I’m a huge fan of sausages. Whether it be Italian, bratwurst, chorizo, kielbasa, or andouille, I love the seasoning and the snap of the casing when you bite into it. Now I know that the stuff that goes into sausage is of the most undesirable parts of the animal including organs, guts, head, and other parts that I prefer not to think about. I have never had the opportunity to see sausage being made, and as a matter of principle; I don’t want to because I know I’d be grossed out and it would ruin my appetite each time I enjoyed a banger. I choose to remain blissfully ignorant about the sausage making process.
As this relates to leadership, I’ve seen many leaders who are able to get things done but the process in which they do it is ugly. The end result may be positive, but how they got there was filled with unnecessary stress, drama, rework, and wasted energy along the way. In fact, I’ve even seen some leaders who thrive on the chaos; working around the clock, napping in a sleeping bag in their office, surviving on coffee, Cheetos, and Coke. With a successful delivery, the leader rewards and gets rewarded for their delivery heroics and the personal sacrifices made. Now sometimes there truly is a need for participants in a well-planned and run project to burn the midnight oil. It’s not those situations I’m talking about; it’s when the leader fails to deliberately plan and execute the work, resulting in wasted energy, lost productivity, and frazzled nerves. Let me be extremely clear on this: It’s not enough to consistently deliver results but leave a trail of dead bodies in your wake; you need to deliver results through deliberate planning and execution. Now it could be that planning needs to happen concurrent with some execution; I’ve certainly done that when having to work to tight mandated dates from my leadership. When someone says to me, “Well, we got it done,” I ask, “Would your team follow you into battle again?” The answer to that question is a direct reflection on the leader’s ability to deliberately plan and execute the work. I’d love for someone to challenge me on this.
Are you a leader who gets things done but creates unnecessary friction with your team, manager, or stakeholders? Give these four tips a look to help you be a leader who executes without the drama and stress:
A leader who gets things done without regard for the chaos he or she creates along the way won’t be a leader for long. Be a leader who deliberately plans and executes and you’ll establish a reputation as someone people will want to follow.
Despite my very best intentions, there are some people I have encountered throughout my life who simply are not interested in and do not want my feedback. I would spend a lot of time writing behaviors down, focusing on how I thought others perceived their behavior, and desired changes to behavior. I would focus on facts and keep things as unemotional as possible during the feedback session. Even with doing all the right things, my feedback sessions would go bust.
In looking at what went wrong in my failed feedback sessions, I was able to bring it down to several key factors, as follows:
When I was a young manager, I had a very experienced administrative assistant who worked with me. The person was very competent in the job and did everything I needed very well. One thing that bothered me, though, was the person's workstation. There were stacks of paper all around the workstation. I, in my own naiveté, couldn’t understand how the person could get things done with all that clutter so I offered some feedback to clean up the workstation to be more effective. Bad move on my part. The person got pretty ticked with me and asked me whether the workstation was affecting an ability to do a job. The person was dead right and it took me a long time to re-build our relationship. My feedback was not steeped in fact, it was based on my perception of what I thought was right. Painful lesson.
Before you offer up your feedback, think about some of the following things first and then decide:
You already have a strained relationship with the recipient – As desperately as you may be to provide feedback to a recipient, you may not have a trusting relationship built with the recipient to provide effective feedback. If you don’t have that trusting relationship, clam up on the feedback. If you’re not sure, ask a colleague who knows both you and the recipient and get his or her opinion.
You’re unsure of the facts – You may feel compelled to offer feedback, but if facts are sketchy do your homework first. You may find the feedback is legitimate, but you may also find the feedback isn’t warranted because the facts don’t support the need for feedback. Get clear on the facts before you formulate your feedback.
You’re not in an authoritative position to offer the feedback – A number of years back I offered some feedback to a colleague on his attitude in team meetings. He in no uncertain terms told me to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine and that because I was just a peer he wasn’t willing to listen to the feedback. My error in the situation was that I offered feedback to a colleague who didn’t see it as my place to offer the feedback because I wasn’t in an authoritative position and didn’t have a good enough relationship to offer peer feedback.
You’ve received feedback that you don’t give good feedback – You may feel compelled to offer feedback, but if you’ve received feedback that you aren’t effective at offering constructive feedback, resist the urge. Work on your own ability to give feedback with a colleague or friend first in “practice sessions” using some of the techniques I’ve highlighted in this book.
Sometimes the best feedback you can provide is no feedback at all. If your feedback will only be putting fuel on the fire because of strained relationships, unclear facts, or your own ability to deliver effective feedback, hold your tongue and let someone else do it. You’ll save yourself and your recipient a lot of stress and will keep from further deteriorating a relationship.
Step 1 – Define the problem to be solved and ownership
The first step in intentional empowerment is the clear articulation of a problem statement. The size of the problem doesn’t matter, it can be something that will take hours, days, or months to solve. What matters is a clear understanding of the problem statement, as well as ownership of the problem statement and the resulting solution.
And a bad one:
While process flows may be a necessary step, you as the leader have delegated an errand to someone else and retained control of the problem. The person will run the errand, give you process flows, then await your next instruction.
Step 2 – Articulate the guiding principles
Articulating guiding principles is about policy, legal, regulatory, or other guidelines which the solution needs to adhere to. Note this is not about telling the problem owner how to do something, it’s about ensuring the problem owner knows the boundaries that he or she needs to abide by in solving the problem.
And a couple of bad examples:
Guiding principles aren’t about controlling how something gets done, they are about the problem owner knowing what latitude he or she has in solution definition.
Step 3 – Ensure agreement on key dates
And bad ones:
It may be that a problem needs to be resolved urgently; if that’s the case then stress the urgency to the problem owner but put a date on it. Don’t leave the when up to interpretation.
Step 4 – Establish the follow-up cadence
For the same project here are a couple of bad examples:
There’s no one-size-fits-all follow-up cadence, what’s important is that the cadence exists, and both the leader and problem owner agree it’s appropriate. Again, too-infrequent follow-up communicates disinterest, while too-frequent follow-up communicates distrust.
I want to leave you with one last thought. Empowerment is a privilege, not a right. Those who are empowered have to earn and keep the trust of their manager, peers, and employees. Ensure when you are empowering someone to solve a problem that you are doing so because you trust him/her, and that if the trust is breached the willingness to empower diminishes. With that being said, take the time to understand intentional empowerment and use it to create high-performance teams that deliver value to your organization.
Bud was one of the most brilliant people in his organization. Only in his mid-thirties, Bud amazed his senior managers with his ability to grasp problems and develop innovative and effective solutions to those problems. He was highly sought after as a "go-to" guy and would consistently come up with creative approaches. His management decided to give him a thorny project with a team of over 100 professionals. "This is my chance to really prove I can deliver", Bud thought as he willingly accepted the project.
Though Bud did a great job of defining solutions, he had extreme difficulty articulating the work required to get from the current state to the desired solution. He frequently lost patience with project team members when they brought up problems or issues and accused them of "stonewalling" the project. Project risks were ignored and dismissed as trivial. The team grew increasingly frustrated with Bud, the project schedule was in chronic slippage, and management grew increasingly concerned about Bud's ability to deliver. Bud ultimately was removed as project lead.
Thought Leaders Aren't Necessarily Good People Leaders
In my years I've seen many great thought leaders crash and burn when they had to implement one of their creations. In most cases someone in management made the assumption that because the thought leader came up with a great idea, that they could -- and should -- actually implement the idea. This if-then relationship simply doesn't always hold water. Unfortunately this lesson typically is learned the hard way; with the thought leader being thrust into the people leader role only to crash and burn.
Thought Leaders Design Innovative Solutions
When I wrote my first book in 2004 my publicist told me, "you've got to write articles to get your message out and sell books!" Being a good soldier I saluted and contemplated how I was going to get it done. My publicist turned me on to a ghost writer who wrote an article under my guidance. After paying way too much for the article and seeing the finished product, I vowed never again to have someone else write for me. I decided that if I had crappy articles it was going to be because I was the one who wrote them, not because I paid someone to write crappy articles for me.
Fast forward to today. I've written hundreds of articles and locked down on a methodology to writing articles which stay on topic, aren't disjointed, and are easy to create. Here's what I do:
If you look at my articles you'll be able to pick up on this structure. The secret sauce comes in not the sections themselves, but the order in which the sections are written. I write the article in the following sequence:
Here's why I do it in this sequence. I start first with take-aways because that is what I want my readers to get out of my article. By starting with the take-aways, I ensure that I am putting the reader first and writing for the reader's benefit. Next I construct the core message, or "meat" of the article. The core message has to support the take-aways; if I've constructed the take-aways first then I better ensure the core message aligns to the take-aways. Next I decide how I want to close the article, which is typically a one to two-sentence statement that underscores my core message. The close leaves the last impression which needs to align to the core message. Last, I write the opening story. By writing the opening story last, I ensure that there is a relevant and seamless transition into the core message and that the opening story grabs the attention of the reader.