Helping People to Develop Problem Solving Skills

In my last blog post, I wrote about Setting SMART Goals, a Directive behavior. In this post we’ll talk about Facilitating Self-Reliant Problem Solving, a Supportive behavior.

To refresh your memory, Supportive leadership behaviors are things you do that develop mutual trust and respect with your team member, resulting in increased motivation and confidence.

If you want the people you’re leading to be strong and resilient, you have to teach them how to solve their own problems. This can be one of the hardest challenges for leaders, because most of us have risen to our positions by being great problem-solvers. We’re good at identifying problems, coming up with solutions, and making improvements. However, those very strengths can be weaknesses when it comes to developing resilient team members.

Resist the urge to rescue team members by providing them the answers to problems. Instead, ask them open-ended questions to lead them through the process of solving the problem on their own. Follow these steps:

  • Ask them to define the problem in one sentence.
  • Help them brainstorm options of addressing the problem.
  • Ask them to list the pros and cons of these various courses of actions.
  • Cheer them on as they work toward solving the problem.

Many leaders shun this approach because initially, it requires an investment of time and energy. If you hear yourself thinking, “Forget it—it will be easier and faster to do it myself,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. I guarantee that the time you spend helping people develop problem-solving competence will save you time in the future by building bench strength on your team. Once you encourage people to tackle tough problems, you’ll be amazed by the creative solutions they’ll find.

An example my coauthors and I wrote about in Leading at a Higher Level concerned the management team of a large organization that was struggling with a severe traffic problem on the road leading to its location. The road crossed four miles of protected wetlands, so it could not be widened without significantly impacting the environment. Each morning, the traffic leading to the site was backing up the entire four-mile length of the road, adding an hour to commuting time. The resulting delay and aggravation caused a significant drop in productivity.

Three years earlier, the management team had hired traffic consultants to solve the problem. The consultants’ attempts to a devise solution failed miserably. As a last resort, management decided to assemble a team of their own employees to brainstorm solutions. The employees met twice a week for a month, at which time they provided some practical recommendations.

The simplicity of the employees’ recommendations surprised management. For example, they suggested that trucks be prohibited from making deliveries to the site between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Since there were many deliveries to the site at this time, putting this suggestion into practice immediately removed some of the slowest, most cumbersome traffic clogging the road. That and a few other recommendations resulted in an almost instantaneous improvement in the traffic flow.

This story brings home one of the key benefits of practicing the SLII® Supportive skill of Facilitating Self-Reliant Problem Solving: tapping into the creativity and talent of your team members. As I’ve often said, the people who report to you aren’t just hired hands—they have brains, too!

Google co-founder Larry Page once famously hung up copies of documents showing the dismal financial performance of the AdWords search engine (now known as Google Ads). Across the top of the documents he wrote, “THESE ADS SUCK.” It was only a matter of days before team members tackled the problem and improved the service, which now generates the bulk of Google’s $162 billion earnings.

While I might not use Larry Page’s leadership communication style, I appreciate the way he facilitated self-reliant problem solving by pointing to the problem and allowing his team to discover a solution. Now, if he’d told his employees, “you suck” instead of “these ads suck,” that would be a different story!

So far we’ve covered two Supportive and one Directive micro skills of an SLII® leader. Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring more of these micro skills, so stay tuned!

A Fresh Look at SMART Goals

If you are familiar with SLII®, our company’s leadership model for powering inspiring leaders, you know that effective SLII® leaders are highly skilled in the two primary areas of leadership behavior: Directive and Supportive.

We define Directive leadership behaviors as “actions that shape and control what, how, and when things are done” and Supportive leadership behaviors as “actions that develop mutual trust and respect, resulting in increased motivation and confidence.”

In my last blog post, I wrote about Listening, a Supportive behavior. This time I’ll be refreshing your outlook on Setting SMART Goals, a Directive behavior.

What is a SMART Goal?

The concept of SMART goals has been around for decades. Different people and organizations may have slightly different ways of explaining the letters in the SMART acronym. Our twist on this familiar concept is the order in which you should write the goals, which is: S, then T, then R, A, and M. I’ll explain as we continue.

S is for Specific. A goal should state exactly what you want to accomplish and when you want to accomplish it.

T is for Trackable and Timebound. Performance standards, including a timeline, must be in place to enable frequent tracking of each goal. Are you making observable progress toward goal achievement? What will a good job look like?

So first, you decide exactly what you want to achieve—S—and then determine how you are going to track or measure progress toward goal accomplishment—T.

Once the S and T are in place, use the other three SMART criteria—the R, A, and M—to check if the goal is truly SMART.

Relevant. Is this goal important? Will it make a difference in your life, your job, or your organization?

Attainable. A goal has to be reasonable. It’s great to stretch yourself, but don’t make a goal so difficult that it’s unattainable or you will lose commitment.

Motivating. For you to do your best work, a goal needs to tap into either what you enjoy doing or what you know you will enjoy doing in the future.

Example #1: A Personal Goal

The first example is from the book Fit at Last: Look and Feel Better Once and for All, which I wrote with Tim Kearin, my good friend and personal trainer. Although my initial goal wasn’t exactly SMART, it was specific: I envisioned going to my 50th class reunion at Cornell and hearing my classmates say, “You’re looking good!” My less critical goals were to be able to do the limbo and to learn how to tap dance. (Again, maybe not so SMART.)

Fortunately, Tim helped me write the following goal. It’s rather long but it is SMART and, I’ll admit, a big improvement over the goals I had written.

SMART Goal: In one year, through an effective eating plan and exercise program with guidance, support, and progress tracking from Tim Kearin, I will weigh less than 200 pounds. I will gain 1 inch in height through posture-specific exercises, reduce my neck circumference and chest circumference by 1 inch, reduce my waist measurement by 5 inches and my hip measurement by 4 inches—and get rid of my “fat pants”.

This goal is Specific (we knew what we wanted to happen and by when); Trackable/Timebound (I knew Tim would keep great records and set a reasonable deadline for completion); Relevant (health is more important than almost anything else in life); Attainable (I knew I needed help and Tim was the perfect trainer for me, and our numbers were realistic); and Motivating (I looked forward to feeling better, looking better, living longer, and having healthy numbers for future doctor visits).

Example #2 – Career-Related Goal

The second example is taken from a recent Indeed.com article and involves a person with their eye on a promotion.

SMART Goal: I will earn a promotion to senior customer service representative by completing the required training modules in three months and applying for the role at the end of next quarter.

This goal is Specific (the person knows exactly what they want and when); Trackable/ Timebound (completing training in three months and applying for job the following quarter); Relevant (important to rise to a new level and make a difference in income and stature); Attainable (training first will provide skills to qualify them for the promotion); and Motivating (exciting career move, new challenge, higher pay).

Example #3: An Organizational Goal

The third example of an effective SMART goal is taken from FitSmallBusiness.com regarding employee training.

SMART Goal: Confirm that 90% of team members have completed new inventory management software training by the end of third quarter.

This goal is Specific (the company knows exactly what they need and when they want it); Trackable/Timebound (90 people will need to complete training, deadline set for end of third quarter); Relevant (important for entire team to merge together to new platform, which is more efficient than current platform); Attainable (majority of people have completed training, which is web-based and easily accessible); and Motivating (eager for better overall productivity, motivated to get the rest of the team trained).

Remember—all good performance starts with clear goals. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish, there is very little chance you will get there. So whether it’s for your personal life, your work life, or your organization, make every goal a SMART goal. It’s the best way to ensure success!

5 Powerful Questions to Reboot Your Work Life

As most of us settle into the COVID-19 working-from-home life, I’m reminded of just how important learning is in our lives. Whether we’re doing it for personal or professional development, learning keeps our minds and skills sharp. It not only staves off boredom, it also keeps us from becoming boring people! Getting older—or getting seniority in our jobs—has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, you can finish day-to-day tasks with ease by relying on past experiences, document templates, and standardized steps. But without ongoing learning, your personal satisfaction and effectiveness in the workplace will suffer.

I recently started a fun interaction on my social media channels called the Blanchard Campfire. Each Friday I pose a question and open it up for discussion in the comments section. Last Friday’s question was, “What have you learned during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The answers inspire me and underscore the joy and importance of continuous learning. Here are a few of the things people said about what they’re learning:

“I’m staying current in my job by learning many things I overlooked all these years.”

“I’m learning how important motivation and perseverance are.”

“When life slows down, families grow stronger.”

“I’m rethinking my work role.”

“I’m studying a new language.”

“I’m strengthening my video development skills.”

“I’ve learned that we really do not have control of the future, so we need to love unconditionally.”

“I’m learning to teach an online course.”

If you’ve ever worked on a computer that hasn’t been tuned up in a while, you might have noticed that it can get sluggish. The same thing happens to us as individuals. We need rebooting and updated software from time to time, and this pandemic is a great opportunity to refresh and reset our professional lives.

To help you reboot, I’ve created a short quiz, adapted from the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life. Read each question and give an honest yes or no answer.

  1. Do I have up-to-date knowledge about my industry?
  2. Do I share my knowledge with others?
  3. Do I know my strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Do I have a mentor in my field?
  5. Do I have a personal development plan?

If you answered no to any of the questions above, that’s a great place to start. For example, if you’re new to an industry or have fallen behind on the latest developments in it, take the following steps:

  • Set a goal to become knowledgeable in a specific area of your industry.
  • Set a deadline to complete your learning. As my wife, Margie, often says, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.”
  • Take action to achieve your goal: read relevant books and articles, take online classes and tutorials, or participate in webinars that will fill in your knowledge gaps. Take advantage of any educational opportunities your employer may offer. And don’t overlook the value of finding a mentor in your field.
  • Reward your progress. When you’ve finished a book, tutorial, or class, give yourself a pat on the back or treat yourself in a way that makes you feel good.

Go through this process with items 1 through 5 in the quiz above and turn your no answers into yes answers. When you’ve done them all, start over and do them again. The point is to continue to grow along your learning journey.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting your expectations too high. Remember, perfection is the enemy of excellence. That’s why I suggested that you reward yourself as you make progress, not just when you complete the goal.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it perfectly. Suppose you wanted to teach a child to say, “Please give me a glass of water.” If you waited until the child said the whole sentence before you gave them any water, they’d die of thirst. So, you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” Suddenly, one day the child says “waller.” You burst into a smile, hug and kiss the child, and get grandma on the phone so the child can say “waller, waller.” It isn’t “water,” but it’s close. Be as compassionate with yourself as you’d be with that child, and praise yourself for progress, not perfection, as you work toward your goals.

Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”  So, choose learning today—you’ll never regret it!

Keep a Positive Perspective on Today

I’ve been thinking lately about how important it is to have a positive perspective and live life in the present. I have a journal I read frequently where I have written inspirational thoughts as well as motivational quotes. I try every day to live by these three positive thoughts:

  • You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.
  • You become an adult when you realize life is about serving others rather than being served.
  • Life is about significance. Making a living is about success.

To me significance is about making a difference in the lives of people you touch every day. Success—doing your job well—is important, but it’s not the meaning of life. As I continually say:  Life is all about who you love and who loves you.

I also am inspired every day by a wonderful saying attributed to Stephen Grellet, a French-born American Quaker missionary: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” What a great perspective this is—if you can do some good or be kind to someone, don’t wait—do it now.

After the big football game last Sunday, I reflected on when I was part of a panel in Dallas many years ago with Tom Landry, the late, great Dallas Cowboys coach. If you ever watched Landry when he was coaching, he was the picture of calmness no matter what was happening. A man in the audience asked him, “How do you stay so calm in the midst of this crazy game of football?” Tom’s quick answer was this:

“Staying calm is easy for me, because I have my priorities in order. First comes God, then my wife, then my family and friends, and finally, my job. So if I lose on Sunday, I have a lot left over. Unfortunately, I see some coaches who are devastated when they lose because winning is their whole life.” He really knew how to put winning and losing in perspective.

When I met Don Shula, legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins and my coauthor on Everyone’s a Coach, I found out he had the same philosophy as Tom Landry. Don’s wife and family were always center stage for him before winning. I’ll never forget once when I was visiting him, the Dolphins had a very important game and they lost. I was concerned because Don and I had a big television interview scheduled for the next day. But much to my surprise, when he arrived at the studio he was very upbeat. I asked him how that was possible after a major defeat. He said, “The philosophy I’ve instilled in our team is that we have only 24 hours after a game to either celebrate a victory or bemoan a defeat. After that, our focus has to be on the next game.” Talk about living in the present, not the past, and then planning for the future.

During the opening ceremonies for Sunday’s big game, it was great to see Don, at age 90, on the field smiling and waving to the crowd. He was being recognized as one of the 10 greatest coaches of all time. I called him a few weeks ago on his 90th birthday and said “Happy birthday, youngster!” He immediately replied “I can still kick your a**!” Now there’s some perspective! Ha!

One of the fun things about arriving home from a trip is the greeting I get from our fabulous little dog, Joy. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that “dog” spells “God“ backwards. I think it’s because dogs behave the way God would like us to behave—they focus on the present. They don’t worry about the past—yesterday is over. They have little concern for the future—tomorrow is yet to come. They stay in the present and enjoy every moment. Dogs are living, breathing guides to a positive perspective on life. Then why can’t dogs live longer? The best answer I’ve heard is that if you gave out unconditional love 24 hours a day, you’d be exhausted, too!

Thanks for permitting me to reminisce about all these things. I hope you have a wonderful day focusing on the now. Keep your “I love yous” up to date. And never forget that life is a very special occasion. Savor every moment!

Pay the PRICE to Make Good on Your New Year’s Resolution!

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? How are they working for you so far?

Every year I hear people say they are having a hard time motivating themselves to put their New Year’s resolutions into place. My first question is always “How many resolutions do you have?” The answer usually goes something like this: “Well, this year I want to lose weight, exercise more, start reading, spend more time in the garden, watch less TV, travel more, and stop drinking.” Of course those people don’t feel motivated—they are so overwhelmed by their resolutions, they don’t even want to get out of bed! So my first piece of advice is to pick one or two resolutions that you really believe you can accomplish and focus on those.

Several years ago, my friend Bob Lorber and I wrote a book called Putting the One Minute Manager to Work where we talked about the PRICE system. This model works great for New Year’s resolutions. Here’s what the letters in the PRICE acronym stand for:

P is for pinpoint. What is the thing you’d like to do? Is it to lose weight? Exercise more? Get to bed earlier? Identify what you want to work on and be specific.

R is for record. What is your present level of performance in that area? Record your weight or your clothes sizes, write down your present level of exercise, or write down your typical bedtime so you have baseline data. Now you have something to compare with where you want to go, which involves the next step.

I is for involve. Gather key people in your life who can help you set a One Minute Goal for each resolution based on the difference between where you are now (what you’ve recorded) and where you’d like to go. We need to ask for support from people who care about us because it’s very hard to stick to resolutions on our own. Perhaps you could agree to help someone with their resolutions while they help you with yours! Almost everyone needs support from others. What will they do to cheer you on? How can they help hold you accountable? Plan it out and get agreement on your goal or goals. And remember, the best goals are SMART: Specific and measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable/time-bound.

C is for coach. Now your plans are in place and you are starting to make good on your resolutions. You are getting the coaching you need—the cheerleading, the support, and the redirection. Let other people help to keep you in line. As I say, if you could do it by yourself, you would.

is for evaluate. When you have made some headway on your goal, look back and evaluate how you are doing. First, catch yourself doing something right and give yourself a One Minute Praising—any forward progression toward your resolution is worth celebrating! Now think about whether you may be off track in any way. Is there anything that needs to be “tweaked” to enable you to continue your progress? A One Minute Re-Direct may be in order. Don’t stop now! Keep tracking so you can see how you are continuously improving, and plan your future strategies. What will you pinpoint next?

It’s exciting to look ahead at a new year, especially when you have plans for self-improvement in place and friends to support you and help you accomplish your goals. What are you going to be smiling about in December? Take care and have a terrific 2020!