Take Time to Build Meaningful Connections

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve probably heard me say “The best minute of the day is the one you invest in your people.” Why do I believe that? Because leaders who invest time in their people are building meaningful connections. Those connections create inspired people and inspired leaders who benefit from those great relationships, and achieve great results, together.

Leadership is not about you. It’s about the people you are trying to influence. The more you understand about your direct reports, the better you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals. Taking time to work side by side with a direct report to determine their development level on a task lets them know you are interested in meeting them where they are. And it allows you to use the right leadership style, with the right amount of direction and support, to help that person get to the next level.

Here’s another way you can take time to build a meaningful connection with each of your people: schedule one-on-one meetings where the direct report sets the agenda. These meetings don’t use up a lot of work time—just twenty to thirty minutes every other week. There’s no better way to show someone you care about them as a person than to set aside time to chat about anything they wish. It’s a great opportunity for both manager and direct report to speak openly with one another without interference or judgment. This leads to a trusting relationship that generates respect, loyalty, and accountability on both sides.

And don’t forget to take time to celebrate people’s talents, skills, and successes. Celebration doesn’t have to mean a big, expensive party. It can be as small as taking one person aside and praising them for their input at a meeting. It can be as quiet as sending someone a gift card in appreciation for the role they played on a special team. Or it can be as grand as allowing everyone in the department to stop working two hours early on a Friday afternoon. Celebration lets people know they are doing things right. It builds morale and camaraderie. And—let’s face it—it’s fun!

So take time to let your people know you’re glad they are with you. You see their gifts and also their potential. You want them to win. And you’re there to help them achieve their goals. Take time to build those meaningful connections. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

We Can Get Through this Tough Time Together

Like most people, my wife, Margie, and I have lived through our share of tough times. Whether they were personal challenges (losing our home to wildfire, passing of loved ones) or crises affecting millions (9/11, the recession of 2008-09), the thing that always helped us through those times was the kindness of others. The COVID-19 pandemic that most people in the world are experiencing right now is an extreme example of a tough time. Most of us have never been in a situation like this. Our lives have changed and nobody really knows how long it will be before things get back to normal—or what our “new normal” will look like.

My late friend and coauthor Norman Vincent Peale taught me a lot about how to get through life’s challenges. In fact, decades ago he wrote a book—The Power of Positive Thinking—that has changed millions of people’s lives for the better. One of my favorite quotes from Norman is “Positive thinkers get positive results.” I’ve taken that advice to heart and it has helped me.

I know for some of you, thinking positive may be a tall order right now. Many people I talk to say their emotional ups and downs come and go in waves. I think it helps to recognize that we have come through hard times before, and we need to be confident we can do it again. We are all in this together—literally. When we encourage one another and reach out in caring, loving ways, we can turn a difficult struggle into a shared experience that can be worked through together.

There are actually a lot of positive things that can come out of this weird time in our lives. For example, today’s technology allows us to not only talk, email, and text with each other, but also see each other in real time. Some working teams are having “happy hours” every Friday where they catch up on the week and toast each other with their beverages of choice. Grandparents and grandkids are getting together on video chats to keep up with what the others are doing.

Most people in our company are working from home, so we have started holding regular all-hands meetings online. This week we had more than 350 people in attendance, watching and listening to our leaders and leaving questions and comments in a rolling chat box on the side of the screen. A lot of folks had their cameras turned on so we could see them. I was amazed how connected I felt to everyone, even though I was sitting in my home office. I’m so thankful we have this incredible technology that can keep us in touch with each other.

Another unique thing about this time is how families are sheltering in their homes together. This can present a different kind of a challenge when a parent is out of work or working from home and the kids are bored. I read a note from one couple who said being hunkered down 24/7 with their five kids was like running a diner full of disgruntled customers!

Try to look at this as an opportunity to spend time together as a family and depend on each other. Get creative! Put together a big puzzle or play board games together. Find thinking games online like “Words With Friends” that you can play with each other on your phones. Talk to your kids about what’s going on and tell them stories about when you were young and your family made it through a tough time. Write questions (e.g., “If you were an animal, what would you be and why?” “What’s your best birthday memory?”) on pieces of paper, put them in a jar, and pull one out at every meal for an icebreaker. You never know what you’ll learn about each other! And don’t forget—at some point in the near future, everyone will be going back to work and school and get busy again doing activities and sports. You may look back on this as a special time.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping up with the news, but right now there aren’t a lot of fun headlines. Try not to get bogged down with negative stories about things you can’t control. Remember how after 9/11, Mr. Rogers said “Look for the helpers”? Look for the good news—believe it or not, it’s out there! Here are a few links to recent stories and also a few websites where you can find good news:

When you feel low about what’s going on, think about this: You’ve come through difficult times before. What helped you get through those times? Reach out to others with love, and accept kindnesses that are offered to you. This too shall pass—and we can get through it together.

5 Strategies for Leading Through The Uncertainty Of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a testing ground for leaders around the world. Leadership is always important, but especially during times of crisis. When each day brings new challenges, the choices leaders make can have a tremendous impact on outcomes, positive or negative.

It is normal for people to lose focus during a crisis; uncertainty tends to undermine people’s motivation and morale. The leader’s job is to remind people of the long-term vision; to give them hope and the promise of a better—or at least back-to-normal—tomorrow.

As we move through this global pandemic, now is a good time to review and respond wisely to the five stages of concern people have during periods of change:

  1. Information concerns – In the absence of clear, factual communication, people tend to create their own information. Rumors abound and create confusion. That is why it’s so important to take charge of the conversation. People want to know whatever you know, even if it’s no different than what you knew yesterday. They want to know what is changing and why.

Response: Communicate verified facts early and often. Provide clear direction. Even if there’s no change in the status quo, keep communicating.

  1. Personal concerns – People wonder how change will affect them. If you don’t permit people to express their feelings about what’s happening, these feelings will persist. Yet if you allow people to deal with what is bothering them, in the very process of grappling with their feelings, their anxiety often goes away. “How will this change impact me personally?” is the question foremost in people’s minds.

Response: Keep two-way communication lines open so that people can talk about their concerns.

  1. Implementation concerns – At this stage people want to know how to perform in the face of the change. What information is needed? What are the tools, plans, and strategies for the immediate future? Have enough resources been allocated?

Response: Involve people in finding ways forward. Since they’re the ones who will be implementing any new plans and strategies, their insights will be crucial, and you’ll need their buy-in to succeed.

  1. Impact concerns – Once people’s anxiety about the first three stages are handled, they begin to wonder about the impact their efforts are having. Are things getting better? Are the strategies working? Are we going to be able to sustain this effort? Leaders can keep people engaged and motivated if they provide encouragement at this stage.

Response: Focus on the positive impact of people’s efforts and recognize their successes.

  1. Refinement concerns – At this stage time has passed and people have had a chance to see what is and isn’t working. Their concerns now focus on improving systems and processes. What have we learned that we can leverage? How can we do this better or faster?

Response: Now is not the time for leaders to drop the ball! Continue to practice the leadership strategies outlined in the five stages of concern above.

Good leadership not only can reduce the negative impact of a crisis, it also can make an organization stronger. For example, during the business slow-down after 9/11, the leadership team of our company resisted the kneejerk response to lay people off. Instead, everyone earning above a certain threshold took salary cuts. We convened a special meeting where we invited the entire staff to brainstorm measures the company could take to maximize income and cut costs. Not only did the company make it through the crisis, it thrived. When business started picking up again, we were still fully staffed. This gave us a business advantage, since we didn’t have to spend time hiring and training new people when the economy recovered.

There is no better time to lead at a higher level. Remember, our job as leaders is to serve, not to be served. Let’s start by serving our people and responding to their concerns, because they are our number one customer. Together, we’ll get through this.

Are You an Effective Collaborator?

This week is our company’s Channel Partner Conference here in town. What’s a channel partner, you ask? It’s someone who owns their own company and sells our training programs to organizations with 2500 people or less. This conference is a beautiful example of collaboration between our people and these good folks. We work together to help each other win.

A few years ago, I wrote a book with Eunice Parisi-Carew and Jane Ripley called Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster. We wanted to show people how they can break down silos within their organization and work together to achieve successful results. We created an acronym we call the UNITE model. The letters stand for five elements everyone in an organization needs to put into action to create and sustain a collaborative culture:

  • Utilize differences;
  • Nurture safety and trust;
  • Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals;
  • Talk openly; and
  • Empower yourself and others

How would you rank yourself as a collaborative leader or worker? Below is a list of questions, sorted by each category in the UNITE model, that you can ask yourself to assess your strengths and weaknesses regarding collaboration. Answer Yes or No to each question and keep track of your answers.

Utilize Differences

  1. Do you believe everyone has something to contribute?
  2. Do you ensure everyone in your group is heard?
  3. Do you actively seek different points of view?
  4. Do you encourage debate about ideas?
  5. Do you feel comfortable facilitating conflict

Nurture Safety and Trust

  1. Do I encourage people to speak their mind?
  2. Do I consider all ideas before decisions are made?
  3. Do I share knowledge freely?
  4. Do I view mistakes as learning opportunities?
  5. Am I clear with others about what I expect?

Involve Others in Crafting a Clear Purpose, Values, and Goals

  1. Is my team committed to a shared purpose?
  2. Do I know the purpose of our project and why it is important?
  3. Do I hold myself and others accountable for adhering to our values?
  4. Do I check decisions against our stated values?
  5. Do I hold myself and others accountable for project outcomes?

Talk Openly

  1. Do others consider me a good listener?
  2. Do I share information about myself with my teammates?
  3. Do I seek information and ask questions?
  4. Do I give constructive feedback—and am I open to receiving feedback?
  5. Do I encourage people to network with others?

Empower Yourself and Others

  1. Do I continually work to develop my competence?
  2. Do I feel empowered to give my opinions during idea sessions, even if I disagree?
  3. Do I actively build and share my network with others?
  4. Do I share my skills and knowledge with other departments?
  5. Do I believe my work is important to the organization?

Now give yourself one point for every Yes answer.

A score of 21 to 25  is outstanding! Keep up the good work!

A score of 17 to 20 is very good. You are definitely on the right track.

A score of 14 to 16 is average. Keep working at it.

A score of 13 or less is poor. Pay attention—there is lots of room for improvement.

In which area did you score the most Yes answers? In which area did you score the least? What actions can you take to improve your skills or attitudes? Did your results surprise you? If so, how?

Remember: None of us is as smart as all of us—and collaboration really does begin with you. Regardless of your role, you can make a difference in helping create a culture of collaboration within your organization. Collaboration is a wonderful thing to see—and even better when you are part of the experience!

Three Steps to Becoming the Best Boss Ever

A couple of months ago I sent out a Facebook post with a photo of a briefcase-carrying woman jumping a hurdle, along with the headline, “Hire smart people, train them properly, then get out of their way.” That post went viral, garnering thousands more views than my usual posts.  Something about the message really resonated with people. Why? I think it’s because people know that at its best, leadership is a partnership—one that involves mutual trust and respect between people working together to achieve common goals. Leaders and direct reports influence each other. Both play a role in figuring out how to get things done. In other words, leadership is about we, not me.

So, let’s drill down into the three steps a leader can take to become the kind of boss people want and organizations need.

Hire Smart People

This one is a no-brainer. When you hire, you’re looking for people who resonate with your organization’s values, first and foremost. You also want people who have the required skills for the position or the potential to develop those skills. You’re looking for people with the ability to think and plan. Plus, you want to see initiative, organizational ability, creativity, and an ability to communicate well. In short, you’re looking for winners.

I often ask managers, “How many of you go out and hire losers? Unfortunately, too many organizations still use the normal distribution curve model, where managers are expected to rate only a few people high, a few people low, and the rest as average performers. That’s nonsense. Do you go around saying, “We lost some of our worst losers last year, so let’s hire some new ones to fill those low spots”? Of course you don’t! You hire either winners or potential winners—people who can perform at the highest level.

Train Them Properly

Even if you hire someone who already has the technical skill to do the job, it’s essential to provide ongoing training and support. Too often leaders hire people, give them some haphazard training, and pray that the new hire will become a winner. Great leaders don’t leave people to sink or swim. They support them through all three stages of partnering for performance:

Performance Planning. No matter how busy you are, it’s essential to spend time with your direct reports on planning and goal setting. Assess your direct report’s competence and commitment on each task. It’s up to you to provide the support they need, whether it’s technical training, help getting access to people or information, or just moral support. Even high performers need support and encouragement to be their best.

Performance Coaching. Leaders often assume that their performance planning conversations are so clear that there is no need for follow up. Save yourself time and misery by having regular progress-check meetings with your direct reports. If everything is coming along smoothly, it will be an opportunity to praise progress and celebrate wins together. If things aren’t progressing as planned, it will allow you to redirect efforts before small issues turn into 800-pound gorillas.

Performance Review. I don’t believe in the dreaded annual performance review. I think of performance review as an ongoing process that happens during open, honest discussions leaders have with their direct reports all year long. If you’ve been having regular one-on-one meetings throughout the year, the annual performance review should contain no surprises.

Then Get Out of Their Way

Once you’ve collaborated with your direct reports on goals and given them the coaching and support they need to master the job, you really need to let them run with the ball. People aren’t just hired hands—they have brains, too! A trained individual doesn’t need micromanaging; they need autonomy to grow and thrive.

While it’s completely appropriate to provide a hands-on, directing/coaching leadership style when someone is learning a new task or skill, the goal is to move to a hands-off, supporting/delegating style. This means trusting your direct report to act independently. It means turning over responsibility for day-to-day decision making and problem solving. It means, in other words, to get out of their way!

But don’t disappear altogether. Even the highest, most self-reliant achievers need leaders to praise their progress, celebrate their wins, and provide new challenges to keep them engaged.