Lead with no distractions

No distractions robin sharmaSuccessful leaders know that their toughest leadership assignment is themselves. They are keenly focused on the needs of their teams, their company, and their customers. What do successful leaders need to focus on to lead themselves?   They need to eliminate distractions – if they want to remain successful.

Distractions that are the most difficult to conquer are subtle and internally driven. Anything that keeps us from focusing on the ultimate goals and the path that leads there is a distraction. Distractions can derail our ability to grow and be the best we can be if we let them.

Robin Sharma said, “We are so deep into daily distractions and ‘being busy’ that we miss out on those moments that – if jumped on – would get our careers and personal lives to a whole new level of wow.”

Three internal distractions that leaders need to eliminate take place in their thinking, speaking and doing.

Distractions in thinking, speaking, and doing

Thinking. All leaders have to think; they key is what you think about. The easiest way to be distracted in your thinking is to focus on things other than that which will help you achieve your goals. Don’t think about the great assignments, or titles, or anything else that other people have. You may want to achieve the same stature someday, but you won’t get there by thinking about what they have; you get there by focusing on what you have – your goals.

“If you think the grass is greener on the other side then water your lawn.”- John Maxwell

Speaking. Verbal communication is very important in leadership. Don’t let your conversations become a distraction. Choose your words, think before you speak, and speak succinctly. Don’t over explain or under explain. Don’t over talk or under talk. Look for a balance in your speaking.

“The conversation should be about what you say, not how you say it.” – Denis G. McLaughlin

Doing. Make it real, this is where it all comes together. If you lead without distractions you will think about your goals, talk about your goals and execute your goals.

“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” – Christopher Columbus

What’s Next Leadership

next chapterLeadership is always looking forward. It doesn’t matter if you are just coming off a big success, or you think things couldn’t be worse. Leaders don’t chase what’s now, they create what’s next.

Completed a project – What’s next? You and your team have just completed a big project, it was thoroughly successful. Is it time to kick back, look back and revel in your success? The answer is yes, for about ten minutes, then you turn your focus to what’s next.

Get your team and yourself ready for what’s next. The next project, next goal, next team. Go where the people are that need leadership. Don’t relax, don’t take it easy.

“Leadership isn’t about your comfort, it’s about your commitment.” – Denis G. McLaughlin

Made a mistake – What’s next?  You and your team just dropped the ball, made a poor choice, or missed the issue entirely. Is it time to drop your shoulders, look down and remember all that went wrong?   The answer is sure, it’s ok to be frustrated, for a bit, and you should analyze the cause of the situation, but defeat only happens when you stop trying. Take stock in the mistake, learn from it and get onto what’s next.

John Maxwell says there only two positions that leaders are ever in: Up and Getting Up.

“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.” – Dennis Waitley

Leadership is not about what is…it’s about what’s next. – Denis G. McLaughlin

Travel on the road to a clear vision

clarify your visionA clear vision is an interesting concept for leaders. The word vision makes you think that the end-state can be seen in the physical world. In reality the most powerful vision is one which describes not what is, but what can be. This is what Warren Bennis meant when he said, “Create a compelling vision, one that takes people to a new place.”

There are four steps that all successful leaders follow as they travel on the road to a clear vision:

See the vision. Leaders must visualize the end-state clearly in their mind. They can see the future and the plan to get there.

“Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there.” – John P. Kotter

Share the vision. A vision in the mind of the leader is only a dream until it is shared with their team. Talk it up – let everyone know your plans for success.

“Good leaders must communicate vision clearly, creatively, and continually.” – John C. Maxwell

Set the vision in motion.  Seeing the vision clearly, and hearing about the vision continually are important first steps, but you won’t get any closer to success until you begin moving forward. Leaders take the first step.

“The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.” – Vance Havner

Spread the vision.  The first three steps on the road to a clear vision are all about the leader – it is a vertical path. For vision to work it has to spread out horizontally across the team members. This only happens when the vision becomes personal – people who see change want to be changed. Encourage celebrations of individual success that leads to the vision.

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” – Steve Jobs

The one way to team success

team success - common visionThere are three common ways used to achieve team success, only one works over the long-term:

Do what the leader says is right, do what you think is right, and do what the team agrees is right.

“In the end, team success only comes when working towards a common vision.”- Denis G. McLaughlin 

 

 

Do what the leader says is right, follow the rules. Which leads to this….

  • - Short term activities that have no long-term vision attached
  • - Waiting for direction
  • - No sense of belonging to anything bigger than the activities
  • This may lead to short-term success, but over the long haul it falls short. Rules from the top can never cover every decision that must be made in every circumstance.
  • Mike Krzyzewski, the first coach in NCAA Division I basketball history to record 1,000 victories said, “The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions.”­
  • Do what you think is right, make up the rules. Which leads to this…
  • - Short term activities that have no team-centered vision attached
  • - Searching for direction
  • - No sense of belonging to anything bigger than yourself
  • Even if every person has the best of intentions, they come from a limited perspective. Each individual can have a unique view of success for the team and will head in their own direction to pursue that success.
  • Hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “Hockey is a unique sport in the sense that you need each and every guy helping each other and pulling in the same direction to be successful.”
  • Do what the team agrees is right, agree on the rules. Which leads to this…
  • - Short term activities that lead to achieving the long-term, team-centered vision
  • - Having a direction
  • - Belonging to a group who together achieve success
  • Vince Lombardi, one of the most successful NFL coaches and namesake of the Super Bowl trophy said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
  • In the end, Team Success only comes when working towards a common vision.

The Energy of Leadership

successful leaders energizeIf you want to light a lamp in your house how do you do that? Simple, flip the switch.

Before the switch can be activated, electricity had to be disseminated to your home through transmission lines and transformers that make sure the right level of energy is delivered to your lamp; and before the electricity could be disseminated to the lamp, it had to be generated in a power plant.

The Energy of Leadership follows the same course as electricity: Generation, Dissemination, and Activation.

  • Leaders Generate vision
  • Leaders Disseminate resources
  • Leaders Activate goals
  • Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said that leaders need tremendous personal energy and the ability to energize their teams. This flow of the energy of leadership is what makes a successful team.
  • Sometimes I think this doesn’t happen as often as it could because we spend too much time and money trying to set up the perfect apparatus. Invest the time needed to clarify the message but don’t waste time when you could be moving forward. Like Dennis Miller said about electric energy, “Why is electricity so expensive these days? Why does it cost so much for something I can make with a balloon and my hair?”
  • Leaders Generate vision.   George Carlin once joked that, “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” Lightening is random and its power difficult to harness, but when focused into electricity it can provide power to light up a city. Leaders generate the same type of power when they focus the attention of the team on a single vision. A scattered collection of activities can now become a united effort to achieve success.
  • Leaders Disseminate resources.  Like electricity that is stepped up and down so the right voltage is delivered to each user, the energy of leadership is only really useful when it is at the right place, in the right format, to the right people, who know how to use it. I heard it said that, “It doesn’t matter how many resources you have, if you don’t know how to use them, they will never be enough.” Leaders should ensure that their team has the resources needed to accomplish the vision.
  • Leaders Activate goals.  Once the work is done to generate and disseminate electricity to the house, the lamp is activated by simply flipping the switch. The goals in the energy of leadership should be that simple. Layout the key activities that need to be done and watch success come to light.  As Earle Nightingale said, “People with goals succeed because they know where they are going, it’s as simple as that.”

Time Travel Leadership

Dr who and time travel picture of TartusWe are fascinated with the idea of time travel. We read about it in the 1895 book The Time Machine by H.G. Wells; we learned about the space-time continuum in Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in 1915; we watched the movie Back to the Future in 1985; and in 2014 an average of about 7 million people watched each episode of the BBC television classic Doctor Who.

Each of the stories, movies and television shows explores the possibilities of what could be accomplished if time travel was possible. I believe this is because ordinary people think of how to spend time, great people think of how to invest time.

“It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” – Steve Jobs

Doctor Who is the long running series on time travel that started in 1963 and ran until 1989. It returned to television and DVD in 2005 and has had a successful revival. The show is about a “Time Lord” known only as “The Doctor” who travels across time and space, in a vintage British Police Box, to protect innocent people and prevent evil forces from changing history.

The Doctor is serious about his mission, but to him time travel is as easy as going to work every day. “I can’t tell the future I just work there.” – Doctor Who

Whether or not you watch Doctor Who, or believe in the ability to cross the space-time continuum, you will read below that leaders have the power to use time travel to drive success for their teams.

LEADERS CAN MOVE THEIR TEAM FROM THE PRESENT TO THE FUTURE.

Sometimes your team isn’t ready right now for the success they desire today; they need to work and prepare for it.

Don’t just say, “Not now.” Encourage development. It’s difficult to hear you aren’t ready for your dreams. Leaders must encourage their team to dedicate themselves to get ready for their dreams not just wait.

“We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.” – John F. Kennedy

Don’t just say, “Not now.” Describe the vision. Sometimes people mistake where they are with the finish line. Remind your teams how big their dreams really are.

“Big flashy things have my name written all over them. Well…not yet, give me time and a crayon.” – Doctor Who

Don’t just say, “Not now.” Deliver the plan. Leaders see the dream clearer than anyone. Layout the steps it will take to reach it, so your team knows where to do.

“If you want to encourage individual growth, try to never say “No” but instead answer with “Yes if…” – Denis G. McLaughlin

LEADERS CAN MOVE THEIR TEAM FROM THE FUTURE TO THE PRESENT.

Sometimes your team is ready right now for the success they desire in the future; they need to move and achieve it.

Don’t let them wait. Encourage action. There are always reasons why someone might think they can’t achieve their dreams today. If you get those reasons out in the open you can remove them as obstacles one by one.

I once heard of a conversation between two employees that went like this:

“When are you going to finish that project?”

“When I get around to it,”

“I will get you one if it will help you finish this project.”

“Get me one what?”

“A roundtoit.”

Don’t let them wait. Enable the vision. Some people think they aren’t up for the challenge of achieving their dreams; they need more time. Remind them of all they have accomplished already and enable them to accomplish even more.

“Some people live more in twenty year than others do in eighty. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person.” – Doctor Who

Don’t let them wait. Adjust the plan. Roadblocks come in every situation, some even pop up right after you start the journey to your dreams. Help your team achieve success by showing them how to go around, over, or through their challenges to keep moving forward.

 “Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”- Napoleon Hill

 

Leaders bring tomorrow’s solutions

future possibilitiesIf you want to be successful don’t try to solve tomorrow’s challenges with today’s solutions. That is why leaders bring tomorrow’s solutions into view to solve tomorrow’s challenges.

How do leaders bring tomorrow’s solutions? What are tomorrow’s challenges that need solutions?

These are the questions that leaders must answer as they look around the corner for emerging risks and opportunities.

 

In an ever-changing world, here are the four things leaders must do to bring tomorrow’s solutions:

Predict – the future scenarios. You can’t predict the one thing that will happen, but you can be prepared when something happens.

The past is a guide but doesn’t always predict the future. Based on what you already know you can visualize what else could happen. Find the common themes in all that possible future scenarios you see.

“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking at the back window.”­ – Peter Drucker

Present – the team with the future goals and the plans to reach them.  Don’t just wait for the future to come true, plan for it and execute. Share the themes of the future you visualized with your team and create plans to succeed through them all.

Success does not come from being sure of what will happen. Success comes from being sure of what you will do if something happens. Remember, the future is not something we enter,the future is something we create. We can control how we respond to risks and opportunities.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”- Abraham Lincoln

Prepare – the team to be ready to succeed. With your vision of the future clear and a plan to achieve success in mind, now it’s time to get ready to respond when the future comes. What skills, people, and information will be needed in when the future comes?

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” – Alexander Graham Bell

Prevent – the team from getting off course.  A greater purpose instills a sense of mission in us all. Leaders need to repeat the goals so you don’t retreat from the goals. Leaders are the chief cheerleaders.

“Start strong, stay strong, and finish strong by always remembering why you’re doing it in the first place.” – Ralph Marston

Leaders as Greeters

greetingI remember when Walmart had official greeters in their stores. It was their job to say hello, give you a shopping cart, and if you had young children with you they would give them a smiley face sticker.

I always thought that was a unique way to welcome you to a store. Walmart just isn’t the same without the official greeters.

There are still businesses that have greeters, although they are called something else, and their job description includes more than just saying hello. Think of hotel porters, employees who stand at the front entrance of the mall stores, and with the advent of online shopping the website has become the ultimate greeter.

Why are greeters so important to business? Because the customer experience begins and ends at the front door. Leaders should see themselves as greeters for the very same reason. Part of their responsibility is to provide the same three customer (employee) experiences: Connection, Direction, and Reflection.

Connection

Greeters are the first to welcome you to the hotel, store, or website. They make you feel part of a larger group, you know you are not alone in your quest. Leader Greeters do the same thing. Employees need to feel that they are part of the team. Everything from the basic introductions to ongoing communication fosters a connection.

Think of your role as the Leader Greeter like CEO Jeff Bezos sees Amazon, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Direction

Greeters help customers find what they want on the inside: the hotel room, the store aisle, or which button to press on the website. Leader Greeters do the same thing. Employees need direction to the right opportunities, training, and coaching. Businesses that want a good customer experience don’t let customers wander around until they are frustrated. Employees want to know they are headed in the right direction as well.

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

Reflection

When customers leave the hotel, store, or website, businesses want them to remember a good experience and have the desire to return. Hotel porters are the best at giving restaurant recommendations. Store employees showing appreciation by saying thank you goes a long way. Websites that keep you informed about your order keep you coming back for more. Leader Greeters do the same thing. When it’s time for employees to go home for the day, or take a vacation, they need to feel like they accomplished enough on the job and were successful. Help your employee’s work-life balance by prioritizing and delegating the right work load.

“The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind.” – Wayne Dyer

Leaders Shine the Light

shining a lightIn entertainment, light focused into spotlights bring attention to the people who possess such great talent and skill that audiences will flock to see and hear them perform. In medical procedures, light focused into x-rays can illuminate areas in need of repair. Each of these examples brings about the opportunity for positive results.

Leaders in all walks of life also have the ability, and the responsibility, to use light in the exact same ways in order to bring about positive results. The actions that leaders should take are rather straight forward, as we will discuss below, however only the most confident leaders can help their team shine brighter than themselves.

Spotlight Leadership Opportunities

These are the basic light shining opportunities that every leader knows they should do, many leaders do well, and most underestimate the impact. Think of everything from one-on-one meetings, team meetings, and town hall meetings. Think of phone calls, emails, and announcements. Any time a leader can shine the light on their team’s success they should do it, and here’s why:

Shining a light recognizes accomplishments. Everyone needs to hear they did a good job. It’s an easy way to keep up morale.

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” – Sam Walton

Shining a light rewards achievement. Everyone already knows who does the work, but does the leader know and publically acknowledge those that made success possible?

“Share success with the people who make it happen. It makes everybody think like an owner…” - Emily Ericsen, VP of HR, Starbucks Coffee Company

Shining a light raises awareness. Everyone wants to be successful in what they do. When you shine a light on successful results, people will imitate the actions that brought success.

“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” Thomas J. Peters

X-ray Leadership Opportunities

These are the harder light shining opportunities that every leader knows they should do, some leaders do well, and most underestimate the impact. Think of everything from one-on-one meetings, mentoring sessions, and performance reviews. Think of project updates, status reports, and meeting debriefs. Any time a leader can shine the light on their team’s opportunity for improvement they should do it, and here’s why:

Shining a light reveals faults. If something is not working than a leader owes it to their team to point out the facts and let the team figure out how to get it back on track.

“Have an attitude of fact finding, not fault finding.”

Shining a light removes fear. Nothing causes fear more than the unknown. Providing the opportunity for a regular review of progress helps your team act and ensure success instead of reacting to failure.

“FEAR has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run, or Face Everything And Rise.”

Shining a light restores focus. Success relies on having a goal, developing a plan to reach the goal, and executing the plan. The best leaders know that plans are always adjusted but only with a keen focus on the goal.

“Your focus determines your success.”

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.

don't run away from problems, solve themWhen something is not turning out like you want it to what should you do? Change what you are doing. Sounds simple enough. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep doing what you have been doing and ignore the issues than to figure out what the real problem is and solve it, but as William Rotsler said, “You won’t find a solution by saying there is no problem.”

I have also seen that you have to understand the problem before you accept a solution, or you risk accepting a solution that’s too easy to solve the actual problem. Equally bad as running away from a problem is to think you have it all figured out only to find out that the solution didn’t solve the real problem but only a symptom of the problem.

Thankfully, there are people who have figured this problem solving process out already and we can learn from them. I have taken the Six Sigma process first started by Motorola in the 1980’s and sprinkled it with ideas espoused by past leaders to form the four step process that I use:

Step One – Identify the real problem by asking the right questions. Your goal in step one is to gain alignment on the real problem by asking defining questions. What are we working on? Why are we working on this particular problem? How is the work currently being done? What are the benefits of making the improvement?

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” – Jim Rohn

Step Two – Find the real cause of the problem through analysis. Your goal in step two is to obtain and sift through as much data and facts about the problem as you can within a limited time frame to bring the root cause to the surface.

“If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes defining it and 5 minutes solving it.” – Albert Einstein

Step Three – Find the real solution to the problem – not just the easy one. Your goal in step three is to brainstorm on as many possible solutions you can until you find the one that is the most promising and practical.

“If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem.” – Dr. Robert Anthony

Step Four – Make sure the solution really sticks. Your goal in step four is to make sure the solution lasts. Even though you are solving problems, this is still change and it takes more work to stick with change than it does to implement change. You will have to gain alignment for the solution by selling the benefits, handing off leadership to the team that will be using the solution every day, allowing issues to be raised and ensuring they are quickly addressed.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” – Dr. James Belasco

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