Are you developing your team and for the right reasons?

As COVID progresses, leaders need to continue to develop their teams. In fact, in some cases, team development may be more important than ever.

It seems that the leaders who developed their teams before COVID continue to do so with extra passion, while those who didn’t invest in development before or did it sporadically and/or poorly, continue in the same way.

Which category are you in? Are you developing your team?

If so, are you doing it healthfully and for the right reasons?

One of my long-time clients is the CEO of a growing global service company. I have known him for more than twenty years, I love and respect him, and I have worked with him probably four or five times over these years, depending on how you count…

The way it typically works, since our initial work together, is that he calls me up about every five or six years out of the blue. I am always excited to hear from him. We get on a call where he catches me up by sharing the tremendous commercial success and growth of his firm since we last saw each other. He is always very vocal and appreciative about my contribution to him and his teams over the years, and then he says something like, “But, I am having similar issues with my team as I had in the past…”.  He goes on to share how his leaders feel he is too commanding and controlling, not empowering enough, that trust is not high, people do not own his aggressive strategy… yadda, yadda, yadda… He typically ends by saying, “I know you told me to continue to develop my team, but with all the new acquisitions we have made and growth I dropped the ball…

He then asks me to help him again to restore trust, alignment, ownership in his team and develop and build his team to become an effective team again, promising, that this time, he will stay the course. But, so far, this same pattern just keeps repeating itself.

I have a few great clients who are the same. They relate to team development as merely a means to an end; a solution to a problem. They apply the principle “If it isn’t broken, don’t touch it”.

When they feel their teams are doing well – and by that, I mean achieving their business goals – they don’t spend a minute thinking about their team’s development. But when they feel trust, alignment, communication, morale are deteriorating in their team, they panic and react by bringing in help.

There is nothing inherently faulty about this approach. Unfortunately, many of these leaders pretend like they are genuinely committed to ongoing team development. They say all the right things, but when push comes to shove, they fold and abandon the development cause without hesitation.

Building a team is often a messy and uncomfortable endeavour. You have to deal with people’s feelings and frustrations. As their leader, your people often have criticism about you and the way you do things.

When you develop your team, you need to be willing to look at yourself in the mirror then own and address any leadership and management deficiencies you see. That is not easy, even for the strongest of heart. So for the faint of heart, it is often the trigger that causes them to quit the development program.

Contrast this with many other leaders I know, and you probably know some too, who view developing their team as a high priority; a value; part of their on-going, never-ending role.

These leaders understand that development is a journey, not an event; a marathon, not a sprint. They stay the course of team development and coaching and don’t let circumstances, challenges or mood swings interfere.

They never ask: “Does my team need development?” They only ask: “What is the next level of development my team needs next?”. They invest as much of their time, focus and passion when their team is doing well and meeting all commitments, as they do when the team is not, and they expect their leaders to do the same with their own teams. This mindset creates a culture of ongoing improvement and excellence, which to be frank is entirely missing in most companies.

In fact, the teams who view team development as a natural and integral part of their routine are the teams most open and susceptible to breakthroughs.

They are also the most nurturing and enjoyable teams to belong to.

 

What is your mid-term mark for leveraging COVID?

If you had to give yourself and your organization a mid-term mark (four months in) for how powerful you have been in leveraging the COVID era, what would it be?

Based on my observations, from supporting several companies and teams in the last few months, you could be in one of three spaces:

  1. Hoping to survive COVID,
  2. Trying to stay productive,
  3. Excelling and taking your business and culture to a new level.

I am sure most if not all companies went through some degree of survival mode in the beginning when the business and economic reality of COVID hit. At first, some leaders were in denial, brushing off the severity of the pandemic. Other leaders expressed hope that it would simply go away, even when there was mounting evidence that the epidemic was spreading globally and here to stay.

I would like to believe that most leaders were able to collect themselves, think rationally and strategically and move on to a more productive space.

Unfortunately, I saw some leaders who didn’t and remained in panic and reactive mode.  They continued to make panicky decisions such as: freezing all budgets across the board without distinction; stopping all corporate programs – “run the business” and “improve the business” without exception; and laying off as many employees as possible to mitigate short term risk, without any enlightened regard for longer-term consequences.

Some companies seem to still be in that space today after four months. What a waste of energy and time!

Other leaders pride themselves on the fact that they quickly and efficiently shifted their entire workforce to a virtual work mode from home. In many cases, this shift was an admirable logistic undertaking given the size and geographical spread of their workforce.

Some companies are used to working virtually; they have the platform and technology to do so. However, for some companies working from home is an entirely foreign concept. In one case, employees literally unplugged their desktop computers (not laptops) and took them home via Uber.

The physical move to home was no small task for many. And then, establishing a virtual routine of productive business performance and customer service is also an admirable accomplishment.

Unfortunately, many leaders stopped there, settling for uninterrupted productivity.  As long as they could continue to provide the same services (or close) that they were offering pre-COVID virtually and uninterruptedly, they were content.

In one case, the CEO of a large regional division (which was faring well in virtual mode) told his executives to put on-hold all improvement and transformational programs for the time being, because as he put it, “They are ‘excessive’ during these challenging days.”

I believe this CEO’s mindset is quite common these days, and most companies feel that staying productive is a high enough mark.

The companies that inspire me most are those who quickly passed the first two spaces and then pushed themselves to the next level.

One CEO told his leaders to “discard COVID as an excuse.” His words were blunt, but he succeeded in setting the bold expectation of continuing to take the business, that was already on a path of transformation, to the next level – full speed ahead, without reservations.

Another CEO of medium size lighting company with the same mindset launched the most significant improvement programs his company has ever had focussing on many critical areas, including Sales, Production, R&D, and Marketing. By doing so, he increased productivity, effectiveness, results, and impact beyond the best months pre-COVID. His company will never be the same.

In fact, the two CEOs and other leaders who took bold initiatives believe that COVID is not a time to be cautious, think conservatively, hold back resources, or play safe. On the contrary, the COVID era is the perfect opportunity to rethink things, challenge the status quo, figure out approaches to truly work smarter, scale, and significantly improve processes and ways of doing business. Actions not merely to survive or overcome a tough epidemic but to generate lasting breakthroughs in their business.

Much has been written about the influence of COVID on businesses, and much more will be written over time. But when all is said and done, what are you really going to learn and take forward from the COVID era?

 

Are you energizing and inspiring your people?

Some time ago, in a meeting I was facilitating, people were going around introducing themselves. One of the long-time veterans of that organization stood up and introduced himself in the following way: “My name is Bill. I don’t remember how long I’ve been here, but I have 64 months to go!”

You would think that Bill represents a small minority of cynical people. However, my experience says otherwise. Unfortunately, I find cynical and resigned people at all levels of all organizations.

When I ask senior executives, “How are your people doing?” I often get a stock answer of, “My people are excited and in great shape.” However, when I interact with the organization, I often find people to be uninspired and uninspiring.

The bar for what passes as ‘inspired and energized‘ in corporations today seems to be quite low.

Oddly enough, many leaders still do NOT seem to view the creation of inspiration as a critical aspect of their roles or the success of their business. Some believe it’s a ‘nice to have,’ but many still think it is not up to them to inspire. A few even view inspiration as irrelevant altogether. Many leaders often believe that the only or main thing that truly motivates people is pay, objectives, compensation, and bonuses.

Quite frankly, I believe that money as the most significant source of motivation is a big myth!

Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not disparaging pay, compensation, or bonuses. They are indeed an essential part of any motivational strategy. However, I have seen situations where people could double and triple their bonus if they collaborated and worked together, but they still stayed siloed and didn’t work together. On the other hand, I have seen situations where people had no financial incentive to collaborate, but they still did the right and best thing for their own success and satisfaction, as well as for their company success by collaborating with genuine commitment and passion.

My point is that being energized and inspired is something that comes from within, not from external circumstances. Yes, external stimuli can help, but ultimately they are not the primary source of how people feel and act. When people feel included, valued, cared for, and that they can make a difference, they can’t help themselves but get energized and inspired. And, because any organization is always a reflection of its leaders; inspiration and energy has to start and come from the top.

So, how can you, as a busy leader energize your staff on a day-by-day basis and make sure people are not cynical? Here are a few simple tips to start you off:

  1. Show up and listen. I have often heard the complaint in organizations that leaders and managers simply don’t listen. If you want to energize your people spend some dedicated time each day, week or month walking the floors, showing concern, interacting with team members, asking people how they are doing and what you could do for them. And then follow up with whatever comes out of those interactions and conversations.
  2. Follow up and follow through. So much of the cynicism that people have comes from a lack of follow up and follow through. Teams make decisions, and then there is no follow-up or follow-through. Leaders and managers promise things, and then they don’t do what they said, they don’t acknowledge this and/or change their promises. When it comes to acknowledging what was promised, following through, and doing what you said, there is no difference between big strategic promises and small tactical ones. If you don’t follow up and follow through even on the small things, people will become skeptical and cynical around you.
  3. Praise, recognize, and thank people. I have written so much about this. It doesn’t cost a penny to say, “Thank you!” every day, and it goes a long, long way to engage and motivate people. One of the biggest complaints in organizations today is the lack of recognition. Well, if you want to energize your people and avoid cynicism, go out of your way – every day – to praise, recognize, and thank them. In fact, always recognize people in public and criticize them in private. This way, they’ll feel respected and trusted.
  4. Encourage new ideas. There is always more than one way to get anything done. In addition, different people have different ways, ideas, and styles about how to effectively make things happen. As long as the objectives and key ethical values are clear and adhered to, it’s actually healthy to allow employees some room to innovate. And, it goes a long way to increase ownership and defeat cynicism.
  5. Encourage, promote, and reward high ownership and accountability. People who are making a difference from time-to-time make mistakes. The only way to avoid this is to play so small that your mistakes are irrelevant. When employees play big, the impact of their mistakes tends to be big too. However, responsible people go out of their way to learn from their mistakes and correct them. By showing them that you respect ownership and accountability, they’ll play even harder, bigger, and with more commitment.

 

Success through Rigor, Clarity, and Responsibility

Often when managers and employees feel frustrated about other’s lack of accountability, and they describe the reality as: “They promised to do X and didn’t deliver!” there is more to the story than that.

I have seen many times, in situations of conflict or dispute, person A insisting that person B promised to do or deliver something and simply did not do so, while person B denies ever having made the promise in the first place.

Both parties feel frustrated and resentful. Each one believes their version of the story represents the facts and truth. However, in many cases, when both parties step back, look a bit deeper, and try to view the situation more objectively, they realize that it was not bad intent caused their heartache, but rather the lack of rigor and clarity in their initial interaction.

If you want to avoid the common issues that happen when requesting or promising, there are a few things to pay attention to:

  1. Make sure what you are requesting or promising is clear, understood, and agreed to in the same way by both sides. Often, instead of explicitly spelling it out, people assume the other person knows what they are requesting or promising. It probably won’t be an exaggeration to say that, more often than not, people simply do not understand and/or are not aligned about what is being promised or requested. Needless to say, this causes mismatched expectations, that always lead to upset.
  2. Make sure the time frame of the promise or request is clear. For example, if you are asking for additional resources or budget for a strategic project, be specific about the time frame (the ‘by when’). Don’t leave it vague, or hope they’ll understand your urgency or act on it rapidly. And, if the person you are requesting this from promises to make it happen, “As soon as possible,” don’t settle for the lack of clarity… And don’t fall into the trap of assuming you will get what you need in the time you need it. Furthermore, don’t feel disappointed if your expectations were not met.
  3. Make sure the level of sincerity and commitments toward the promise is explicit. When you make a request and someone responses with “I’ll do my best” or “I don’t see any reason why not,” don’t make the mistake of taking that as an affirmation of commitment. A promise is clear, explicit, and unconditional. This doesn’t mean that a promise is a guarantee and, therefore, will always be fulfilled. However, when someone says: “I promise,” “You can count on me,” or “You have my word,” that represents a much stronger, sincerer, and more committed intention to do what they said. People often avoid this level of clarity because it is uncomfortable, and they fear it could lead to the realization that they may not get what they want.
  4. Check-in, follow up, and support the promise while it is being delivered. When someone promises you something, and they are in the process of working on it, your job is not over. You need to stay engaged and involved throughout the duration of the delivery cycle as a committed and vested partner in order to keep the promise alive. This interaction will look different depending on the nature of the promise and person you are dealing with. Sometimes it may mean checking in on a frequent basis. At other times, it may mean looking the person in the eye at the onset to get a sense of confidence that they really mean it, understood it, and will follow through. The main reason for avoiding this conversation is because it is disruptive and uncomfortable. People fear it could lead to the realization that they may not get what they want.
  5. Manage undelivered promises with integrity. No matter how sincere the promise, it is never a guarantee. Things happen, and people who promise sometimes fail to deliver or change their mind. If you understand and accept that simple fact, you will be in a much better mental place to deal with undelivered promises. For the most part, people know ahead of the deadline that they are not going to deliver what they promised. But unfortunately, while people seem to have no problem not doing what they said, they do have a problem being straight up and upfront about it.

The lack of courage to acknowledge and take responsibility for promises that won’t be delivered often goes both ways – to the one promising and the one being ‘promised to.’ Have you ever been in a situation in which someone promised you something, you had a feeling they may not come through, and still you avoided confronting them about it?

Regardless of your position and seniority – if you are not going to deliver on your promise, letting others find out at the last minute and be surprised is not acceptable. It undermines trust, credibility, confidence, and success.

If you can’t deliver what you promised, communicate in a timely and responsible manner. Then the two of you – together – can figure out alternative solutions and routes to rectify the situation or take a different course.

People want to fulfill their commitments and succeed, but they also can handle the truth, even if it is bad news. By interacting with rigor, clarity, courage, and responsibility, you are promoting respect, emphasizing other’s strengths, and enabling success.

 

Are you driving outcomes or activities?

So often, when teams define their strategy, they tend to target activities instead of outcomes.

For example, they promise:

  • ‘Installing a new order shipping tracking system’ instead of ‘80% of our orders are shipped on time’;
  • ‘Create a process that gives visibility to post-sales issues’ versus ‘all post-sales issues are resolved within 24 hours’; and
  • ‘All sales employees have gone through our sales training program’ instead of ‘we have raised the average productivity of the sales team from 2 million per person to 3 million.’

While activities are essential for executing and delivering the results, they should not be the starting point of any strategy.

The job of leaders is to make strategic choices about where they want to take their organization. When it comes to strategic outcomes, there are no right or wrong answers. In fact, no matter how much analysis you do, you never really know if your bet will succeed. We have all seen sure bets fall short, and unexpected bets succeed beyond expectations. In order for a team to create a powerful strategy, the leaders must be 100% aligned on their strategic choices/commitments.

While outcomes are derived from choices, activities should be derived from the outcomes. Outcomes change when leaders feel there is a strategic reason to change them (for example, market change, merger & acquisition, etc.). However, activities should be periodically inspected and adjusted any time they are no longer useful or effective. Needless to say, the focus and direction of activities could change much more frequently than outcomes.

When a team locks into clear outcomes, that higher purpose helps the managers and employees determine their action plans and activities. But when leaders lock into activities, this often creates busyness in the organization.

I can’t tell you how many times I see people being so consumed with busywork that they have lost track of the higher purpose that led to the busyness in the first place.

In addition, the focus on the activities (means) versus outcomes (end) hinders the ability of the team to assess the effectiveness of their activities and make the necessary changes if they are not effective. Most organizations are good at adding activities, but they rarely stop them.

Lastly, the activity-based approach undermines accountability. Real accountability is always for clear outcomes. Accountability for clear results fosters a mindset of overcoming obstacles. The activity-based approach tolerates shortfalls and promotes a circumstantial mindset of blame and excuses.

People often justify the activity-based approach with statements like: “We can’t control/guarantee the results. We can only control/guarantee our activities…

But that is like searching for your lost car keys under the lamp post versus where you actually lost them.

Yes, you may be able to control your activities. But the activities you can control may not get you to your desired outcomes.

When it comes to strategy, there seem to be two schools of thought:

Promise your desired outcomes and then put the activities in place to fulfill them.”

Promise the activities that you assume will get you to your desired outcomes and hope they will be enough.”

Leaders who believe in the first seem to have a more powerful paradigm and approach towards outcomes.

They seem to believe that they do have control over achieving their outcomes. They seem to believe that:

  1. If achieving their outcomes requires enrolling others who are not part of their team to the task, they have the ability to do so.
  2. If achieving their outcomes requires coming up with new ways of doing things, they have the ability to figure that out.
  3. If achieving their outcomes requires investment in resources and budgets, they have the ability to make the business case for that.
  4. And, if achieving their outcomes requires some “magic” and “luck” if they stay optimistic, positive, and determined in their attitude, conversations, interactions, and energy, they have a higher chance to succeed.

The last paragraph may seem not tangible or real to you… However, ask any Olympic athlete or championship sports team about the importance of positive, high-energy mindset to winning and the amount of focus and time they spend on this topic, and you will be surprised by how tangible and real this dimension is for winning.

In today’s world, where opportunities are abundant, resources are scarce, competition is fierce, and everyone is looking for ways to scale and do more with less; you can’t afford to waste time and cycles on busyness and activities that may not deliver the results you want. You have to be much more deliberate and powerful than that.

The job of a leader is not to track and report on activities. It is to cause outcomes.

So, if you are not going to promise to cause specific outcomes, don’t promise anything at all!

Are you a micromanager?

Employee performance is directly linked to their sense of ownership, commitment, and accountability for the success of their organization. Their passion, ownership, commitment, and accountability is reduced when they feel distrusted, disrespected, and/or under-valued by their managers and/or by the senior leadership of their company.

By micromanaging their people, managers generate an environment of compliance and fear, which causes employees to play it safe and “cover their behinds” instead of stepping up and going beyond the call of duty to drive progress, overcome obstacles and pursue opportunities.

Most managers who micromanage their employees suppress their spirit and performance. That in itself is a bad thing. But, it is also the wrong focus. Instead of trying to control their people, managers should be providing leadership and confidence to their team; they should be highlighting their strategic objectives and priorities and inspiring their employees to take them on. They should also be ensuring that their people have the wherewithal to execute and succeed.

In fact, micromanagement puts in motion a destructive vicious circle: The manager relates to his people as uncommitted, incompetent and/or unreliable. The people, in turn, play it safe and don’t take ownership, risk, and accountability. Results suffer. This confirms the manager’s point of view and he continues to micromanage.

Most of the time the issue lies with the manager. Managers who micromanage and control their people do it because of their own insecurity and fear of failure and not because their employees are, in fact, incompetent, uncommitted, or unreliable.

If you think about it, the only time micromanaging can be an effective management strategy is when the manager truly trusts his or her people, AND their people know it. In this condition, people won’t feel belittled and disempowered by their manager’s inspection of their actions and achievement.

If you are a manager (or part of a team) and you want to strike a healthier balance between trusting and inspecting without suppressing your reports or peers, you must put the following building blocks in place and manage them effectively:

  1. Build a team that you genuinely trust in terms of commitment and competency. Use this foundation to establish a dynamic of authentic, honest, and courageous communication within your team.
  2. Communicate and enroll/align your team members around your future vision and objectives. Make sure all your team members clearly understand and are on the same page about your shared future. Make sure they feel genuinely passionate about it, committed to it, and accountable for it.
  3. Orient your team members around results and deliverables rather than tasks and activities. In order to build an environment of real accountability. Accountability can only exist when people publicly promise clear, measurable results, and they expect to be held accountable for them.
  4. Ensure that roles, responsibilities, expectations, and processes are completely clear to all team members. This is to eliminate the chance of ambiguity, confusion, excuses, or the mischief of the popular finger-pointing game.
  5. Put in place a simple and effective mechanism/process for tracking all key commitments, deliverables, and promised results. Make sure to check-in on a monthly and quarterly basis.
  6. Lastly, recognize people who step up in attitude, behavior, performance and/or results. Don’t be stingy or lazy about recognizing the people who step up. If you apply the same passion for recognizing people as you do to micromanaging them, it will help you strike a positive balance.

If someone is not performing up to an agreed-upon standard or expectation, you must be willing to have a straight and honest conversation with them.  This conversation will either need to elevate the individual to a higher level of performance or make it clear that they are not up for the task, and they should be replaced. But, make sure to give people a real opportunity to understand, own, and do something about their poor performance.

If you build a strong team dynamic, where people own the game and communicate in an honest and direct way, you will either not need to micromanage, or if you still continue to inspect on a regular basis, people will not feel intimidated, invalidated or discouraged by it.

Always remember – that in the absence of genuine ownership, commitment, and honest communication, no amount of micromanagement will be effective anyway.

 

Are you afraid to say “I don’t know” and “I need help”?

I was working with a large global technology company that was struggling with making its quarterly sales and revenue numbers. For several quarters in a row, they missed their forecasted and committed numbers.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who’s eyes you are looking from), the head of sales was a friend of the CEO, so he didn’t fire him. Instead, every quarter, the CEO would confront and challenge the head of sales who always insisted that he knew wasn’t working and what he needed to do.

The head of sales fired a few managers, and he reorganized his sales team a few times, but none of it made any difference. He continued to miss his numbers.

However, the head of sales’ senior executive peers where quite pissed by the sales performance, they all believed their colleague was in ‘way over his head’, he didn’t know what the problems were or what to do to fix them. All leadership team members felt that together, as a leadership team, they would be able to figure out how to fix the issues and get sales back on track. However, they were most frustrated about the fact that the sales leader would not admit: “I don’t know how to fix this!” and, “I need help!”

In a different true story, the CEO of a large regional technology company was trying to retain one of his top senior leaders. The leader had been in the company for many years, and he had done an amazing job growing his division. In fact, the growth he achieved fueled the growth of the entire company.

However, he had reached a point in his career in which he wanted to go to the next level and become a CEO himself. The CEO convinced the senior leader to stay, and he promised him that he would find or create the opportunity for a CEO role for this leader by restructuring his company.

Months passed, the CEO didn’t come up with a solution, and the senior leader grew more and more frustrated. The senior leader loved the company. Being a seasoned executive, he had his own ideas about how to structure the company for the future. He wanted the opportunity to partner with the CEO in his thinking and planning about the future. He believed that the two of them could come up with the most optimal structure for the future. However, the CEO was a proud man who, even though he struggled with finding the optimal solution, wouldn’t let his guard down easily.

Who said that leaders have to always have the answer and solution to the big dilemmas, questions, and issues?

So many leaders seem to be afraid to admit that they do not know how to do everything; that they do not have the answer; that they really do need help.

I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed senior executives who become bottle-necks to success, limit possibilities and solutions, slow things down just because of their pride and/or desire to appear in control, having all the answers; trying to come across as having their proverbial ‘act together.’

What’s up with that?!

Who said that leaders need to always have the answer and solution to the big dilemmas, questions, issues, and opportunities?

It takes a village to generate extraordinary success in any field. No one person has all the thoughts, ideas, and abilities to achieve significant success. For some strange reason, some senior executives seem to think that they do or should.

If you are confident and comfortable in your own skin, you should be fostering an environment of innovative thinking. You should be surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you.

Leaders who are insecure in their leadership intelligence, position, or ability tend to be more narcissistic, command-control, and passive-aggressive. They tend to be threatened by other powerful people/leaders; hence, they tend to use authority and fear to manage.

I like Andy Stanley’s quote: “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

In parallel: Leaders who never say “I don’t know” or ask for help… simply fill the gap.

So many leaders seem to be afraid to admit that they do not know how to do everything; that they do not have the answer; that they really do need help.

How often do you admit you don’t know and ask for help?

Do you spend more time explaining or committing?

I was attending a sales planning session of a global service company in growth mode.  Their Head of Sales kicked off the meeting by asking the sales leaders to think big; outside the box, and not let past and current issues and barriers get in the way.

Each regional sales leader then had approximately 90 minutes to present their plan and receive questions, comments, and feedback on their thinking.

However, instead of first making bold declarations of what they are planning to do and then outlining the barriers and risks and how they were planning to overcome them, the leaders took a very different approach.

They outlined their conservative growth plans, and then they spent the majority of their presentation explaining to the audience the risks and barriers to success, as well as the reasons why they can’t take on a bolder game.

Even their moderate ambitions came with a caveat. In fact, they all had a slide in their presentation outlining the assumptions they were basing their objectives on.

Even though they didn’t say it outright, it was clear to everyone that the leaders were hedging their bets, making their objectives circumstantial and seeding the future justifications, excuses and ‘alibis’ should they not meet their growth objectives.

Unfortunately, I see this mindset and behavior in most companies; leaders oriented around tracking and reporting on the status of things; analyzing why things are working or not working; explaining why progress can’t be bigger, faster. There is no power, creativity, and innovation in this orientation.

The role of leaders is to declare, create, take a stand, and commit to future outcomes in areas that are important for the success and growth of their company. Powerful leaders follow the ‘man-on-the-moon’ approach and put a stake in the ground before having a worked-out plan.

Leaders are not the messengers who report on what is working and not working. They are the authors who create, fulfill, and cause the future. Powerful leaders push their thinking to reach the boldest ideas and outcomes they can.

Powerful sales leaders should be creating their next year, not explaining the barriers and risks to achieving it.

During one of the presentations, one of the senior executives in the room stepped in and expressed disappointment with what he referred to as “the overly conservative objectives,” the sales leader was bringing forth. The sales leader rebutted by saying: “It is not a conservative objective; it is an accurate objective.” This only further highlighted the conservative mindset of the sales leader.

There are no accurate objectives! No one can predict the future. There are only bold guesses/predictions or conservative guesses/predictions. Or, in more enlightened terms: bold stands or conservative stands.

When people believe that there is such a thing as an accurate, correct, or right objective, they stop pushing their thinking; they search for accuracy instead of new possibilities.

In addition, at the end of one of the regional sales leader presentation, the finance leader questioned the sales leader by asking if their forecast was perhaps too high. It didn’t take a second for the regional sales leader to agree and further reduce their number.

This conservative and risk-averse attitude comes from people’s fear of commitment and accountability. People are afraid that if they promise a big commitment, take a risk, and fall short, they would receive retribution.

In most companies, accountability is viewed in a cynical and bad way. What do you expect when accountability is referred to in terms such as “one throat to choke“? No one wants their throat to be choked. People try to cover up the cynicism by using politically correct terms. However, in most companies, accountability means “deliver, or you will get fired!

So, if you want to transform the conservative and risk-averse mindset in your organization to a bolder and more innovative and big thinking one, start by promoting a culture in which people are encouraged to think big, take risks and make bold commitments.

Then, demonstrate to everyone – by action, not just words – that there are no negative consequences to failing for the right reasons.

Are you tolerating the blame game?

I was speaking with a senior executive in a global company who has a successful division. He described his team in the following way:

I have great, smart and committed people, but we don’t work as a powerful team. Trust is not high, we don’t address big issues well and I am especially frustrated by the fact that there is too much blame.”

I’ve known this executive for many years. He is a great leader, he has always had successful teams and he got to where he is by always achieving strong results. This time was no different. His business results were very strong, but he wanted to make them even stronger by getting rid of ‘the blame game’.

No matter how efficient or successful your team is from a business results standpoint, the blame game is always harmful and destructive. It undermines the team dynamic and creates a stressful work environment. When something goes wrong and there’s a witchhunt for whose fault it is, people react by hiding, covering their behinds, misrepresenting and being cautious. Nobody engages in a productive conversation to learn from past mistakes, which only perpetuates the situation and increases the likelihood the same problems will be repeated.

Unfortunately, most workplaces – even the most successful ones – are filled with people who spend more time and energy trying to avoid blame for something that did – or might – go wrong, than in anticipating and addressing the real problems.

In an environment in which people are too occupied by looking out for themselves and making sure everyone else, especially their superiors, knows that they are not at fault for issues, they also look and compete for credit and praise as evidence of being better than others.

This is because in most corporate environments people are threatened by others getting more credit and praise than them. The unspoken mindset, which shapes behavior is “The better you are, the worse I am”. People fear that others might get advanced and promoted before them. As a result, there is a subtle, but clear, orientation around “Look how great I am”. You can see it in the way people promote themselves and their agendas in meetings, presentations, and one-on-one conversations. It’s a constant wrestle, jocking for positions and status, which is “normal” in corporate environments, but nevertheless quite exhausting.

In this environment its harder for people to be happy with the accomplishment and success of others. Also, they are far less inclined to recognize and praise others for a job well done.

Contrast this with an environment of ownership and commitment, where people are orienting around open, honest conversations that lead to the source of the problems and allow for real resolution and improvement. In this environment, no one is interested in who’s at fault, but rather in getting to the source of problems. In this environment, people are eager to volunteer their insights, observations, and energy in addressing what was missing, what needs to be corrected and take personal ownership for resolving the issues.

In a healthy environment, people are also much more open to receiving feedback and constructive criticism, as the name game is “How can I get better all the time?” rather than a “gotcha” environment where they are consumed by the fear of being caught or penalized.

In a healthy team environment, where people feel they are working together towards a common aim there is no angst about credit and blame. In this environment, people are much more inclined to view others accomplishments as their own; they are far more generous in providing praise and recognition to colleagues.

This produces energy, inspiration, motivation, and a desire to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful.

So, if you want to create a powerful team environment without blame, focus on a few basic things:

  1. Make sure your team has a higher purpose and goal that everyone is clear about, aligned behind and excited about.
  2. Promote a recognition mindset and plan that rewards and promotes authentic, collaborative and courageous behavior.
  3. Put together an incentive plan that supports collective success, in addition to individual success.
  4. Explicitly declare your stance and commitment to building a strong team environment that is based on team alignment, collaboration, communication and success at every opportunity. Don’t tolerate anything else, and be willing to take developmental and disciplinary actions if people behave counter to your direction.
  5. Promote open, authentic and courageous communication around you. Role model this behavior yourself by sharing your thoughts and being open to honest feedback. Empower and encourage your team members to do the same.

Don’t underestimate the power of intention

I know too many people who don’t have the reality they want personally and/or professionally and they constantly complain about it, blame others or the circumstances for it and overall give excuses for it.

In fact, when I asked one of them the question “How are you doing?” their response was: “Same shit different day!” I have heard different variations on that theme from others…

Contrast that with a real-life story (no names) with two chapters:

Chapter One:

A sales team that was struggling with making their sales targeted numbers for a long time wanted a break. They had enough of wallowing in their sorrows. They wanted a breakthrough; they wanted to start winning and move from a survival mode to a thriving and abundant mode. So, to make a long story short, they had a “come to Jesus” meeting in which they all committed to a future (with specific details) that included making or exceeding their goals every quarter with more and bigger deals. They acknowledged that they had fallen into a “victim mentality” and they committed to stop complaining, blaming and justifying. This commitment was a big deal for them! The first quarter they came close, the second they made it and by the third quarter, they exceeded their results.

Needless to say, everyone was elated. However, with their new success came a lot more work and the new work was much more intense and demanding then they had been used to.

Chapter Two:

After two very successful quarters of record sales results, people were feeling the strains of the long hours and hard work. They had to hire many more people to accommodate their growth, but that was taking longer than everyone had hoped so the brunt of the hard work fell on fewer people.

Everyone felt the stress of over the lack of work/life balance. Even the people who were around before the success had forgotten where they came from.

When you walked the halls of this team you started to hear disgruntled team members engaging in negative conversations again – complaining, blaming and justifying their frustrations. Unfortunately, with time the negativity only increased and with it ownership, dedication and quality deteriorated.

When the team lost its first customer everyone brushed it off and attributed it to the circumstances. However, when their downward trend repeated itself and they had multiple issues with other deals and customers, which lead to them missing their sales results again, it was too late to turn things around.

Commitment and Intention are so powerful. You can understand this phrase, but if you don’t “get it”, trust it, apply it and live it this won’t make a difference.

The punch line is:

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you complain about it you will most likely continue to have that bad reality. I am sure you would agree…

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you commit to changing it, and then you start speaking and acting consistent with your new commitment, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if” – you will turn your predicament around.

However, if you succeed in turning your bad predicament around and you go back to complaining about what you got, or what is not working, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if”- you will lose what you created and return to your old state…

Even if you don’t understand how intention works or if you don’t believe that intention works – it still does!

You can either embrace the concept and figure out how to use it to your advantage, or you can reject and dismiss it and then you will lose the competitive advantage and power that this powerful principle could give you.

Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out

Too often I see the following scenario: A team meets to discuss issues critical to the organization’s success. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time, in fact, they can actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People stay within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

Take as an example a successful technology company that was trying to take its game to the next level. One of their biggest challenges – and opportunity – was to get all their business units and functions working together in a more cohesive and aligned way. Instead of interacting with customers with one voice, different sales and services groups were promoting their own agendas, often competing with other internal groups for customers’ mind-share and business. Cross-selling was suffering and a lot of potential revenues was left on the table.

The senior leadership team of this company made many attempts to get on the same page. They scheduled many long and exhausting meetings, but these perpetuated the vagueness and didn’t create clarity and alignment. Leaders left these meetings with different understandings and expectations and every time issues came up and a leader would say “But, we agreed on this!” a colleague would respond with “We never agreed on this!” Needless to say, this company was not going to the next level any time soon.

Why does this happen? It is either because leaders lack the courage to drive clarity in the face of controversy, or they lack the understanding of their role as leaders, or they lack the ability to effectively manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out!

Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation, and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 percent alignment behind a goal that is 80 percent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 percent behind one point of view and others are zero percent. How motivated are those ‘zero percent people’ to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so”.

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.

 

Are you dealing with successes and setbacks effectively?

Whenever you take on a major improvement, breakthrough or transformation in your team or company, it is inevitable that along the way you will have successes and setbacks. 

The bigger you play, the bigger your successes and/or setbacks will be. The only way to minimize the setbacks is to play smaller. The only way to increase the successes is to play bigger.  You will have to determine what is more important for you.

When it comes to successes and/or setbacks mindset is everything.

I was in a meeting with a team that had taken on a big change initiative. We were meeting after two months to review progress and firm up the plan forward. At the start of the meeting team members were sharing and giving updates on what they had achieved in their team projects since the start of the process, where they had seen progress and where they had experienced setbacks or lack of progress.

In one case two managers presented the status of their project, which had to do with building a stronger alignment with their corporate head office finance team in order to simplify the approval process for expenses and customer discounts. They had quite a different outlook on their reality. They started by giving a factual report on what they had achieved and what they had not. Among the items that they didn’t achieve was “A clear agreement with corporate on new spending and discount self-approval levels.”.

One of them went on to say:

Our relationship with corporate finance is still not working!

The other manager jumped in with a different take: “It’s true that we didn’t meet our goal of agreeing to clear new self-approval levels, but we have made significant progress and achieved the following results: (1) Corporate acknowledged for the first time that we need more authority, (2) They agreed to work with us to reach the right change, and (3) We have the first meeting scheduled in two weeks. Based on that, our next breakthrough now is to reach that final agreement.”

You could refer to this as the glass-half-empty versus the glass-half-full personalities and mindsets or the optimist versus the pessimist. Both are a valid way to view it. The “Still not working” and “We have accomplished X and now we need to accomplish Y” are two very different paradigms.

  • One owns the progress and the other avoids responsibility.
  • One is looking toward the future and the other from the past.
  • One is oriented around progress and the other around perfection.

When you take on a major improvement, breakthrough or transformation it is critical to stay focused on the future, own the journey, maintain your faith in the direction and keep looking for, and finding accomplishments and proof points for progress. It’s not a cheap spin on a grim reality. It’s a powerful and empowering interpretation that will keep you engaged and compelled to carry on.

When your benchmark for change is perfection, you may feel that you will never achieve it or even get close so you will give up. It is inevitable. But, when you keep seeing small, medium and/or large accomplishments, improvements and other proof points as progress, you will feel compelled and even excited to do more, achieve more and reach higher.

So, next time you feel like saying “X is still not working!” Think again. Look further to find what progress you have made and proclaim that. Then, look further again and declare what is the next breakthrough or progress you will take on next. Use the proof points of real, meaningful and specific signs of progress as the stepping stone to propel you forward to your ultimate future state.

Certain conversations will keep your future open with possibilities and your energy high. Other conversations will keep you cynical and stuck in the past.

I don’t need to ask, but which do you prefer…?