SMART Goals Work, You’re Just Doing Them Wrong

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The term “Two-Faced” is used to describe someone with two contrasting aspects. If you behave differently around one group of friends than you would another, you might be labeled as two-faced.

These days that term is viewed as an insult, but did you know that that wasn’t always the case? There was a time when two-faced was actually “Janus-Faced.” Janus, the god of doorways and gateways from ancient Roman times, can be seen as a man with one face looking forward, and one face looking backward. A symbol of looking to the future, and into the past.

Early Romans revered Janus so much that once per year, they would use sacrifices to thank the God for the year they had and made promises for the year the plan to have. This time of the year will later be named after the god. We now call it “January” and their promises are now called “resolutions,” a tradition that continues on today.

Similar to the Romans, people use January for setting both personal and professional goals. Since January is here, it’s time to start thinking of your goals, as well as the goals of your team.

But here’s something to think about, only 8% of goals make it past the first month. Most of the time personal goals are dropped due to a simple lack of conviction, but in the business world, it usually chalks up to volatility. Work happens, and by the time you formally write up your work plan, it is already off schedule. But we keep trying to tell the future hoping for success.

Last year, I facilitated a team exercise designed to answer one question: Where would we, as a team, like to be in one year? I reserved a couple of hours, bought my team lunch, and parked myself at the white board as I wanted this to be their exercise, not mine. The desired deliverable was to create meaningful progress in priority areas by empowering the front line team members to provide insight on the priority areas. Together we came up with 3 priorities that the team wanted to focus on for 2016.

After the exercise, I broke each priority into goals for the individual team member. The way I went about this was to think of the 3 priorities as Thematic Team Goals. The individual goals were designed to answer the question “what’s my part to play in this goal?”

Each individual goal clearly defined my expectation out of each member. As a team member, they each had a responsibility in every Thematic Goal. So I wanted to challenge them to do their part to make the team successful. A full example of an individual goal that’s tied to a themed goal can be found at the bottom of the article.

Walking into this exercise, I kept in mind several values:

Values

  1. Make the goals memorable – Most years, my team would only look at goals during midyear and end year review time. I always found this to be a pitfall for traditional goal setting processes, so I wanted to change things. I envisioned a world where team members had the goal in mind every day. Something that was commonly talked about on the floor without my interjection. This is why I wanted to go with the team creation exercise. They now feel more invested in the outcome because they created it.
  2. Make the goals Universal – For the same reason as above, I wanted to create goals that unified the team. Everyone had their individual goals, but since they were tied back to team goals, it changed the perspective from inward to outward. Everyone was working toward team success.
  3. No projects – When I first took Lead of the team, I found myself giving projects to individuals that I thought would be the perfect fit. The problem was priorities shift through the year, and I kept finding myself canceling goals or creating new ones based on the new information. I wanted to create goals that better-handled volatility, which wasn’t easy.
  4. Make the goals a priority – through this exercise, my team was able to tell me what they deemed as really important. So if it was important to them, I was going to make sure it stays front and center for the entire year. I added the three Thematic Goals to our weekly meeting to discuss first thing once per week. Usually only took about 5 mins but it reinforced the team’s values. This was the most powerful decision I made in the process and key for its success.

Wrap up

I think that people sometimes view SMART or CLEAR goals as busy work. Something that’s used for management and can be thrown away after the document is written up. This thought always bothered me. Goal setting is a tool in the leader’s toolbox.

I too fell into this school of thought, questioning the validity of this process. But after careful thought, I was able to try it from a different direction. It was like I was holding a hammer from the wrong end, and wondering why it won’t drive the nail as intended. Instead of blaming the hammer, I chose to hold it differently and try again.

So if you or your team looks down on your current goal setting process, I recommend you give this exercise a try. My team can now state all their goals on the fly, and they achieved every goal for the year with minimal push from their leader. The feedback was so positive; I am thinking of ways to build upon it for 2017. This exercise renewed my faith in goal setting and has been an extremely valuable tool as a young leader.

I hope everyone enjoyed the read. As always, please share your thoughts/comments/experiences about goal setting in the comments below. Let’s start 2017 off on a strong note!

 

Bonus Example of One of My Teams Smart Goals

Project Management Focus – Be remarkable project managers

SMART Goal: Projects are what we consider to be the method of bringing the state of the art forward. As a true project manager, I will need to balance and prioritize project work with support and meta to ensure that the EODT is pushing forward. As part of my focus on developing project management skills, I will

  • Recognize affected teams and involve them early
  • Schedule a project kickoff
  • Acquire requirements
  • Determine and document scope
  • Create a detailed project plan with accurate milestones and target dates
  • Perform thorough QA
  • Document project progression using OneNote and TFS
  • Communicate effectively to business partners and interested parties
  • Complete the project

As this is a team strategy, I will do this for every project I am assigned.

                Meets Expectations

At the start of a project, I will hold a “kick-off” meeting to signify the beginning stages of the project. This meeting should involve a representative from each team that has involvement in the project. A defined project scope will be created and from it, a project plan with time line will be determined. The project plan will be split into accurate milestones. All large to small projects will be completed within 80% of the estimated time. During implementation, an open line of communication will be facilitated and maintained via progress reports and updates to business partners and other interested parties. I will work with the end user to come up with a detailed testing criteria in which I can perform QA testing. The goal is to minimize the bugginess of software when we release it to production. Feedback loops should be a part of the project plan and will need target dates for the end.

 

I am able to coordinate several teams simultaneously to hit all project plan estimates. When I do, I am viewed as the authority and ring leader of the project effort by all effected parties. Unit testing will be worked into the project plan with a stated realistic goal for code coverage. Code reviews will be coordinated and thorough documentation of all decisions made during the project will be kept. All agreed upon deliverables will be delivered by project end unless previously negotiated otherwise. I am able to cast and sell a 3 year vision of the project effort that is in alignment with IS goals.

 

                Exceeds Expectations (may include but not limited to)

I will become an Expert at project management. I am able to coach all team members in proper project management and estimation practices and evangelize throughout AECI.

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The Rebel Leader

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My assumption is that everyone is aware that a new Star Wars movie is coming out this week. If you’re not…I am somewhat speechless, but either way ill briefly explain (don’t worry, no spoilers).

The movie appears to take place in the early stages of the rebellion (A precursor to Episode 4). In many of the trailers, you see the construction of the Deathstar and the new protagonist saying “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.”

The trailer gets me amped up every time I watch it, but it does get me thinking about what it is to rebel. I mean, this person is going against an established order, yet I and others like me, automatically assume she is the hero of the story. But is that how rebels are always treated? In the stories…probably, but in the real world, it’s less likely.

Rebels don’t typically get the hero label because, in the real world, it’s in the form of someone initiating a change at the community or office level. It’s someone with the attitude of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” And even though they might have achieved their outcome, the act may not be recognized as a hero’s action.

So how can we increase our chance of success with this philosophy? When it comes to business, there is a practice known as rebel leadership. It’s a role that many people have tried to pull off, but much like other leadership styles, it’s an art that requires study and courage. If you don’t know what you are doing, you might not be a leader for long.

In my career, I have both followed and played the role of the rebel leader. I’m writing this to share my perspective on the style. It is a style that is not always necessary, but when it is, it can be extremely difficult to navigate. I hope to give you some guidelines and expectations from my experience that have helped me and those around me be successful in this role.

Guidelines

  • Being a rebel should not be your default option. Ever. This option should only be considered a last resort as it will be disruptive to your organization. Make sure you are 100 percent sure this is something you want to take on.
  • Being a rebel is not an attitude, it’s a movement. Rebel leaders walk a fine line when leading a rebellion, and attitude is usually the differentiator. Remember, if you are just complaining, you are not leading. Rebel actions attract followers; rebel attitudes deter them.
  • Don’t be forceful. The second word in rebel leader is “leader.” Make sure you are leading others. down the path you want them to go. Find what it would take for others to be your followers and capitalize on that.
  • Rebel leaders only sacrifice themselves. Any choice that is made in a rebellion can have serious consequences, and that should be at the forefront of a leader’s mind. Never force the risk you wish to take on others. A true leader accepts all responsibility for things that go wrong and passes acknowledgment for things that go right.
  • Don’t be reckless. Just as you don’t sacrifice others, you also need to be sure you are putting the company first. You want to maintain the strength of your professional relationship and pick your battles wisely. I recommend studying and practicing “Crucial Conversations” before you start the effort. There is no point in taking steps forward in an area if it’s at the expense of taking steps backward in either company standings or relationships.

Lessons Learned

  • Being a rebel is hard. It will be stressful, and you will more than likely engage in a lot of conflicts. Stay patient because the longer you keep forward motion, the more followers you will attract. And if you don’t attract enough followers, it might be time to pivot away from your initiative.
  • Be prepared for a negative perception. Challenging the status quo is never popular. If you are the face of the change, you will also be unpopular. Depending on the size of the change or the number of changes you have made, this perception could stay with you for some time.
  • Important: Understand that you are possibly slowing down your career progression. If you choose to rebel against higher-ups, regardless of the outcome, you are challenging an authority of some kind. With that comes the real possibility of damaging relationships with those responsible for recommending your promotions/raises along the way. This is something to be mindful of.

Wrap Up

After reading the lessons learned, it probably seems that I have painted a grim picture. My goal isn’t to deter anyone from doing what they think is in the best interest of their company. My goal is to prepare those for realistic outcomes of your choices. I don’t want anyone’s rebellion to turn into a regret.

Most rebellions are really small in nature. It might be changing an out of date process, or recommending a new software. If these are your initiatives, understand you have chosen something that is meant to be hard. You have replaced your path of least resistance, with a path of resistance. But don’t let that scare you. Great things are built upon movements and rebels can be the best change agents to an organization, whether it is ever recognized or not.

So, if you have a cause worth rebelling over, I hope this message helps achieve your desired outcome. If you have any thoughts/stories you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below. Keep making others around you successful, and may the force be with you. Watch the trailer below to get excited about the rebellion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frdj1zb9sMY

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We Can Lead Our Leaders, but We Can’t Do It Alone

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The election is finally over, and America is gearing up for new leaders in all areas of our government. For some, this is exciting, others scary, but one thing for sure is that things are going to change.

We as a nation have become divided, and to be honest, we have let this separation go too far. Over the last 16 years, the rhetoric has changed from opposing viewpoints to “us vs. them”. If you are not with us, you are against us. It almost like many have picked a home team and a rival, and through thick and thin you root for your home team and against your rival.

This seems to be the case with most hot topics these days. It’s just most obvious in the political world and became especially obvious during this election cycle.

I’ll give you a quick example of how casual it has become. I witnessed a race for a senate seat where both candidates ran attack ads against one another. In each, both used the association to the others “side” as an assault. The Democratic runner used the phrase “conservative values,” and the Republican runner used the word “liberal” as standalone bullet points when discussing their opponent. As if they were bad words or something they should be ashamed of.

The reason this is so messed up is that when they decided to run these ads, they did more than alienate their opponent. All of those who fell under the umbrella of having “conservative values” or being “liberal” also received the same insult. They publicly insulted and shamed the people they are trying to represent. As a voter, this is disheartening.

Diagnosis

People might say this is a result of the system, and it’s the responsibility of our newly elected officials to make the changes they promised. They’re our appointed leaders so they should be leading us down this path. Shouldn’t they?

While there are some truths to this thought, it completely omits acknowledgment of our own influence on the system. The system does influence our culture, but we influence our systems by voting. So what came first? Are we the chicken or the egg?

If you really need that answered, simply spend a little time on social media looking at “hot topic” discussions like Black Lives Matter or Election 2016. Read the comments on Youtube videos about the 2nd amendment. It will be pretty obvious that WE have created this divide, not our system. The system is simply a reflection of the way we treat one another. We have unknowingly, and effectively lead our leaders to represent us on a platform of separation, and we get surprised at the way they treat one another.

So what can we do?

Believe it or not, we have been influencing the system for some time now, so we can band together to bring positive change. We have to start dropping the home team vs. rival mentality and learn how to Respectfully disagree with one another.

This is no easy task. I’m talking about changing the culture of an entire country which doesn’t happen easily or quickly. However, there is good news. People are now talking about this “divide” more than ever. This election shined a light on the problem for everyone to see, and people are starting to care. They’re showing it by doing what I’m doing with this article. They’re finding ways to communicate the need for a change publicly. Why? Because change has to happen as a society before we can expect it to happen within our systems.

Wrap up

We have been leading our leaders for a long time, and we will continue to in the future. The opportunity we have in front of us is to lead by example. We can steer our leaders down a better path by striving to model the behavior we wish them to replicate. We have way more power than you think we simply need numbers.

So, I feel that it is my responsibility to lead by example in my little sphere of influence and try to minimize this divide within my tribe. I don’t know how far that sphere goes, but it isn’t very. I encourage everyone to communicate this message out within your sphere, so we stand a chance to promote change.

As always, please leave me a comment if you want to publicly share your insight. Connect with me on social media if you’re interested in discussing further. And let’s try to start being the leaders we want to see.

Thanks for your time!

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The Constitution…Is it Scalable?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

I have a fun fact for you: Did you know, there are spelling errors in The United States Constitution? It’s true, if you look at the States column, you will notice that Pennsylvania is spelled Pensylvania minus an “n.”

pensylvania

Here’s another one for you: Did you know that George Washington almost didn’t attend the creation of the constitution? At the time, he was busy with his estate, and quite frankly doubtful that a united constitution would work. His choice was voluntary.

Of course, he went and later became the 1st president of the United States, but think about how things would have been different if he would have accepted his inability to make time or shed doubt.

The US Constitution is a cultural pillar of our nation. It sets the tone for the present and is amendable for the future. It’s a great example of how you reach millions of people with standard messaging and values. This leads me to question, is it scalable? Can the idea of a constitution be used at the business or even a team level? In this article, I discuss the purpose of an organization constitution and what it could look like.

What is the purpose?

An organizational constitution should be the framework for your company to either move to or sustain a cultural existence. In his book, “The Culture Engine” Chris Edmonds goes into detail about this topic. He states that the purpose of an organization constitution is to clearly establish 1) Purpose 2) Values 3) Strategy and 4) Goals.

In other words, an organizational constitution is a leadership tool that leaders use to provide clarity. The goal being that any employee in the organization should be able to reference it when they have questions regarding company culture or value system.

How to organize it

At the company I work for, we do not have an organizational constitution at the top level. However, at the Division level (next tier down) we did create an organizational constitution. In an effort not to fall out of line with the company mission, we simply used our business’s Mission as a baseline for the document.

To create the document we had to answer the following questions:

1)    Who are we? – Through answering this question, we were able to come up with an internal mission that helps serve our global mission

2)    What do we do to fulfill our mission? – This exercise resulted in us creating 5 pillars of success that all helped us achieve our mission. These will vary for your team/company, but a few examples of our pillars are “Provide Reliable Infrastructure” and “Recruit, Train, Retain Talent.”

3)    How do we achieve excellence in each pillar? – This ties directly to the question above. It’s the “how” to the “what.” For each pillar, we created a strategy to achieve excellence and turned it into a 5-year perspective with achievable goals.

4)    What values do we want to instill into our work? – This resulted in a set of values that are now the foundation for cultural growth. We created a document that goes with the constitution that digs into these values. We call this document the 5C’s; Create, Craftsmanship, Community, Communication, and Change. This is how we set expectations for team members and provide insight into employee growth.

I made sure to point out that we did not have a top-level Constitution because you may not get company buy-in to create one. If that’s the case, that shouldn’t be a show-stopper. I believe you can do this at any level. Just start with your team if needed.

One thing to note would be to keep the overall mission in mind upon creation. A constitution is meant to be unifying, but if it conflicts with the company mission, it could be viewed as a revolt.

Wrap Up

I recognize that this exercise takes time, and starts with a reasonable amount of uncertainty of success. If these thoughts creep into your head, just think about George Washington in the intro. I’d say it worked out pretty well for him and I don’t see why you can’t do the same. You could basically be as big of a deal as the first president of the United States.

On a serious note, if you are concerned with company culture this is a fantastic way to steer the ship. It’s just like everything else and needs to be made a priority to work.

I recommend “The Culture Engine” by Chris Edmonds for further reading if you are interested. And as always, I would love to hear your experiences with company constitutions. If you have anything you would like to discuss, you can always contact me on social media or leave a comment below. I hope you enjoyed the read!

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Less Than 1/3 of American Employees are Engaged with Work…Where Do You Fall?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

You may be able to tell by now that I truly believe that a leader’s first responsibility is to put their employees in a position to be successful. However, being put in a position for success and being successful is a two-person job. It doesn’t matter the number of opportunities leaders give their people; it’s all for nothing if they lack the motivation to make the most of it. In this article, I plan to discuss the way you can achieve motivation through employee engagement. I also plan to leave you with a few pitfalls I have found with my experience.

Why This is Important

Earl Nightingale said “We are at our very best, and we are happiest when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.” Its hard to find a quote that could better sum up a “why” than this. Simply put, an engaged employee is a motivated employee. Even better, the motivation is intrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation can be way more powerful than motivation out of economics or fear. Intrinsic motivation is the reason why there are so many “it started in their garage” stories in the world. If you want a great example, read about a man named Samuel Pierpont Langley.

A short sum up of the story follows: Samuel Pierpont Langley was trying to build the first machine capable of attaining consistent flight. He was a renowned inventor with a large financial backing, and the best research team money could buy. His competition, two men working on a farm. They were not near as funded nor did they have the team Langley did. Their names were Wilbur and Orville Wright (the Wright Brothers).

The reason most of you know the Wright Brothers instead of Langley is because the Wright Brothers won. They defied the odds and beat out the “top dog” team. This story highlights the power intrinsic motivation has while in the arena against fame and money.

1903_first_flightThis is exactly the reason that companies are caring more about the engagement level of their employees. It’s even to the point that companies are hiring independent consultant groups to come in and conduct thorough Employee Engagement Surveys. They are taking the chance to invest in employee engagement because they know the potential benefits they will see in return.

Speaking on behalf of the employee for a second, my company conducts employee engagement surveys, and even the act itself is a motivating force. Just the display of caring gives me a small sense of happiness.

Some Problems I’ve Ran Into

Now that I have talked up Employee Engagement, I need to switch gears a bit and share a few pitfalls that I have seen with some employee engagement efforts.

There are two main problems that I have with standard Employee Engagement Surveys; Closed door action item lists, and the overall cost of the survey. So first, I’d like to explain what I mean by closed door action items.

When we have received these surveys in the past, the responsibilities have been separated by data submission (the employee) and data analysis (the supervisors/executives). When the results are published, the data analysis begins at the highest level to come up with an action plan to increase engagement across the workforce. Despite the best intentions of management, the resulting list will usually be a list of our most thoughtful guesses.

We sometimes think that since our employees took the time to give us the feedback we need to respond with a decisive plan to show that we are listening. The problem with this tactic is that we may have missed the mark. There is no guarantee that the correct diagnosis was made.

For this to work, we need to start building the action plan with the ground floor employees, to make sure we are on track. Otherwise, we put ourselves in a situation where we have to wait until the next survey to see if we were successful in increasing engagement at a significant level.

This brings me to the next issue, cost. Because these surveys require both time and money, they are typically only given annually, bi-annually, or even less frequently. So if you did your closed door session, it might take years for you to know if your actions worked. Because of the time and money needed for these surveys, it’s not practical to experiment. So it’s possible to have wasted years of effort because there is not a cheap way to get feedback along the way.

Wrap up

Despite these two problems we have run into, we are actively finding ways to build action plans by working with the ground and giving lighter weight engagement surveys at a faster rate. My next post will talk about the software we use and how it is helping in our effort. This is a very important topic and one that I hope keeps growing.

If you have any experience with employee engagement, please feel free to use the comments to share. I hope you enjoyed the content and make sure to look for my next post regarding some of the things I’m doing to increase my team’s engagement.

 

Further Reading:Top Eight Reasons Employee Engagement is Important

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CEOs…Please Read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Normally when I write, I share topics that I have either read about or done myself. Today, I want to talk about something from the perspective of a front-line employee. This was something I witnessed from our new CEO, and how he interacted with a risky innovation that my boss (not the CEO) was involved in. This is an amazing real life example of how I hope to model my leadership, simply because I know how it made me feel as a follower.

Story

For context, the company I work for recently changed CEOs. It is going extremely well, yet everyone is still taking the necessary time to adjust to the new regime.

Earlier this year, my boss and several other colleagues started a community around a companywide initiative. At a high level, their goal was to start a monthly platform where employees could come together to share ideas (see Share Your Ideas for more info on what this looks like). This was an employee-driven effort, so the team didn’t have sponsorship from senior staff yet. Senior staff had awareness, but not all members bought into the idea. In fact, some were completely against it at both the senior staff and employee levels. So, the pressure for success was higher than usual.

Our CEO had very little knowledge about it. He asked my boss to schedule 30 mins of his time to talk more in depth. In that meeting, they discussed the history and what they plan to do with the idea moving forward.

Immediately following the meeting, the CEO wrote an email to my boss stating his stance on this particular initiative. He was in full support of the idea and in turn, encouraged more employee-driven initiatives. The most powerful part of the email, however, was the way he ended it. The last words before his signature were, “I’ve got your back.”

Something awesome happened following this email. That sentence meant so much to my boss that he decided to share it with his team and colleagues. They then went on to share it with their teams and so on. That sentence was obviously very powerful to have permeated through the company so quickly. I am three levels removed from the hierarchy, and I have shared that story on multiple occasions. The reason it was so powerful was that everyone believed it. He instilled trust in the platform team, and everyone gave it back.

Wrap up

I wanted to tell this story to highlight that actions matter. They ripple throughout the company, and when kept positive, you just might see positive results. I mean, look at what one sentence has provoked. He didn’t even say it to me, yet it meant so much that I wanted to blog about it. From the bottom looking up, CEOs set the tone of the company. Their words and their actions simply hit harder. When a CEO can show trust and positivity, their message has a deep motivating quality. As someone near the ground floor, I can vouch that it works.

Recognizing there are many ways to run a company, I only wanted to share my experience with our new CEO. If you would like to share your experience, similar or not, please leave them in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Gift Your Time

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What if I were to say that I gave a local charity one thousand dollars? What would be the response? I imagine people would think it gracious, give me a pat on the back, and go on with their day. Now, what if I said that I spent a full day tutoring kids at a homeless shelter? Once again, I think I would get the same response, but it might end with a feeling of motivation. A sense of maybe “I should do something.”

This is interesting because, on paper, these two efforts are not equal. My time is nowhere close to being worth one thousand dollars. In fact, with that money, they could have hired a full-time tutor for two weeks. So why would the second scenario invoke the same, or possibly greater, emotional reaction than the first?

The answer is that time is a non-renewable resource. People recognize that money comes and goes, but time is a gift that can’t be regifted. That’s why, in the office, it is so important to be available to your employees. Your presence/absence doesn’t go unnoticed. It plays a role in the daily culture of the team. It impacts moral, happiness, comradery, etc. If you want a productive, happy, and passionate team, make yourself available.

I do this in a couple of ways:
Interact Face to Face – This is priceless. My team works in an open office environment, so I make sure my desk is right in the mix. When I’m onsite, I encourage my group to interrupt me at any time. When I’m offsite, I try to converse via video chat. This is much more intimate than email or traditional phone calls.
Schedule Time Regularly – Every two weeks I set aside an hour for every team member to get a pulse on the team. I use this time to get to know the individual as well as provide coaching as needed. My next post will dig deeper into this platform.
Provide Undivided Attention – When I am talking with one of my employees, I make sure to stop doing anything else. I don’t check emails or flip through my phone. I make them the priority. If you don’t do this, they will see that they are not the priority, and that will change your interactions in the future. If you need to finish what you are working on, it is much more respectful to ask them if you can finish. It has been my experience that no one will have a problem with that.
Don’t Appear Busy – This is probably the hardest one. Being a good leader means you are busy. However, if your employees are constantly exposed to how busy you are, they may feel hesitation about disrupting you. I recommend that if you want time for zero disruptions, use your calendar and block off time slots for focus. All other time encourage interruptions. Your team will be very responsive to this.

Time is the best gift you can give to your team, but it’s also sometimes the hardest commodity to come by. Time is scarce but the real truth is there wasn’t more of it yesterday than there is today. There is still the same number of minutes today as there will be tomorrow. The difference isn’t time, it’s priority. If you want to make time for your employees to raise morale and happiness, you need to make it a priority. Can that email wait until tomorrow? My guess is that it probably could.

Thanks for reading. If you have any experiences you would like to share, I would love to hear about them. Please leave them in the comments below.

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Leader Leader

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I gave a presentation to Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. Aug 26th regarding a topic I have become very passionate about: Leader-Leader. The recording of the presentation is below. I got the story from 2 books. Leader’s Eat Last by Simon Sinek and Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet. The sound quality isn’t 100 percent so I have a transcript below for those who would rather read it. Enjoy.

Background

Our story starts with a man named David Marquet. He was a career submariner who finished top of his class in almost every category. One area that David Marquet excelled in was Leadership. As such, he worked his way up the promotion ladder until he received the greatest honor a navy man can receive, command of his own ship.

The now Captain David Marquet was to be command of the USS Olympia. This was a very prestigious sub. To prepare, he takes the year prior to his command and dedicates it to learning every component of the sub, including the crew. He believed that in order to gain the respect of his crew and to do his job well, he needed to know as much if not more than the crew themselves.

However, two weeks before taking command, Captain Marquet receives a call. In that call he learns that he will no longer be taking command of the Olympia, but instead the USS Santa Fe. The Santa Fe was a newer sub but not extremely different. The crew however, was another story.

The crew of the Santa Fe ranked last in nearly every readiness and retention category that the US Navy had. It was so bad that real life scenarios from the Santa Fe were used as bad examples for general Navy training. But that was ok. Captain Marquet was confident in his abilities and was up to the challenge. The Navy had shown him that Marquet would be a leader because he was given control. So it was easy for him to believe that if I give good orders, I will have a good ship, and if I give great orders, I will have a great ship. So Captain Marquet took control of the Santa Fe in January 1999 knowing that he had an uphill battle.

Fast forward a few months…Captain Marquet, after getting more comfortable with his command, decides to run a drill while out at sea. The simulation was a reactor failure (basically an engine failure). It was a standard drill, nothing out of the ordinary.

Everything was going well. The sub was running on battery power and all the crew was working on restoring the reactor. So Captain Marquet decided to shake things up for the crew. He looks to the officer on deck (the most experienced officer) and says “Ahead 2/3” meaning move forward at 2/3 the maximum speed. This would drain the battery faster and increase the urgency of the crew to get the reactor fixed.

“Ahead 2/3” the Captain said

The officer on deck confirms by saying “Ahead 2/3” to the Helmsman.

Buy nothing happened. The direction of the sub and the speed remained the same. So the captain looks at the helmsman and sees him sitting very uncomfortably in his chair and asks, “Helmsman, why did you not execute the order?”

The helmsman replied, “Sir there is no 2/3 setting.”

The ship that Captain Marquet had studied for had a 2/3 setting. The ship he was on did not.

Caught off guard by this he turns to the Officer on Deck and asks “Did you know there was no 2/3 setting?”

The Officer on Deck replied “Yes Sir.”

Caught even more off guard the Captain asked “Then why did you issue the order?”

The officer simply replied “Because you told me to.”

It was at that moment that Captain Marquet realized that he was trained for another ship and his crew was trained for compliance. In a sub this was a problem with dangerous consequences. He was getting comfortable issuing orders and his crew was getting comfortable blindly executing them. He was reinforcing a hierarchy that he questioned his entire career. He refers to it as the Leader – Follower.

In the leader follower dynamic Captain Marquet started to see a truth. He States that those at the top have all the authority and none of the information and those at the bottom have all of the information but none of the authority.

Solution

From this point forward Captain Marquet vowed to keep his mouth shut when he was on board. He wanted to turn the dynamic from 1 commander barking orders at 135 passive followers, to 135 active passionate and engaged leaders, proud and motivated about what they were doing. In order to do so, he needed to change from leader-follower to Leader-Leader.

In his book, Turn the Ship Around, David Marquet describes several practical steps he took to get here. One major step was to ban the phrase “Permission to”.

“Sir, permission to submerge the ship?”

“Premission granted. Submerge the ship”

He replaced this phrase with “I intend to”.

“Sir, I intend to submerge the ship”

The shift here is a psychological one. The chain of comman is still in tact but when initiating the command, the person that is performing the action now feels a stake in the outcome. It’s now coming from an area of intent instead of a passive task to be carried out.

Captain Marquet even took it a step further as he too didn’t blindly approve all “I intend to.” He would often find himself asking several questions before approval. So he started asking his crew to not only come prepared with what they intend to do but why they intend to do it. What he found was not only did he not have to object to many proposals, but he was correct in his assumption that the crew had the knowledge needed to make these types of decisions. They just needed a chance to vocalize them.

As an added benefit, this change caused all his crew to start thinking at the level above them. The officers on Deck had to think like the captain and so on down. This was important because the crew were literally acting their way into their promotions. This turned into a very effective leadership program.

Outcome

Trust and cooperation of the crew improved so much that once the lowest ranked crew in the Navy, now they became the best ranked crew in Navy History. Before Captain Marquet took command, the reenlistment rate of the Santa Fe was 3. After he took command, it was 33. The Navy average was 15 so there was an obvious morale spike.

As for the leadership program, on average 2 to 3 commanding officers typically get promoted on a ship after tour. The Santa Fe promoted 9 of 14 officers to go on and Captain their own ship.

So what did we learn? Captain Marque was able to do this by resisting the temptation to absorb more power. When faced with the decision, he decided to not be the smartest person on the ship rather empower those around him, letting his crew feel responsible for the success of the ship.

If this topic is interesting to you, I would like you to remember 2 questions:

  1. Do I typically ask permission or do I make recommendations?
  2. If I am in a position of power, do I typically solve my people’s problems or do I empower them to solve their problems on their own?

I hope you enjoyed the presentation. If you have any feedback or stories of your own, I would love to hear them. Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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Leading by Following

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Being a leader is a difficult goal to strive for. People say leadership takes courage, character, confidence, charisma, etc.… and they aren’t wrong. However, when defining a leader, people tend to miss the true defining characteristic: someone needs to follow. A leader isn’t a leader if they are leading no one. One could make the connection that a leader is only a leader if they were leading someone. Profound stuff I know, but at its core, the statement is extremely accurate. Any leader of value has always needed one person, and that person is known as the First Follower.

The First Follower is an underrated form of leadership. The leader typically gets the majority of the credit but it’s the First Follower that often finds themselves unknowingly determining a leader’s success. In his TED talk “How to start a movement”, Derek Sivers states that “the First Follower is what transforms a Lone Nut into a Leader.” He continues by showing a video of a lone dancer. At first glance, it is obvious that the lone dancer is very courageous, but also a bit awkward. About 10 seconds in, one person gets up and starts dancing alongside (First Follower). It only takes a second for the First Follower to start encouraging his friends to join. Around 30 seconds, dozens of people are out dancing along with more running into the group every second. With the combination of the Leader and the First Follower, they were able to start a movement within minutes. Below I outlined some responsibilities for the Leader and the First Follower to make this work.

The Leader – Although it takes a strong amount of courage to put yourself out there, its takes almost an equal amount of courage to be the first one to stand up and follow. That is why the moment you receive your first follower, its critical to raise that person up and accept him as an equal. The message must change from “follow me” to “follow us.” Future followers need to trust that everyone out there is in this together. It’s the leader’s responsibility to limit the risk to his follower while enforcing the belief that “we win together, or we lose together, not separately”.

The First Follower – You have taken a risk by being the first one to join your leader. Your job from here is to encourage the people who trust you to trust the leader. At this stage, you are now a leader yourself, so all the above statements apply. Build up anyone that decides to come along, and encourage them to encourage others. When you do, you will instantly see the impact you had on the movement.

As a closing thought, I want to encourage everyone to keep an eye out for an opportunity to be someone’s First Follower. I won’t lie, it may be hard depending on the change you decide to stand up for, but it just might be one of the most rewarding experiences you have. Not to mention it could be the only thing standing in front of success for the leader. I also encourage everyone to watch Derek’s video below. It has heavily influenced my way of thinking. And of course, please leave me comments if you have any insight to share.

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