Make it a Summer of Learning

If you want to be a great leader, you must make personal growth a conscious choice and a continuous journey. In the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders Grow, we say that growing to a leader is like oxygen to a deep sea diver: without it, you die. Not a physical death, of course—but if you stop growing, your influence will erode and, ultimately, you may lose the opportunity to lead at all.

Simply knowing how to do your job today doesn’t secure your success tomorrow. It’s important to keep up with today’s rapidly changing work environment so that you can offer new ideas to keep your organization successful in the future.  Make time to read books and articles, watch videos, and listen to podcasts or audio books. Talk with peers or work with a mentor outside your normal work circle. Sign up for an online course or a workshop at your company. Join an association or a special interest group. The learning opportunities are endless—however, the time to invest in these activities is not.

Many organizations enjoy a slower pace during the summer. Or maybe you take your vacation during the summer. Either way, why not utilize some of that time and make this your summer of learning!

My wife, Margie, loves listening to audio books. She listens to business books, books that support her photography hobby, mystery novels, and a lot more. The great thing about this is she can do it sitting on a plane, riding in a car, or taking a walk—just about any time. I encourage you to do the same. Use some of your downtime to invest in your own knowledge. Take a book or article you’ve been meaning to read on that long flight or even to the beach. Listen to a podcast while you are exercising or sitting somewhere quietly enjoying the view. Get up a little earlier than usual and watch a TED talk online.

Keep in mind that your learning doesn’t have to be focused on your work. Trying new hobbies is a learning experience and exploring new interests stimulates your thinking in general. You might think of a great idea for a home improvement project while you are practicing your golf swing. And that yoga class you’ve been promising to try for the past few months might provide the relaxation and focus you need to come up with an original recipe for dinner that uses healthy ingredients your family enjoys.

Be creative and open to life’s opportunities—because when you stop learning, you stop leading!

Refiring Physically: Keep Moving!

an athletic pair of legs on pavement during sunrise or sunset -Are you ready to learn about the next key from my new book, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, coauthored with Morton Shaevitz? As a reminder, the first key, Refiring Emotionally, is about creating a work environment where people can be engaged. The second key, Refiring Intellectually, suggests the need for lifelong learning. Now let’s consider the third key—Refiring Physically.

Numerous articles have been published about the positive link between physical exercise and improved mental outlook and job performance. Smart companies realize that employees who exercise are more productive and engaged. Many HR departments offer wellness programs such as exercise facilities in the building, discounts to a gym, or a hosted yoga class or walking club. And it never hurts to get creative—encourage people who sit at a desk all day to get up every thirty minutes to walk or stretch to get their blood pumping. Hold meetings where everyone stands up. Walk down the hall or to the next building to talk to someone instead of e-mailing them. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise doesn’t have to be a carefully planned, timed activity—it can be anything that gets you up and moving, even for a few minutes.

Through the years as our company has grown, our headquarters has spread out little by little until we now occupy several small office buildings on our street. A few years ago we created a natural walking path that goes around the buildings. I’ve noticed that our “Blanchard Trail” gets quite a bit of use. Some people walk in exercise clothes so I know they are working out, but others wear work clothes and are just taking advantage of a nice way to get reenergized. Some have told me they even hold one-on-one meetings while walking on the path. A short walk in the fresh air can give anyone a new perspective and help them be more effective on the job. The health benefits are an added value.

It’s easy to help employees understand the link between a healthy body and a healthy mind. Share this code of conduct that Morton and I created as a handy reminder:

  • Be healthy—Honor and strengthen your body
  • Be an exerciser—Move your body
  • Be a smart eater—Eat less and enjoy more
  • Be energetic—Play hard and rest well
  • Stay flexible—Stretch every day
  • Learn balance—Practice standing on one foot, then the other

So get up and move! And spend time to keep your employees healthy. It’s an investment in the vitality of your entire organization.

 

Refire

To learn more about Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, visit the book homepage where you can download a free chapter.

Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut. Refire at Work!

I’m so excited about tStuck In The Mudhe release of my latest book written with my friend Morton Shaevitz, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. When Morton and I started this book, we focused on the fact that people who embrace life with gusto enjoy better health, more happiness, and greater fulfillment.

Then we realized the same principles can be applied at work. When people see their workplace as a space to enhance relationships, stimulate their mind, revitalize physically, and grow spiritually, it brings passion to their work. Most senior leaders are aware of the statistics about disengaged employees in the workplace and how important it is to create opportunities for meaningful connection at work. I know many of you are reading this right now and saying to yourself, “Oh, great, one more thing I need to do at work to help my employees love their job.” Let me be clear that the full responsibility isn’t on you—but you can play a part by utilizing the four keys to refiring.

The first key is Refiring Emotionally. Everyone needs emotional nourishment. Our research shows that people who have friends at work are happier, more loyal, and more productive. As a leader you can help people make emotional connections by encouraging teamwork, offering workshops or retreats, and holding celebrations. Everything from acknowledging birthdays and work anniversaries to companywide parties can support emotional refiring. Creating an emotionally connected culture not only gives people a morale boost, it also increases innovation and collaboration.

Morton and I defined the code of conduct for refiring emotionally to remind you how simple it can be to make a difference.

Be playful—Laugh and kid

Be friendly—Smile and be happy

Be joyful—Embrace the moment

Be loving—Approach and welcome others

Be spontaneous—Get out of your comfort zone

Be enthusiastic—Give it your all

I’m not saying you have to turn your work environment into a playground, but adding a little humor, warmth, and caring interaction will enhance emotional health and improve relationships. Just try one or two of the items on the list and I’m sure you’ll start to see a positive difference in yourself—and in your engaged workforce.

 

Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast With Coffee, Juice, Croissant, Salad, Muesli And EggMany of you are finishing up year-end performance reviews and working with your team members to set goals for the coming year. But have you thought about how you’re going to help your staff keep working on target toward those goals? The key is to provide consistent feedback on their performance along the way.

I first heard the phrase feedback is the breakfast of champions from a former colleague, Rick Tate. He explained it in sports terms. Can you imagine training for the Olympics with no one telling you how fast you ran or how high you jumped? That idea seems ludicrous, yet many people operate in a vacuum in organizations, not knowing how well they are doing on any given task.

Too often managers save up negative feedback and unload it all at once over a minor incident or during a performance review. Even worse, others misrepresent the performance review and act as if everything is okay when it really isn’t. Both situations are dangerous. When people are attacked or not dealt with truthfully, they lose respect for their manager and their organization as well as pride in their own work.

Truthful, timely feedback is important to people. We all want to know how well we are doing whether that comes in the form of praise for a job well done, coaching to improve performance, or even redirection if necessary. I firmly believe that providing clear feedback on a regular basis is the most cost-effective strategy for improving performance and instilling satisfaction. It can be done quickly, it costs nothing, and it can turn performance around fast.

A New Twist on SMART Goals

Business man pointing to transparent board with text: Goals forThis is the season when many companies begin to prioritize strategies for the coming year. Those strategic plans usually involve setting goals for departments as well as individuals. But how much time do you really spend defining clear, measurable goals? Most leaders agree with the importance of setting goals, but many don’t take the time to work with their people to clearly develop goals and write them down. As a result, people tend to get caught in what I call an “activity trap” where they are busy working on projects—but not necessarily the most important projects.

We’ve all heard the term SMART goals. Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements in the SMART acronym, which we define as:

S = specific

M = motivating

A = attainable

R = relevant

T = trackable

Here’s the twist: I’m going to ask you to think of this familiar acronym in a new way—as STRAM. Why STRAM? Because the most effective way to write a goal statement is to start with the Specific and Trackable elements first.

  • The leader should describe the Specific goal and when or how often it needs to be accomplished.
  • Now the leader needs to make sure the goal is Trackable.  How will progress or performance be tracked or measured?

To give you an example, take a look at these two similar goal statements.

  1. Produce monthly financial reports.
  2. Submit accurate and timely financial reports on a bimonthly basis for the next 12 months as measured by end user feedback.

Which of these is the SMART goal? The second one. Why? The first is a goal statement, but it isn’t specific or trackable. The second goal statement provides precise outcomes for accurate and timely financials on a bimonthly basis. And the results will be measured by end user reports. So the second goal is specific and trackable.

Once the S and T are in place, the leader and team member can review the other three elements—Relevant, Attainable and Motivating—to check if the goal is truly SMART.

  • The leader has the responsibility for making the goal Relevant by ensuring the goal is important and that accomplishing the goal will make a difference to the organization.
  • The leader and team member work together to make sure the goal is Attainable. It must be realistic and achievable. When a goal is too difficult to accomplish, people may give up—but when it is too easy, people tend to procrastinate.
  • Ultimately, each team member determines for themselves if the goal is Motivating by considering if it is exciting and meaningful. Will it drain energy from their work experience or add enjoyment? Will the goal help build competence, relationships, or autonomy?

If you take some time up front to write SMART goals, your team will be able to focus on the most important projects that will support not only organizational goals but also each team member’s personal needs. This will create an energized and motivating work environment that supports both great results and human satisfaction—a winning combination for success.