4 Simple Ways to Beat Your Competition

soccer chaseWhether you are seeking an edge over other companies in the marketplace or other contributors in your organization, there are four, simple themes to distance yourself as a high performer rather than a mediocre one:

  1. Adaptive
  2. Hustle
  3. Applied
  4. Reliable

Adaptive is the practice of seeking wisdom, of listening to stakeholders and clients, of absorbing coaching, of learning from both successes and failures

Hustle is the dual activity of working hard and of working with urgency.

Applied is the practice of using your wisdom, experience, and urgent, hard work together towards value-add. It is seeing the non-obvious, putting action behind that finding, and getting the work finished to deliver the value.

Reliable is the quality of bringing your A-game all the time.  Every discussion, every email, every presentation, and every deliverable is contributing good or bad to perceived performance. Your stakeholders and clients need to be able to count on you.  If they can’t, they will find someone else.

How did you do on all four dimensions today?  Chances are, there is opportunity to do better tomorrow to further distance yourself as the go-to performer.

Share your thoughts below.  These topics will be covered in greater detail in the weeks to come.

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Be Vigilant for Crisis

Looming CrisisIt is easy to execute according to normal, everyday conditions.  It is more difficult to recognize when a trend is leading to an emergency situation that requires extraordinary action and resources.

As a leader, you are in a unique position to see portents and to make connections before others do.  Also as a leader, you are in a position to respond by marshalling critical resources and by providing direction and energy into the system to steer around the problem.

Unfortunately, many leaders have a hard time recognizing and responding to crisis.  Many times, it’s senior management or a client that forces a leader into critical situation mode, and by then it is too late.  You don’t wait to see a doctor until your heart stops beating, you see the doctor at the first symptoms of disease.  You don’t wait to call the fire department until after the house has burned to the ground.  The same is true in business.  You can’t wait for someone to point out failure, you have to recognize that without extraordinary action, failure is in the future.  You call the fire department as soon as the grease on the stove catches fire.

Have a normally effusive client go dark?  Have a metric that occasionally blips just a little before returning to normal?  See a milestone slip on the critical path?  The hairs on the back of your neck should stand up.  Be on the lookup, take notice, ask questions, constantly be on the lookout for the next crisis.  Catch it before it happens.

Once you recognize it, then it’s time to determine what extraordinary resources and what extraordinary actions are required to prevent disaster.  Don’t fool around with typical resources and typical actions to deal with a looming crisis.  Bring in the experts.  Sound the alarm.  Get what help you need.

As recently discussed, the role of a leader is to:

  • Dispel confusion by simplifying what needs to be done
  • Provide energy into the system
  • Remove blockers

Notice that all three of these apply to not only day-to-day operations, but to recognizing and responding to crisis.  You may not get a gold star for preventing your next crisis, but you will form a reputation for being someone who gets things done and avoids disaster.

Posted in Crisis management, Energize, Execution, Leadership, Simplification, Simplify | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

People follow people — Let your personality shine

ShineIt takes a number of traits to spark a positive, emotional response when leading people.  One trait that is often overlooked by the inexperienced is to let your “real” self shine through the professional filters.  People follow people, they don’t follow empty suits.  The inexperienced often work so hard at scrubbing their workplace image that they end up coming across as an automaton.  Nobody gets charged up by robotic leaders, they want to feel a personal connection to you as an individual.

If you want to lead, you have to show your personality.  Let others see your emotions, character, and idiosyncracies.  Vary your temperament depending on the circumstances.  Make yourself vulnerable.

Of course, you can go overboard. We’ve all known people in the workplace that act unprofessional at times or share too much personal information.  Demonstrate some self-control by letting your personality shine, but don’t forget that you’re a professional.

Posted in Emotion, Leadership | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

De-Clutter Your Leadership: 3 Simple Areas

Tire ClutterWe have a tendency to make things complicated.  If a list of 5 optimal behaviors is good, then a list of 10 must be better, right?  Wrong.  As is often quoted from Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Being a leader is no different.  We tend to make the job complicated.  We burden ourselves with lots of rules and lots of ideal behaviors.  We read books by the latest consultant guru’s.  We watch videos of inspiring people telling us how to change.  It’s exhausting!  Hard work is a virtue, but shouldn’t we be putting hard work into getting results in our business instead?

Just like we need to de-clutter our closets and garages on occassion, to clear out the flower beds in our yards, and to purge our email inboxes, we need to make time to de-clutter our leadership jobs.

Our leadership focus is quite simple:

  1. Dispel confusion by simplifying what needs to be done
  2. Provide energy into the system
  3. Remove blockers

It’s really that simple!  Yet how much of our energy goes into “other stuff” that might be easy, but not important?  Let’s cover the list quickly, starting in reverse order.

Remove blockers.  If your team is encountering obstacles of any kind, be it behavioral, resource, or otherwise, your job is to either personally knock the obstacle down or to teach the team how to do it themselves.  Your judgement, of course, will be key is deciding when to teach vs. do.  This one isn’t typically difficult, but a lot of “leaders” think that they sit back and direct orders, which entirely misses 1/3 of their job!  Roll up your sleeves, understand what is slowing your team down, and help them either plow down those barriers or find a way over or around them.

Provide energy into the system.  Your teams will get discouraged.  They will get distracted.  They will feel like their contributions don’t matter or aren’t cared about.  Your job is to constantly combat this.  Remind them of their progress.  Remind them of how their contributions tie to top-line objectives.  Remind them of the stakeholders that are counting on them being successful.  Get them emotional, inspired, and putting in the extra effort.  If you are a “manager” but not a leader, this may be your biggest barrier to becoming a leader.  Find that emotional side that will compliment the analytical side.

Dispel confusion by simplifying what needs to be done.  For many, this may the most difficult part of the job.  Your mission will constantly be barraged with complexity.  What seemed simple and straightforward at the beginning encounters unforeseen problems, complications from stakeholders, and shrinking or underperforming resources.  You will be presented with lots of data and issues that seem like doomsday scenarios.  Your job is to strip away the complexity, to remove the resulting confusion, and to point and focus at the very few items that will make a difference on succeeding or failing.  This takes experience, intelligence, and judgement.  You can’t learn this by taking a class in your MBA program, but you can constantly challenge yourself to de-clutter your leadership and to de-clutter your team’s focus.

Posted in Blockers, Energize, Leadership, Simplify | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

3 Habits That Will Redeem Your Time

Are the things that you are doing today going to matter one year from now?

Ask someone if their day was productive or not and then ask why.  You will likely get answers based upon the activities that filled the individual’s day.  They attended 10 scheduled meetings, had lunch with a client, took five phone calls during the commute, and answered 40 emails between meetings.

Sounds like a lot!  But was it productive?  One year from now, which of those activities will matter and which won’t?

We are talking about the difference between activities that are easy, activities that are urgent, and activities that are important.  Easy activities are answering emails, attending a meeting that someone else put on your calendar, etc.  Urgent activities are brushing your teeth, answering your boss’s phone call, and taking a sick pet to the vet.  Important activities are talking to a client about the outage your firm caused last week, prioritizing your team’s work based on a recent reorganization, and scheduling a lunch with a client’s new executive sponsor.

Most persons spend the bulk of their day on the activities that are easy, a smaller part of the day on things that are urgent, and almost no time on those that are important.  Back to the question above… Which of those will matter one year from now?  Or put another way, which of those will have an impact at annual appraisal time?

Here’s how to redeem your time so that you avoid the easy and focus primarily on the important, with a healthy respect for those things that are urgent:

Habit number 1: Know what is important

Step 1: Take out a sheet of paper, write your name in the middle and put a circle around it.

Step 2: Now, think about the individuals who will have the biggest impact on how your success is perceived at year-end.  Your boss, almost certainly.  Who has your boss’s ear?  Maybe some senior leaders in your company whom you directly or indirectly impact.  Maybe a few critical clients.  Write down their names in a ring around your circle.  Be critical to keep the list short, perhaps 2-8 persons.

Step 3: For each name in the ring, write down the three most important achievements they are looking for.  Each name will have a different list as each person has individual expectations of you.

Sleep on the results, scrutinize the paper regularly, and make changes as the environment changes.  The paper at the beginning of the year might be very different from the paper at the middle of the year.  The habit is to regularly evaluate every step of the process above so that you understand what you are aiming for.

Habit number 2: Prioritize your time to achieve what is important

Now that you know what is important, it’s time to prioritize your time.  Take a critical look at your calendar.  Be proactive with your schedule by blocking time and scheduling meetings to focus on what is important.  Set aside slices of time to handle future, urgent requests, but contain those requests into the slices you have set aside for them.  Make a commitment to not react to every calendar invitation, every email, every phone call, and every instant message demanding your time on things that are not important.

Habit number 3: Communicate with your stakeholders

Achieving what is important is irrelevant if your stakeholders don’t know it.  Stay in communication with your stakeholders to know what is important and to re-evaluate step #1 above regularly.  Make sure that your stakeholders know that you take their needs seriously.  Most importantly, communicate what you are achieving on their behalf.

Posted in Goal setting, Stakeholder management, Time management | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Mind the Gap: Possibility vs. Achievement

Perhaps the most frustrating experience encountered is that of squandered potential.


When was the last time that you encountered squandered potential? Probably within the last few hours, if not the last few minutes.

It is the young person who wastes talent, the business opportunity missed by indecision, or the sports team that does not execute when it matters most. On the more mundane side, it is the meeting that failed to fully meet expectations, the deliverable that was mediocre, or the service that was not perfectly delivered.

Or think about it from the flip side. When in your life were you the most excited? Probably when potential was highest, at new beginnings; the first day of a new job, the beginning of a new relationship, or planning a vacation to a new location.

Chances are, your enthusiasm soared even higher on that rare occasion when the experience matched the potential. Why is it that complete achievement of potential is so rare? What can we do about it?

For the individual professional, squandered potential is inexcusable. However, for the leader, it is exponentially so. Leaders are in the unique position to not only individually attain full potential, but to lead entire teams of individuals to do the same. How do leaders go about closing this gap?

  • Paint a picture of what is possible to generate enthusiasm for the end goal
  • Continuously provide reminders of what the ultimate potential is
  • Provide the resources required to achieve what is possible
  • Identify and remove barriers to execution
  • and many more

Are you up to the challenge? Will you commit to minding the gap between possibility and achievement? Let’s explore this together.

“A good leader is one who can tell another how to reach his or her potential; a great leader is one who can help another discover this potential for him or herself.”
-Bo Bennett

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Becoming a leader is zero effort

Ask a child or teenager for leadership examples and you will probably get answers like I did in my experiment with my teenage daughter; Martin Luther King, Jr., Adolf Hitler (!), and George Washington.

Isn’t that how we typically think of leaders, as these charismatic, larger-than-life people who change the world?  My daughter’s first definition of a leader reflected this; “someone who takes a stand for others who cannot.”  While this a nice thought, further probing brought the conversation around to the recognition that, in fact, everyone is a leader.

A leader is someone who shows the way, who influences, who conducts, who guides, etc.  Politicians are leaders. Human rights activists are leaders.  Entertainers and sports stars are leaders.  Managers are leaders.  Project managers are leaders.  These are obvious. 

But probe a bit, and you realize that every human being on earth except for the loner on a desert isle is a leader to someone.  Older brothers and sisters are leaders to their siblings.  New hires with no experience are leading at work through their new perspective and prowess on new technologies and techniques.  Students are leading when someone in the classroom or hallway takes a cue through example or outright suggestion.  Kids are leading other kids while at day care, church, or at the corner pizza place.

So whether we like it or not, all of us are already leaders.  It takes zero effort to achieve this state, because we are already there.  This is a point worthy of introspection, because many persons, including myself when I first began my career, think of leaders as “those people” and if we wanted to achieve leadership, it was something that perhaps required a certain genetic code and personality, but certainly required a lot of hard work and luck.

Whether or not you are charismatic, innovative, articulate, or full of sage wisdom, you are already a leader in some respect.  The question, then, becomes not who is a leader or how to become a leader, but instead shifts toward how to become more impactful as the leader that you already are.

So, acknowledging that you are already a leader, what are you going to do to become a better one?  That is where we all need to pour considerable energy.  Let’s explore this together in the coming weeks through comments and additional blog posts.  Please let me know what you think.

Posted in Leadership | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment