12 years ago I enhanced my workout routine by joining a gym that is focused on a circuit training type routine. The specific difference is that there is a Whiteboard that lays out all exercises to be completed within an hour. It is instructor led, but not one on one; we are broken up into groups and the instructor is there to educate us on the workout before we start, to answer questions as we move through the Whiteboard, and to motivate us to do the routine the right way and finish on time. The result is that my workout group has had the same people in it for all these years (low turnover) and everyone works hard and gets along. They are all top notch people in general as well. However, if you took the white board and instructor (our leader) away from us, we would probably just drink coffee and do a couple of sets of something, or we would most likely leave and go find a better leader/organization to be part of. Staying with the gym/workout theme….. Who do you think performs higher – people who go to an instructor/course led facility where they are held accountable, or those who go to a regular gym and their routine and motivation is all on them? Just walk into each type of facility and the answer is apparent.
People expect strategy, motivation, and accountability to be driven by leadership. It is a mistake to convince ourselves that the team should just be naturally motivated, strategic, and hold themselves accountable. If this were the case, why would leaders be needed. Only 10% of people do these things naturally and rise to the top. However, that 10% and the other 90%, expect the organization and their leader to lead them on their path to success. This is the same for me when I go to my 5:45 a.m. class each morning; My expectation is that I am going to show up, be led, and I am going to perform at a very high-level because of the environment, the leadership, and my peers all being on the same page.
Leaders should always provide the vision/plan, give guidance and motivate others for execution, and inspect/hold others accountable. Otherwise, the team might just be wondering around the gym and getting much less of a work-out completed.
To provide context, let’s define a “project” as it relates to this post: A project is a complex issue, with a defined set of goals, that requires a leader to influence/motivate many others, implement strategy, inspect, and ensure execution.
The vision for an organization is one big project that cascades into other projects and supporting goals, which also have cascading projects that are nested all the way down. The importance of justification and prioritization is critical at every level.
All projects (starting with the highest level vision) must be justified; Similar to culture, they should not just “happen” and there should be some guiding principles/values in place.
Here are some tips on justifying projects:
- Challenge, challenge, challenge; The leader should vigorously challenge their own projects/vision during the planning process. The higher level the leader is, the less likely they are to be challenged by others, therefore know that it is appropriate to be hard on yourself when planning. Then ask your peer group to beat you up a bit more; which is all about crisp justification for something that is about to be your obsession for a period of time, and that will impact many (if not all) others in the organization.
- When assisting others in justifying their projects: Ensure they have gone through the exercise above by having them answer the following questions:
- Why in the heck should we do this?
- Is it supported by our overall vision?
- What will our measurable(s) be?
- If successful, will the results be material?
- What happens if the project fails? This should be the last question because the answer(s) will validate importance/justification
In regards to prioritizing projects:
- Stack/rank by measurable and the impact of outcomes
- No one should have more than 3-5 direct projects at any given time; any excess should be kicked down the list or deleted (if they are important they will resurface)
- If there are too many projects for the leaders who are available to manage them, change an input. Either the team/investment needs to grow, or the priorities need to shrink to a manageable level. The key is in justifying the projects first; if there really are more than the team can handle and they have all been justified, grow the team and invest in people and resources at a higher rate.
The things that we find ourselves hoping for, are exactly those that we need to break down into actionable projects with the appropriate accountability/inspection points. We have to be intentional about our success, while being able to predict failures and act in advance to avoid them.
Today is the day. Dive into your areas of hope; break them down, and turn hope into the highest probability of success. Once that corner is turned, stress is minimized and confidence replaces hope.
Things never go as planned with large projects/big changes. If the proper inspection cadence is not set as part of rolling out the plan, then it is futile to be frustrated by a lack of execution. I have accepted that where people (and even the best people) are required, certain things will not start, be done as intended, be finished, etc., without proper follow-up by the leader…….and that with more people, the chance of miss-alignment is magnified.
For the project to be worth starting, the leader of the project must be willing to do what is required for success and put in the inspection points at the onset. Similar to a meeting being unproductive with out a leader, agenda, and set duration, so is a plan that does not include an audit process.
- Make time to take care of ourselves and our families
- Prospect and look for new opportunities, even when business/life is good
- Make corrections (and be the one to point them out) rather than excuses
- Look for issues when none are apparent
- Do not allow 8-5 to be a factor in achieving our goals
- Celebrate and recognize the success of others
- Write down our goals and consistently inspect performance against them
- Stomp out complacency; we look for it throughout the organization, especially after big wins
- Understand and accept leadership risk (relying on others for success)
- Strive for those who lead us to not have to worry about anything under our control
Early this morning while exercising in a small hotel gym, I reflected on how fast things are moving in life. My kids are growing up too fast; I am getting older; MCCi is growing faster than ever and our team is phenomenal. I was reminded that balance, growth, and leadership are tough, and that a certain level of stress (each person has their own tolerance) will be present when we are trying to do it all perfectly; The reality is that perfection is impossible and that is the reason for reflection. Consistent adjustments are what is key.
This week I am in three different states and will be part of some very important meetings. We are prepared, and they will go as well as they can because our team is awesome. But what am I most excited about this week? The daddy daughter pool day with my 4 and 6 year old daughters on Saturday. Just as much preparation is going into that: Early morning grocery store run, hot dogs, popsicles, all-day pool day, bubbles, games, umbrellas……..
Leaders are entrepreneurial in that they create growth through ambition, research, collaboration, validation and go to market strategy. They go to their leaders with “Here is the plan and I would like your feedback”, rather than their leader coming to them with “What is the plan?” or building out the plan for them to follow, mandating that there be a plan, etc. You ask any leader out there if they would rather impose pressure on others to grow or have their team approach them with growth plans for collaboration and feedback, and I am confident that the vast majority will choose the latter, and that those that do the latter will rise at a much faster rate.
It is very easy to spot the plans that are built with thought leadership/passion vs. the plans that are put together as part of a requirement imposed by others. It is not about the structure of the documents, or the fact that there is required data to include – it is more about the ownership that can be felt in the document. It can be felt based on creativity, humility in admitting what needs improvement, strong goals, and a strong plan for executing. Those plans are motivating to all and they can only start with the leader being passionate, putting the time in, and holding themselves accountable to producing a plan that will motivate all stakeholders and ultimately lead to growth.
Continuous incremental progress (not money) is the path to happiness. This is why even the most successful people continue to have the the highest level drive and passion. It gives them purpose and fulfillment to know they are better today than they were yesterday. Once we have this fundamental belief, it is a crazy thought to let others impose the pressure for us to progress (be happy).
The first email account I had was in college and the first text message I sent was at the age of 27 – in order to get a first date with Kristen (my bride). For this reason and regarding leadership development, I believe I had an advantage over the folks that are in their 20’s today; mainly because verbal communication was the primary option back then. I only had to learn how to text (on my Nextel “beep beep” phone – note that the first iPhone was 2007) because Kristen would not answer my calls or respond to voicemail. Comparing my experience with the younger generation who has had email and text messaging since they can remember, it has likely made leadership an even tougher endeavor for them given that face to face and verbal interactions are key to effective leadership.
I was listening to a TED talk last week and the presenter stated that the #1 benefit from a training program they delivered to their up and coming leaders was focused on communicating effectively. It made me remember the most practical and highest impact course I had to take a long time ago when going through an MBA program, which was “Effective Communication in Business”. I distinctly remember an exercise where they had us go through the archive of our business emails and pull the three worse examples of communication and then present them to the class. They weren’t just teaching us how to write, the medium we should use, or self-awareness in regards to the perception others have due to our actions; they were teaching us leadership.
Regardless of what/who we are trying to lead, large advancements in what we are trying to achieve only happen with a more intimate form of communication. The quicker/easier/less stressful way to communicate is to text/email/send a letter, etc., which is also why it is typically the wrong way to handle more strategic matters. Written communication is still an important step, but only as a follow-up to formalize and/or confirm what was discussed.
Some examples (based on my opinion only) of when to use certain channels:
|Verbal/In Person Communication
|Consulting with customers/team
||Conveying supporting information
|Recognition for large achievements
||Confirmation of understanding
|Reflection on and learning from mistakes
||Formalizing next steps
||Reporting/inspecting what is expected
||Conveying general information
|ANY sensitive matters