Leading by Values

I write and speak a lot about the importance of having strong corporate values. I believe when a company is truly leading by its values, there is only one boss—the values.

In light of this, I challenge you to think about something:  Are you truly leading by your values?

Now, don’t worry, I’m not underestimating your own personal importance as a leader in an organization. I’m asking you to consider whether your organization’s values are ingrained in such a way that they provide guidelines for daily communication, decision making, and problem solving. Do your people use the values consistently to make decisions for the good of the whole organization instead of for one department or individual? Do your people participate in valuable, honest discussions because they know they are operating in a safe environment? Do your people take pride not only in the organization as a whole, but also in their role in the company? Do your people consider the company values to be actual rules of operation, not just suggestions?

One way to ensure that your core values serve your organization well is to communicate them to people clearly and constantly. We recently revised our values at The Ken Blanchard Companies in a collaborative process that invited participation from every person. The values were defined, approved, and announced at an all company meeting.  A dedicated team developed a plan to roll out the values to our people over a period of several months by focusing on one value each month. This helped everyone develop a deeper understanding of each value so that they were able to incorporate the behaviors of the values into their daily actions.

The team used standard communication methods such as creating posters for office walls, plaques for every person’s desk, a document that listed each value along with examples of congruent and incongruent behaviors, and a Facebook group. But they didn’t stop there—they took the launch much further. For example, one of our values is Focus and Clarity. The team arranged for all-company webinars that detailed how to set clear goals and focus on goal achievement.  Then they held an activity where people could learn archery. Believe me, when you are aiming an arrow at a target, you experience the importance of focus and clarity! Each month, creative activities like these have provided a different way for people to embed the respective value into their own belief system.

I encourage you to consider how your company values are communicated to your people. Are they buried away in a manual—or are they a part of everyday conversations, decision making, problem solving, and planning? Leading by values means stating and restating your organization’s values until they become second nature. This creates a secure, nurturing work environment where people thrive—and where values rule.

2 Secrets to Keep on Track with Your New Year’s Resolutions

In my last blog I talked about three tips to help you stay on track to achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Now that you are a few weeks into the process, you might be struggling a little bit, so let me make another suggestion. Over the years, I’ve realized that the people who have the most trouble accomplishing goals and sticking with resolutions are the people who are the busiest. The problem with these people is that too often they go through the motions of day-to-day busy work instead of focusing on the most important things first.

You have probably heard the theory that we all have two selves—the external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting the job done, and the internal, thoughtful, reflective self that considers things before acting. The task-oriented self is the first to wake up in the morning, of course, and is only focused on task achievement. You read email while you are eating breakfast, then jump in the car, head to the office and start attacking your to-do list in order to get everything checked off before you go home. It’s so easy to get caught in this kind of activity trap—you’re so busy doing urgent but unimportant tasks you don’t have time to think about the important goals you may have set.

So how do you get out of this trap? How do you help yourself focus less on task achievement and more on goal achievement? I suggest that in the morning, instead of jumping out of bed and right into task achievement, you enter your day slowly and thoughtfully. Take 20 or 30 minutes to think through what you really need to accomplish for the day. Remember how I suggested you write down your New Year’s resolutions and read them every day? Now is the perfect time. Look at your resolutions to see where they can fit into the day’s plan. Entering your day slowly gives you the opportunity to plan your day out so that you can both accomplish your tasks and fit in time to work toward your resolutions.

Then, at the end of the day before you go to bed, jot down a few notes about your day in a journal. If you don’t want to take the time to write in a journal, at least give yourself the gift of thinking about your day for a few minutes. What did you do during the day that was consistent with your New Year’s resolutions, and what got in the way? Soon you’ll be able to spot both positive and negative patterns so that you can make changes in your schedule to get yourself back on track toward goal achievement.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to spend twenty minutes in the morning to plan and more time at night to reflect.” But I guarantee that if you take that little bit of time, you’ll set yourself up for success in achieving your goals—and your New Year’s resolutions. And you know what? You’re worth it!

Work Smarter, Not Harder, During the Holidays

The old saying Don’t work harder, work smarter might seem like common sense, but it isn’t common practice—especially during the hectic holiday season. In addition to the year-end push for revenue goals and project completion at work, everyone’s personal time is impacted with school vacations and holiday celebrations that can result in added pressure and frenzied activity. Many people approach this season with the mindset If I put in maximum time and effort 24/7, I should be able to get it all done.

I’d like to suggest something a little different. Although it’s very tempting to tell yourself “Don’t just sit there, do something,” please consider this: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” I know it sounds counterintuitive, but let me explain how this mindset can make things easier both at work and at home.

Someone once taught me the phrase Plan your work and then work your plan. When you jump into a project without proper planning, you often make decisions without all the necessary information—which can create extra work for both you and your team. But when you take the time to think, strategize, and prioritize, you’ll actually save time, have better focus, and avoid pitfalls along the way.

At work, it’s critical to take the time to create a project plan before taking action. This will allow you to be proactive at making continuous progress toward the end goal instead of being reactive when issues come up along the way and slow you down. Without a clear plan, you have no real focus. And without focus, you might be working hard—but not smart.

At home, it’s important to get the whole family involved in creating a plan for the holidays. There’s nothing sadder than ruining your own holiday spirit because you feel like you have to do it all. You might be surprised at how much everyone would pitch in on holiday preparations if you simply asked for help. So sit down as a group and decide who is going to be involved in which project. Doing projects together—whether it’s cooking, shopping, or entertaining—adds to the positive holiday spirit. And you’ll spend more time together as a family. What’s more important than that?

I encourage you to sit down and take a few minutes right now to plan your work and personal activities for the coming month. I guarantee it will be time well spent—and you’ll enjoy the benefits of working smarter, not harder.

Set Boundaries for an Empowered Workforce

Setting boundaries to help empower people might sound like a contradiction. When managed correctly, though, well placed boundaries can ensure a strong culture of empowerment for your entire company.

I’ve often said that a river without banks is a large puddle. If you empower people by setting them loose without any direction, they can lose momentum and focus—or, even worse, they can make costly mistakes or put a project at risk. Like the banks of a river, properly set boundaries will channel energy in the right direction so that people can take on more responsibility as they grow and develop.

The key to setting boundaries is to ensure people know the areas where they can be autonomous and responsible rather than focusing on things they are not permitted to do. Boundaries are based on each person’s skill level and are meant to help the person understand how their goals align with the overall vision and goals of the organization. Helping people see how their work fits into the big picture allows them to become peak performers.

It is also important for managers to explain the decision making process in an empowered culture. Some people think being empowered means they get to make all the decisions. They could be disappointed when the manager continues to make strategic decisions and leaves only some operational decisions to them. And they might hesitate to make decisions at all when they realize they will be held accountable for the results—both good and bad.

Yes, empowerment means people have the freedom to act, but it also means they are accountable for results. The right balance is to have managers continue making strategic decisions and get team members involved in making more operational decisions as they become more comfortable with assuming the potential risks involved. As people gradually accept more responsibility for decisions and consequences, managers can pull back on their involvement.

It takes a little time in the beginning for managers to establish boundaries for team members, but this investment has a huge payoff. The worst thing a manager can do is to send people off on their own with no clear direction and then punish them when they make mistakes. Don’t fall into that trap. Establish clear boundaries that will empower people to make decisions, take initiative, act like owners, and stay on track to reach both personal and organizational goals.

Taking the Time to Find Your Calling: Two Ways to Get Started

I’ve been reading an interesting book by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro called Whistle While You Work: Heeding Your Life’s Calling. The authors explain that in many instances our calling comes to us when we are removed from everyday routine—that’s when we are able to listen to what authentically moves us from the inside.

Each summer, my wife, Margie, and I spend time at our lake home in upstate New York, where we are removed from our everyday routine and obligations in San Diego. This change of scenery allows me to do just what the authors of the book describe: I get time to think about where I want to make a difference in the world. In fact, I do most of my writing at the lake. I have time to think about the issues leaders are facing around the world and spend time researching and writing articles and books that offer solutions to those challenges.

So what’s your calling—and how do you discover it? In addition to taking the time to quiet yourself by removing yourself from routine, I also think it is important to identify the activities that cause you to lose track of time—that’s a hallmark of a calling versus something you are driven to accomplish. For me, writing at the lake certainly ticks that box. How about you? Think about using vacation time to quiet yourself. Pay attention to what you learn. This concept goes beyond what you do to make a living—think about what you want to do in your community or with your family that will support your values and purpose.

It’s never too late to make changes in your life by taking advantage of your most precious commodity—time. Life is a very special occasion, so celebrate it by finding and honoring your authentic self!