Are You an Inspirational Leader?

Are you an inspirational leader? Even when times get tough? How you lead your team through challenging times can significantly impact their motivation and potentially the success of your company.

Let’s assume that Joe and Sue are CEOs who have just learned that their biggest customer has been acquired by a much larger company. The acquirer informed them that they will no longer need their service or product. This customer represents a significant portion of their business, and the acquisition was completely unanticipated. They did not have a contingency plan in place. (For more on the importance of contingency plans, see my blog entitled, “Distant Storm Clouds – Do You Have a Plan?”)

Joe hears the news and immediately retreats to his office and shuts the door. He spends the next hour frantically calling his contacts at the customer, trying to ask them to make an introduction to the new owner so he can get back in the door. When that doesn’t work, he sits in his office, completely stressed out, and worried that he may lose the entire business as a result. He stays in his office, afraid to talk to his employees even though he knows they have also likely heard about the lost customer. He waits until all of his employees are gone for the day, then goes home, where he also avoids his family. He does not want to worry them, and he is so stressed that he cannot think clearly. He continues to avoid speaking to his employees for several more days. While he knows that the problem will not go away, he is afraid to tell his employees that he does not have a plan.

Sue hears the news, and immediately calls her management team together. She shares the information she has just learned, and tells her team, “This is a big loss for us. I must admit that I did not see this coming, and do not have a plan that is ready to implement. I will call the customer in case there is a way to negotiate a longer transition period. Meanwhile, we will need to work together to find a way to increase sales to replace the volume of business that we lost. At the same time, we will also identify where we can cut costs to offset the loss in revenue in the short term. One of the first things we will do is to determine how to share this information with the rest of our employees so that they can help us find the necessary solutions, while being truthful that we do not know how this may impact us in the short term. Let’s spend some time brainstorming ideas, then I will ask each of you to take the lead on one or more initiatives. We will check in with one another daily to see how things are progressing and how we can support one another. I have confidence in our team and know that we will be able to work through this challenge and come out on the other side even stronger. Let’s do this!”

Which of these two leaders inspires more confidence?  If you worked for Sue, you would likely respect her approach, and how she takes charge of the process while seeking input from her management team. She admits her mistakes, and most importantly, expresses confidence in her team’s ability to work together to overcome the challenge.

Sue is an inspirational leader.  What type of leader are you?

Squirrel!

Do you find that you are easily distracted? Especially when you are supposed to be working on something that isn’t much fun? I generally do not procrastinate – I’m usually one of the first people to respond to a request or to tackle a big project. I can really get things done when I put my mind to them – if they are things that I enjoy doing. Head down, focused, intense, and determined are all terms that describe me when I am in that “zone”.

Then there are those things that I really don’t enjoy doing, such as administrative or repetitive tasks. I have discovered that I not only procrastinate starting on those types of tasks, I also get distracted easily when I finally start to do them. If you have seen the movie “Up”, you’ll know what I mean when I say, “Squirrel!”. Whenever they thought they heard a squirrel, the dogs in the movie would stop whatever they were doing, turn their heads and freeze, saying “Squirrel!”. After a pause, they would continue with what they had been doing previously as if nothing had distracted them. In real life, when our thoughts are interrupted, we are less efficient and effective than we would have been without the disruption.

I’ve noticed that sometimes these less enjoyable tasks take me 2-3 times longer than they should have because I have allowed distractions to take me off course. So now when I will be starting a task that I suspect may lead to a “squirrel” distraction, I promise myself a reward if I can get the task done in a focused and timely manner. Awareness is an important first step. After all, I can always chase the squirrels after my work is done!

A Positive Attitude Can Be Contagious

Parkour Egypt

 

I recently spent a week with about 25,000 teens at a national youth gathering.  You may have assumed that this posting on attitude would be about stereotypical negative teen attitudes.  Instead, I’d like to share my observation of how positive attitudes that week were contagious.

Everyone who attended the national youth gathering had to walk miles each day in high heat and humidity, wait in long lines, share hotel rooms with others, and sleep very little.  There were definitely many reasons to have a negative attitude (and all of us were tired and grumpy at some point during the week).  However, what impressed me was how quickly positive attitudes changed everything.

These teens went around saying “Hey” to other groups of teens and giving one another high-fives.  They burst into spontaneous song and dance, clapping and laughing.  When someone started to complain or feel sorry for themselves, another person distracted them or got them to laugh.  At one point, we had fun turning complaints into “love” statements, such as, “I love how much my feet hurt”, or “I just love sweating and standing in line”.  We were soon laughing and back in positive moods.

Vistage speaker Boaz Rauchwerger often says, “Fake it till you make it!”, and these 14-18 year olds showed me how effective that approach can be.   A positive attitude can be contagious.  As a leader, you can overcome the negative attitudes in your company with a little effort – even if you have to fake it till you make it!

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Bolt laughing

When was the last time you laughed so much that your cheeks hurt?  For me and 100 of my colleagues, it was just last week.  I was co-leader of an event in Boulder, CO for 100 Vistage/TEC peers from around the world.  My co-leader and I selected the topic of “Creative Brilliance”, which enabled us to take the group down a path most had never experienced.  We decided to bring in an expert to do a session on “Laughter Wellness”.  After sharing a bit about the physiology of laughter and the impact on health, she led us through 30 minutes of laughter yoga. 

At first, our “ha, ha’s”, “he, he’s” and “ho, ho’s” were forced, yet in a very short time, we were all laughing hysterically.  Each time I looked at someone else doing the motions, I found myself laughing even harder.  It’s amazing how terrific we all felt after just 30 minutes of laughter.  The tension left our bodies, and we were energized and ready to take on the world.  

It was a great reminder of how easy it can be to pull yourself out of the doldrums.  When you’re having a rough day, take a short break and watch a funny video, ask someone to tell you a joke, look at the comics in the newspaper, or just remember the last time you laughed until you cried.  Once you start laughing, invite others to join you so they can reduce stress and become energized as well.  Laughter is the best medicine – no prescription needed!

Emotional Intelligence

Conversation with a rescued owl

You may be smart, but are you emotionally intelligent?

Is there someone in your company who is very much attuned to the needs of others? They seem to be able to sense things about people that the rest of us miss. Others have a way of controlling their emotions and remaining level-headed in even the most stressful situations. I suspect each of you can think of at least one person who displays those characteristics. How do they do it?

Chances are that they have a high degree of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, also known as Emotional Quotient or “EQ”, is often defined as the capacity to understand and interpret the intentions, motivations and desires of others and the ability to understand oneself. EQ is often broken down into 4 core skills:

  1.  Self-awareness — is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations.
  2.  Self-management — involves controlling your own emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
  3.  Social awareness — is the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social networks.
  4.  Relationship management — is the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.

Studies have shown that 90 percent of high performers are also high in EQ.   These are important skills for good leaders. The good news is that EQ can be developed.  You can start by taking an EQ assessment to identify which areas you would like to address, then by creating a plan to improve in those areas. By focusing on increasing your emotional intelligence, you will likely increase success in both your business and personal life.

Failure to Respond

Phone

Are you someone who fails to respond?  Not to cold-calls or blind solicitations, but rather to someone you contacted first?  I am curious what is causing you to behave in that manner?  Do you realize that when you reach out to someone else, they must spend time and energy to respond?  Your own lack of responsiveness when they reply to you creates more work for that person, who wonders if their message was actually delivered or tries another way to reach you, thus expending even more time and energy.  If you contact someone and then change your mind, it would seem to be common courtesy to let them know.  You could send a quick note or leave a voice mail message, anything that would enable the other person to take you off of their list of things to do.

Vistage is not for everyone, so I know that many of the people I speak with will not be a good fit for our organization.  However, I want to help people and will always try to respond in a timely manner when someone reaches out to me.  However, when they fail to respond to my offer to answer any of their questions or provide them with information, it becomes very frustrating.  I am left alternating between irritation, concern for their well-being, and curiosity as to why they reached out to me in the first place.

If you read this and realize you have been unresponsive to others, it’s not too late to change your behavior.  Just let them know you resolved the situation and no longer need their assistance.  Display some no-longer-so-common courtesy!

Stretch Goals

 

Miss Charley Leaping for Treats

What are your stretch goals for 2016? Make sure they are “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, and Time-Specific. Then write them down, share them with others, and look at them daily or weekly.  If your goals can be broken down into milestones and you can establish target dates for those milestones, you have just increased your chance of success.

Along the way, if you are not achieving a particular goal, figure out why. Is it a limiting belief that is holding you back? If so, work on overcoming that limiting belief. Is it procrastination? Then make a point to tackle that goal first thing in the morning before doing anything else. Or establish mini-rewards for achieving milestones toward that goal. For example, once I have achieved “X” today, I’ll take a break and walk around the office, or get a latte, or go out to lunch today rather than eating at my desk.

If you are particularly challenged with a goal and you can’t figure out a strategy to overcome a roadblock, ask for help. Others might be able to brainstorm alternative approaches that would enable you to achieve that goal.

Lastly, sometimes outside forces make a goal no longer relevant or attainable. If you are a taxi company and your original goal was to continue to grow your business as you have done in the past, and now Uber has come into your area, your original strategy may not be working. Rather than focusing on your goal of doing more of what you did in the past, it’s likely you will need to revise your strategy to compete with Uber. If goals become impossible due to external factors, it’s fine to replace them with other goals that will help you to achieve your long-term vision.

Stay focused, and make 2016 a terrific year!

April Checklist for Leaders

April Checklist
cathyse97 / Foter / CC BY-ND

In our personal lives, April is often the month to check a number of items off of our to-do lists. Common things people do in April include: Filing personal tax returns and doing a financial plan for the rest of the year, spring cleaning, registering for summer camps for the kids, and planning family vacations. While not all of those are fun (e.g., taxes and spring cleaning), we generally feel good once they are checked off our list.

Good leaders have lists in their business. April is a great time to look at your goals and strategic plan. Did you achieve your first quarter goals? Are you making good progress toward your strategic plan? Or you a bit off track, necessitating some adjustments? Taking action in April can get you back on the path to success for the rest of the year.

Good leaders also schedule time for spring cleaning. Spring cleaning in business might mean evaluating personnel. Are people meeting or exceeding your expectations? If not, have you given them feedback and shared clear expectations and time frames for improvement? If you have outlined performance expectations and measurements and someone still has not achieved them, it may be time to “release them to industry” and find someone who can get the job done for you.

Another form of business spring cleaning is purging files, shredding, scanning, and perhaps reorganizing work flows. Could your business be more efficient? April is a great time to evaluate processes and procedures and make changes that will help save time and money the rest of the year.

How about planning a fun summer outing for your team? Why not put together a committee, give them a budget, and have them present you with some options for fun group activities. Starting in April will give them time to come up with some great ideas before summer arrives. Perhaps you could take the team to a ballgame, play miniature golf, act out a murder mystery game, conduct a scavenger hunt, have a potluck picnic in the park, or head to the beach for friendly beach competitions and silly games. Finding activities everyone on your team can do will enhance bonding and increase morale. It’s also never too early to start planning the year-end holiday party, so you may want to add that to your April list.

What about building teamwork and camaraderie in a different way? Perhaps you could allow employees time off to serve a local charity. Some ideas include: Preparing and serving meals to the homeless, building a house for Habitat for Humanity, putting food in carts at the local food bank, bathing dogs at the local animal shelter, picking up trash along waterways, providing clothing and toiletries to a domestic violence shelter, or collecting toys and books for a local orphanage or safe house for kids. These activities are often very rewarding for employees as well as for the local charity.

Be creative and get started on that April checklist – you’ll be glad you did!

Gratitude and Appreciation

Gratitude changes everything
Gratitude and Appreciationsymphony of love / Foter / CC BY-SA

I’m fortunate to live in Florida, and most days get to drive across a bridge (or several bridges), over Tampa Bay. Sometimes traffic is so bad that I cannot really pay attention to my surroundings. Other times I’ll notice pelicans, seagulls, and even dolphins frolicking in the water occasionally. I can also go out on a pier not far from my home and see manatees in the bay. And I’m thankful that I get to see this beauty on a regular basis.

Those moments make me aware of how frequently I take my surroundings for granted. Do you take your surroundings at work for granted? Do you take the people that work with you or for you for granted? Or do you occasionally come up for air like the dolphins and manatees, and realize the beauty that surrounds you, and let others know that you are thankful they are working with you? Do you regularly acknowledge their presence and contributions?

Similarly, have you ever taken a look at your office as if you were a first time visitor? Even if you don’t have customers coming into your office, what message are you sending to anyone who visits? Your office may be perceived as an extension of you. Does the appearance of your office send a message that you don’t care about yourself or your surroundings? Or is it sending a message that you are aware of your environment and proud and grateful to be a part of it?

Why don’t we make this a week of gratitude and appreciation of our surroundings and for those with whom we work?

Are Your Goals Still Relevant?

Goal!
Are Your Goals Still Relevant?ekkebus / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

I encourage people to establish annual goals in advance. Sometimes when I ask how they are doing with those goals, they tell me that they are not doing very well, and they are pretty hard on themselves. When I dig down to learn more, I discover that the person has not failed to achieve the goal, but rather the goal is no longer relevant. Something has changed in the environment or situation that has caused that goal to no longer be important in the big scheme of things. Instead of acknowledging that change, the person instead feels like they are failing.

If that sounds familiar, I’d suggest you change your thinking. If you are faced with a goal that is no longer relevant, why not replace that goal with a more relevant goal? Just make sure you are not confusing the urgent with the important, and that the goal still moves you toward your long term vision. (For more on urgency and importance, I’d suggest that you read author Steven Covey.)

Just as most companies no longer utilize 10 year strategic plans because the world is changing too quickly, our goals can also change during the year. Make sure your goals are fluid and relevant…and still a stretch to achieve!