questions and you keep your connection strong.

“The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection.” – Robin Sharma

Consistent. Does what you say match what you do? Your team needs to know they can count on you to back up what you say. Remember even though you are the leader, you are still part of the team. Only commit to what you can deliver, and deliver what you commit to. People will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold – but so does a hard-boiled egg.

“In any team sport, the best teams have consistency.” – Roger Staubach

Convincing. Does what you say and do lead to success? What you say and what you do will lead to some result – make sure it’s a good one. This is the ultimate expression of getting to know you. Some might say you are what you celebrate.

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein


Dig deep enough before making decisions

decisionsDon’t make decisions based only on where you are; make decisions based on where you want to be. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is quoted as saying, “We are not a product of our circumstances, we are a product of our decisions.”

Your circumstances do play a part in your future, but only to ground you as you decide what to do next.

Jonathan Schaeffer, the creator of computer chess programs, calculated that there are 197,742 different ways that the players in a chess match could play their first two moves. When you expand that to the first three moves the possible outcomes becomes 121 million. In chess, as in life, your decisions don’t end when you first decide, but continue through each step as you evaluate what’s next.

When faced with choices, before you decide, commit to settle for nothing less than knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Today we have the ability to receive more information than at any time in history. Take care to evaluate what you know before deciding where to go.

“It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within – not without.” – Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot

Invest the time it takes to be the best. How long should you think and evaluate options before you decide? It depends on the potential impact of the decision and the level of experience you have in the area. A greater chance of impact and a lesser degree of experience require more time. Stay with it until you feel that you have the ability to make the best decision possible.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”– Albert Einstein

Pay attention to how the facts fit together. The first step in decision making is a knowledge of the facts. Next comes an understanding of why the facts are what they are. Most important is to obtain the wisdom to apply what you now know and understand to make the best decision possible. This comes from broadening your view through other people and other similar decisions that have been made.

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” Marilyn vos Savant

Profit from your analysis. You will never have all the answers needed to make a perfect decision. Don’t let that stop you from asking as many questions as reasonable to make the best decision possible.

“I don’t pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about.” – Arthur C. Clarke

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