Don’t Give Up – Understand Your Impact

Excellence-is-doing

Do you hate your job? Do you feel like you are wasting your time on tasks that don’t challenge your skills and abilities? Are you thinking about your exit strategy?

While “take this job and shove it” is a great fantasy, it’s probably unrealistic for most people right now. So before you quit, I suggest that you evaluate the job that you are really doing.  Not the position you hold, but rather how well you have conducted yourself in that position. Are you really giving it your best work? Are you providing maximum value to the organization?

The day to day reality of our jobs rarely matches the word for word job description or our biggest expectations. Even if it dies, everyone has tasks in their job that they’d rather not do, whether writing status reports, scheduling meetings, or meeting with complaining customers. Often these tasks can feel pointless, beneath our level, or unimportant. When faced with these tasks, how do you maintain the enthusiasm to excel?

Understand your true impact. Ask questions to find out how what you are doing impacts others. Understand not only who the tasks serve, but what the impact would be if the tasks were not done well (or at all). You may find that a task that seems menial is in fact critical to someone else’s ability to meet their responsibilities. If you find that no one is impacted, you now have a solid case to alter or end the task that you can take to whoever requested the task.

Examine the processes for the task. Are you conducting your work efficiently? Are there changes that you can make to provide the maximum impact, or reduce the effort, or increase your impact with the same tasks? Be creative. Since you’ve evaluated the impact of the tasks, you can support well any changes you propose.

Increase your visibility. Promote the value of what you are doing. Find ways to use these administrative tasks to get to know senior managers or influencers. Demonstrate pride in the tasks and the impact they have no matter what. Rather than hide those aspects of your job, demonstrate your professionalism your excellence and pride in all of your work.

Conduct yourself with pride and excellence. A customer once asked me to set up meetings for his program. It was an odd request to make of a consultant, but it was part of our full service PMO function, and I was on site, so I took on the task. It was not a task I enjoyed. I soon realized however these meetings drove the work of the program. There were a lot of meetings. So I began conducting a weekly planning meeting with team leads and subject matter experts to prioritize meetings, identify critical attendees, and validate agenda topics. This led to better attendance, fewer cancellations, more work being done each week, and fewer misunderstandings. It also allowed me to influence the prioritization of the work, direct the use of the resources of the various teams, and have a direct impact on program schedule progress.

No matter what your assignment, always excel. Great achievements are built on many small actions. Make yours count.

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The Leadership Model of Pope Francis

pope_headshot-bannerThe news this week is saturated with coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the US. He is here currently in Washington DC, and soon will move on to continue his visit. I am not going to any of the events. I am not Catholic; I do not believe in many of the things the Church, and this Pope, espouse. I understand why many people (including myself) have serious issues with the Catholic Church. Why then am I writing about the Pope? I didn’t intend to. I was really trying to avoid it,  but I do find that as someone who studies leadership, I am drawn to his style. He is fascinating to watch.

He demonstrates open and authentic leadership.

Watching this Pope in action is a lesson in authentic leadership. He is an example of a true servant leader. Historically, as I understand the papacy, it has elements in common with European monarchies in its traditions. Distance, pageantry, protocol – all combine into an almost “untouchable-ness”. The Pope has a palace and a thick cocoon of Vatican bureaucracy built up over almost 2000 years. Not to mention that whole infallibility thing. And yet, this pope rides in economy cars and takes selfies with teenagers. He regularly reaches out directly (by phone, no less!) to people who write to him. He understands that to lead is to see and value each and every person regardless of their rank or importance. Not only that, the Pope had a Harley! And he auctioned it off to raise money for a shelter and soup kitchen in Rome.

Pope Francis – “Depicting the Pope as a sort of Superman, a star, is OFFENSIVE to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person.”

He leads by example.

My understanding of Jesus and his teachings of Christianity involve qualities like humility, service to the poor and infirm, and love of all people equally. (I’m paraphrasing.) Unlike past popes, he chose not to move into the palace, but rather chose to live in a small apartment. When he traveled to the Vatican for his installation as the Pope, he paid for his own hotel room. He is regularly reported to decline meetings and events with political leaders and society to dine with the poor. There are so many examples where he just sits with ordinary people and shares their world, rather than impose his. He appears so comfortable with the neediest of society around the world. He lives the beliefs his organization preaches.

Pope Francis – “Among us, who is above must be in service of the others. This doesn’t mean we have to wash each other’s feet every day, but we must help one another.”

He demonstrates openness to new information and the ideas of others.

He declared the internet a “gift from God”. He recognizes science as consistent with the preaching of his church and a source of knowledge of our world and a potential reliever of suffering here on earth. He reaches out to experts and leaders of other faiths and traditions. Regardless of whether you agree with his conclusions or not, he gives the impression of being a leader who loves to listen and learn, and incorporate new ideas into his organization.

Pope Francis – “This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”

He leads by positive encouragement – not by fear.

He leads not just by charitable actions, but by encouraging language as well. He declines personal judgement, affirming the basic good and worthiness of all mankind. He has chosen to focus his attention of encouraging all people to do better, to serve others, to care for all of creation. While the organization he leads has strong “rules”, and in declaring himself a “son of the Church” he affirms those rules, he has specifically said that “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” He focuses instead on inclusiveness. He is a vision-based leader, showing us his vision for a better world. Whether you agree with his policies, he demonstrates a purity of vision, and charges his followers with a noble goal. And in nearly every picture I see of him, he has that lovely smile.

Pope Francis – “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.”

As leaders we could do well to follow his example. We can live our beliefs, support and encourage others, and expend our energies demonstrating the value of everyone at every level. We can endeavor to be authentic in our dealings with others rather than donning the trappings and privileges of the “elite”. We can lead for the good of all, rather than the good for ourselves.

If You Want It Done Right, DON’T Do It Yourself

Effective leadership is all about people, not process. It’s a fact of business life that you won’t get very far until you learn to get things done though other people. But so often I hear phrases like

“If I don’t do it, it won’t get done right”

“It’s faster to just do it myself”

“How can I find anyone as committed as I am?”

“It has to be done just right”

I know a genius software engineer who could figure out almost anything. But when managing a team, he was frustrated with his team and struggled with project deadlines. When they got behind, he said “don’t worry about it. I can work on it tonight – we will catch up.” That’s when it hit me.  Not only had he estimated everything as if he was doing it himself, he was expecting his team to be his “clones” and to do everything the way he would do it.  And to make matters worse, instead of leading his team, he spent his time “making up the difference”.

“It’s my responsibility”

I know a talented manager at a non-profit foundation. She was buried under so much work she struggled to get home to her husband in the evenings. She didn’t trust her staff so she spent so much time looking over their shoulder and changing their work that she wasn’t able to start her own work until late in the evening.

“But it’s my baby”

Founding a startup is exhilarating, but also a huge learning curve. As you add more people to your team, you envision getting more done than ever. But the reality is – now you have to manage people. If you can’t trust anyone but yourself, you won’t be able to grow. Eventually children have to leave the caring arms of their parents, into the world, to be influenced and taught by others. It is the same with ideas. In order for them to grow and be realized, sometimes they have to be entrusted to others.

Getting things done through others is a critical skill for achieving your goals. But how can you be sure that others can do what you need to be done? This is a core competency of leadership. Building a winning team comes down to three essential elements

  • A team of good people
  • A shared vision of what the team can build
  • Trust in the team and in the vision

You can’t know everything, you can’t do everything. Find a team of people who bring new ideas and skills to enhance your own. Respect their experience and knowledge as you would your own, and give them the freedom to show you what they can do. Respect their ideas as you would your own.

Share your vision. Don’t focus on how to do things – instead make sure that the entire team is united on the goal of the effort. A lot of management writing focuses on motivating your team. I don’t believe that anyone can motivate someone else.  I believe that we can only motivate ourselves. I do believe, however, that we can inspire others. As you build your team, inspire them with your vision of the future. Show them the purpose of the team, and each of their roles in fulfilling that purpose. Let them tell you how they can best achieve the goals you’ve set for them.  Let them motivate themselves to do great work.

Trust your team.  You’ve got good people, who want to do good work. Let them do it.

So what do you do instead? Focus on the “what” instead of the “how”. Maintain and grow the vision.  Set the standards for the team, but relinquish control how they meet them. Evaluate team members on the quality of their output, not on the details of their method. Lead not by ordering everyone around, but by clearing the path of obstacles.

Make no mistake, this is a hard thing to learn. It takes practice, and it’s often a leap of faith – or at least a calculated risk. I know of several brilliant people who are unable to effectively delegate to others, and as such are unable to manage teams. There is nothing wrong with being an individual contributor and doing great work yourself. But if your goals are to manage project teams, or to grow your business beyond yourself, you are going to have to learn to lead effectively.

Develop a team environment where people are able to take risks, make mistakes, and think out of the box (at least out of “your” box!). Let go of perfectionism. Focus instead on progress toward the goal. Publicly praise and give credit to the team for achievements. Lastly, become comfortable with accountability rather than responsibility. You are accountable for the work of your team, but your team members are responsible for their own actions. Lead by expecting the best from your team, and giving them the freedom of action to give it to you.

If you want it done right, DON’T do it yourself.

Rethinking Respect

In talking with others about leadership, I find myself talking about the importance of respect. I recently went looking for a specific definition of respect, and found it most often defined Respect is often defined as a feeling of deep admiration for something deriving from their actions or abilities. I understand where this definition comes from. How often do we talk about someone “earning our respect”, or how we have “lost our respect” for someone. This treats respect as a prize to be won, or a benefit to be conferred. A relationship without respect can range from passive disregard to outright contempt.

This definition doesn’t resonate with me. It presumes respect is a passive, static thing; one that is hard to win and easy to lose. How does this definition of respect serve us? I don’t think it does. Therefore, I think of respect differently. I see respect as a conscious practice.

We are all unique individuals, with our own experiences, beliefs, personalities, and desires. Sometimes we meet someone, and it feels like we’ve been best friends for years. Other times, we can hardly share the same room with them. Most of the time, it’s somewhere in between. But throughout our lives, we must work together with people whether we choose them or not.  As managers, entrepreneurs, and leaders, we must be able to accomplish our goals through the work of others as well as ourselves. This means inspiring the best work from people we like as well as people we don’t. So how do we build successful relationships? By practicing respect.

In order to do their best work, people want to feel valued. They want to feel needed; they need to feel as though their contributions matter. They crave respect. If you make respect something they need to earn, they must first decide if your respect is worth earning! And if they don’t think your respect is worth earning, are they likely to respect you in return? Probably not.  But if you start from the position that all people deserve respect, and then look for characteristics, actions, and abilities that support that respect, you’ve changed the equation. Your actions will demonstrate respect from the beginning of the relationship, accelerating everyone’s ability to successfully work together. If you start from the position that all people deserve respect, and are worthy of your respect, your personal feelings or opinions are not a hindrance to working with anyone. Practicing respect first allows you to disagree with someone in a more constructive way.

We were all taught the “golden rule” as children – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Consciously practicing respect treats others with the respect you desire from them. Practicing respect, therefore, is not just limited to others. You must also consciously practice respect for yourself. If you don’t respect yourself first, you will struggle to respect others.  So how do we consciously practice respect?

  1. Always treat yourself with respect
  2. Begin each new relationship with the assumption of respect
  3. Consciously seek out actions, abilities, and characteristics that strengthen that respect

Resist the urge to withdraw respect from others when you disagree with their actions or beliefs. This is not easy to do sometimes. Instead, try to reflect on what it is about the person that strengthens respect, and practice compassion for what challenges you. You don’t have to condone someone’s behavior to respect their humanity. So if you need to work with someone, or are struggling with a personal relationship, start with respect.

My Story

Ever since I was young, I dreamed of a big life.

As a kid, I was a performer, a voracious reader, and a budding adventurer. I couldn’t wait to grow up and conquer the world.

Even before I left home for university, I began plotting my first overseas trip. No one in my family had ever left the US, and I really didn’t know how I was going to manage it, but I knew I could make it happen. After a lot of planning and a lot of work, off I went, with a round trip airline ticket and an Eurail pass. This was before cell phones, the internet, or even cheap long distance rates. I backpacked around Europe until the money ran out and I had to go back to school.

I started out on plan – traveled, met great friends, got married, and volunteered as an activist for women’s rights (in no particular order).  And then I decided to focus on my career. By all measures, I have enjoyed a successful career, with a six figure income and some really amazing opportunities. It’s really been multiple careers, as I have changed my career several times over the years, from Finance to IT Management to Project Management. I enjoy regular speaking opportunities, and serve as a mentor to other project managers.

But as I worked harder and harder, I felt my life getting smaller and smaller.  From all outside appearances I was a success, but inside I was struggling. I didn’t feel like a success – I felt like a failure.  I was depressed and struggling with who I was and what I was doing. I wasn’t enjoying my work, and I felt trapped in a world of my own making. I had to find a reason to love my life and my work again.

So I began to examine what I enjoyed, what I was good at, what I wanted, and how I wanted to live the rest of my life. In examining my career path and looking at my options, I discovered two key issues.

First – I had to remember who I am, and be thankful for the amazing things I’ve done in my life. I went back and said hello to the rock star second grader, the girl who loved the stage, the college student who took her small life savings and went backpacking around Europe, and the woman who organized 3,000+ activists. It reminded me how much I had already accomplished, and what I was capable of.

Second, I realized that I did my best work when serving others. When I let go of my childhood ideas of success and fame, I found that helping others achieve their goals is what truly gave me energy and made me feel successful. As I began to focus on helping others, I became a kinder and more compassion leader. I discovered not only a new way to practice my current profession, but a new profession that I love. This is how I became a performance coach.

I have taken everything that I have learned about management, leadership, career challenges, building teams and organizations, and getting things done, and apply this knowledge and experience to helping individuals and businesses to find their path to success.