“Perhaps you could be the gatekeeper, perhaps you could determine who gets in to see the President and who doesn’t, but you could also read every document that comes across his desk and decide which ones he even considers.” (Woodrow Wilson’s Doctor, to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson).
So to some degree I’d say she was something between a chief of staff, and well, maybe she was the first female president of the United States. She was certainly – she would say not making decisions, but she was deciding in many ways what the president might decide.
(from an interview of Woodrow Wilson Biographer A. Scott Berg, Wilson, on Fresh Air)
I heard this interview with Scott Berg, and though it was filled with interesting insight about President Wilson, I especially perked up at the “gatekeeper” line. No, of course, my job is not as demanding as that of the President. But I get the idea — and it is transferable to other jobs, for sure. I thought, I need my own personal gatekeeper! Here’s why I thought this.
I spend my time reading, writing, speaking. That’s pretty much it. Oh, you can call me a business consultant, a teacher, a speaker, a corporate trainer, a speech and presentation skills coach, a speech writer…
But, it boils down to this. I read, I write, I speak. That’s pretty much it.
The problem is deciding what to read. There is simply too much to choose from.
I’ve got web sites.
I’ve got magazines.
I’ve got books.
And more books.
And even more books.
And, I read book reviews, and articles from and about new books, and I peruse lists of “the best books about…”. But… so many books, so little time.
So, I’ve had to become ever more intentional about serving as my own gatekeeper. I have to decide, for myself. I have to play the role that Mrs. Wilson played for her husband, the President:
“You could also read every document (every article, every book) that comes across his desk and decide which ones he even considers.”
So, that’s my agenda item right now. How to better decide what to read, and what to “skip.” Your question might be different, but it is very similar: “I have to decide which client to invest more time with. I have to decide which appointments to make. I have to decide which networking gatherings to attend. I have to decide…”
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Have you ever been driving and noticed that your car is pulling slightly to the right or left? Although not for certain, it is most likely your vehicle is out of alignment. Typically, realignment solves the problem and as soon as proper adjustments are made you’re staying in the correct lane with minimal effort.
Local governments can also get out of alignment. There are many reasons why this occurs, and you may even need to bring in a realignment expert to get you back on track. Before it gets to that point however, there are some questions you can ask internally. The answers to those questions may bring your counsel, department, or team back into alignment with your organization’s mission, vision, and values.
Before working through this list, take a few moments to read through your organization’s mission and vision statements. Those along with your core values comprise your business strategy. Based on your business strategy, it is important for managers and supervisors to consistently process questions such as:
– Do our goals, policies, and actions align with our business strategy?
– When interviewing and hiring, are we equipping our interviewers to review vision and mission statements and core values as part of job expectations?
– Do employees wishing to promote demonstrate our vision and mission statements and core values in their behaviors and attitudes?
– When potential employees are interviewed, are questions posed regarding their ability to align head and heart with our business strategy?
– Do all employees know the role they play in moving our business strategy forward?
– Are feedback mechanisms in place for executive leadership to receive timely input regarding business strategy obstacles?
– Are all departments properly staffed to fulfill our business strategy?
– Is the existing workforce purposefully equipped to further develop and align knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics with the business strategy?
These types of questions are designed to keep your organization aligned with why it exists while staying focused on where it is heading. If your local government knows why it exists, then it can identify employee attributes, characteristics, skills, knowledge, and abilities that align with that reason for existence. By consistently processing these types of questions (and others like them) you are positioned to continue heading in the right direction without being pulled away from what matters most.
Here’s what appears to be a no-brainer. Who was the better communicator – John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Baines Johnson?
It seems like no-contest. I can quote line after line from speeches by President Kennedy. I don’t think I can quote a single line from an LBJ speech. In fact, I think the line I know best from him is this line, from an address to the nation – not quite a “speech” in the traditional sense: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept…”
So, JFK – the better communicator? Right.
I’m not so sure. Maybe LBJ wins that contest. He just gave his “speeches” to one person at a time – over the telephone. Lyndon Johnson was the Grand Champion, Super Bowl Champion, Gold Medal winner phone communicator of all time.
He was charming, direct – he could be ruthless, unyielding – all over the phone. Over the last few years, as more and more of his phone calls have been released to the public, we learn that he would call anyone, anytime, and make his points clearly, and his demands known. And, from all appearances, he never hesitated to make that phone call.
Now, the rhetoric of President Kennedy was soaring, hope-instilling, almost at times awe-inspiring. LBJ was more “get things done, nuts and bolts” in his phone calls. And, as many observers have noted, he knew how to move legislation along. The accomplishments were breathtaking: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare.
But, the question is… how did President Johnson get so much much done?
The answer: The telephone. One phone call at a time.
He called practically everybody who could help him, one person at a time. And he did not hesitate to call those who disagreed with him, even those who opposed him, again one person at a time.
He cultivated relationships, he gave voice to his arguments, he appealed, he cajoled, he arm-twisted. One person at a time, phone call after phone call.
To become a better speaker, study John F. Kennedy.
But to become a better communicator, you might want to listen in on more of the phone calls of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
And the next time you think an e-mail and/or a text message is good enough, well… maybe it’s time to remember the value of words spoken, and heard, over the phone.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Everyone wants to lead a great team that is known for innovation, excellence, and accomplishment; but great teams need leaders who are emotionally healthy enough to lead effectively. What does a healthy leader look like?
- Healthy leaders take advice from a variety of sources, yet they are independent enough to use wise discernment.
I am equally leery of a leader who can’t take advice or can’t make their own decisions. Either extreme indicates a leader who is too insecure to lead effectively.
- Healthy leaders are resilient enough not to collapse when things go wrong.
One thing is certain: “Things will go wrong.” Fragile leaders seem unable to accept this as a part of reality, so they play the blame game. Healthy leaders accept hardships and adversity as the pathway to success.
- Healthy leaders avoid the trap of seeking revenge.
Following a leader who is driven by revenge is like being on a runaway train. The desire for revenge in the heart of a leader clouds his/her judgment, creates constant anxiety within the team, and makes it almost impossible for the team to stay focused on the right things.
- Healthy leaders do not show partiality due to political pressures.
Every leader faces pressures from external forces. It’s simply one of those things that come with being a leader. However, great leaders possess the courage to lead without constantly checking to see which way the wind is blowing. Unhealthy leaders, who are not sure of who they are or what they stand for, tend to let political pressures cause them to show partiality. This creates uncertainty and fosters an environment where people lose confidence. It causes them to believe that there is an inherent lack of fairness.
- Healthy leaders speak the truth without using it as a battering ram.
Some leaders are too afraid to speak candidly enough to give people genuine feedback. This often indicates that the leader has an unhealthy fear of people. On the other hand, some leaders should get penalized for “unsportsmanlike conduct” over and over. They tell the truth, alright, but they are so frank that they crush people’s spirits. This suggests that a leader is either immensely insecure or has a deep disrespect for others.
- Healthy leaders put the needs of others in front of their own wants.
Some leaders see their position as a license to fill their own lives with comforts and perks, even while the rest of their team suffers from a lack of resources. They seek validation through status symbols. Healthy leaders aren’t looking for validation. They see themselves as servants to a great cause—and to their team.
Happy Thanksgiving! Be Grateful and Be Healthy!
Have you ever had a to-do list at the beginning of the day that you made no progress on by the end of the day?
If I were to ask you why nothing got accomplished, you’d probably say that other issues “suddenly came up”. Maybe it was an unexpected e-mail or an impromptu phone call, but somehow, another task arose that completely redirected your attention.
Everyone has days like that, but the problem lies in how frequently that kind of day occurs in your organization. If it happens too often, you’re spending more time “putting out fires” than completing and staying on top of your duties.
The number one culprit of this imbalance is poor time management, either by yourself or others. And to improve time management skills, you have to know the difference between an emergency and urgency.
Emergency: an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action.
Urgency: very important and needing immediate attention.
These definitions may look identical, but take a closer look. There’s a key word that determines whether a situation is an actual emergency: unforeseen.
So, are these things that “suddenly come up” a result of an unforeseen circumstance, or does your organization have people who don’t know how to manage their time (procrastinators, unorganized and forgetful employees, etc.)? These types of workers can ruin the productivity of others.
New tasks pop up all the time that will threaten to interrupt your workday, so adopt the mentality of “your urgency is not my emergency”—basically meaning that someone else’s problem due to a lack of planning does not mean you always need to spring into action to patch things up.
This shouldn’t be an excuse to not help your colleagues when you can. Just be sure that their request takes the proper place on your list of priorities—it won’t always have to trump everything else you need to get done.
Be a team player, be willing to be flexible, but don’t get too caught up in others’ “urgencies” that you lose track of what you need to do.
This week, one of my colleagues at SGR, who lives out in the country, had an infestation of rattlesnakes under her house! Can you imagine? She loves animals, but that didn’t keep her from taking drastic steps to make sure that the snakes understood it was her house—not theirs. She didn’t think for a second that co-existence was a long-term possibility, either. As soon as she knew they were there, she had complete clarity: it was either her or them.
Make it “them”.
It’s funny, but sometimes we lack the same clarity when it comes to “co-existence” with toxic team members. For some reason, we entertain the fantasy that it’s possible to keep toxic people on the team without the culture becoming… well, toxic.
That’s a fantasy that turns into a nightmare faster than you can say, “Rattlesnake Kate.” When we allow toxic people to remain on the team, we often do so because we misunderstand one really important reality. We console ourselves by telling ourselves and others that no one is getting seriously injured, and we ignore the fact that the issue is not how many people have been bit or how seriously they were hurt. The real issue is that the culture is toxic, even if someone hasn’t been poisoned.
My colleague didn’t tolerate the rattlesnakes or comfort herself by saying, “No one’s been bit, yet.” Common sense told her, “They can’t stay.”
Leaders have to realize that protecting the culture of your team is just as critical as protecting the safety of your home. If your team isn’t safe, if your culture is toxic, people can’t work as effectively because they are constantly concerned with minimizing, managing, and surviving the toxicity of the culture. The question is: leader, why do you tolerate that?
Harvard Business School has identified seven symptoms of a toxic team member:
- Frequently complains about and criticizes others in public.
- Brings out the worst in other members.
- Attacks people instead of criticizing the issues.
- Talks in the hall, but not in the room.
- Constantly disagrees with everyone and everything.
- Displays chronic discrepancies between public words and private actions.
- Claims to understand his or her behavior, but seems unable to change.
I don’t know about you, but I think that allowing someone like that to remain on your team is somewhat akin to letting a rattlesnake live in your house. It’s not easy to get rid of a rattlesnake that’s living under your house; but it’s worth it because no matter what it takes, it certainly beats the alternative.
The same is true with a toxic team member. Tolerating toxic team members should not even be an option.
I’ve only had it happen a time or two in my career.
It made me want to look for another job. I remember feeling a myriad of emotions—shock, anger, and disappointment.
What could invoke so much anxiety you might ask? It’s called, “Getting thrown under the bus.”
According to urbandictionary.com, “One is thrown under the bus when they are made the scapegoat or blamed for something that wasn’t their responsibility in the first place. A cover-up for your mistake.”
If you manage people, it is very important that you do not throw employees under the bus or allow it to happen within the culture of your team. Here are some tips to you help you avoid this demoralizing behavior:
- Seek to understand before you react: The first time I was thrown under the bus, my manager said to a customer, “Well, he’s young, so I will talk to him and get it straightened out.” What my manager failed to discern was that the person to whom he was speaking was lying. Instead of agreeing with the complainer, a healthy response would have been, “I appreciate the information. Please allow me to discuss this with my employee, and I will follow up with you as soon as possible.” I would have respected that response. I had no respect for the response that was given.
- Focus on facts – not emotions: When emotions are running high, it is not always easy to be rational. If you are angry, do not lash out. Instead, take some time to cool down. Then, begin gathering facts that are based on behavior and outcome, not attitudes and intentions. Once you have calmed down, invite the employee into your office to discuss the facts and see if you can determine what you are dealing with versus what you are feeling.
- Put your employees first: If an event, criticism, missed deadline, etc., causes you anxiety, do not take it out on your employees. Most external customers will be honest in their dealings with you, but some will be dishonest. They will do whatever it takes to cover their tracks—including making it look like someone from your organization is to blame. If that happens, always give your employees the benefit of the doubt. Putting your employees first increases the likelihood that they will offer the same courtesy to you.
Have any pieces of advice to add to this discussion? List them below. We promise to not throw you under the bus for sharing!
Yep, it’s that time of year.
Let’s assume that you take your business seriously. That means that you plan well, and thoroughly, for the coming year. Your planning is a serious effort. You develop a “strategic plan” and then spend the coming months executing your plan.
So, if that’s the case, you need two meetings pretty soon. These are not ten-minute meetings. These are “get away in a retreat-like ‘leave-us-alone-while-we-work’ setting, and tackle these issues pretty seriously” meetings.
I have a two-part agenda to recommend.
Part One: Conduct a thorough “after-action review” of the year coming to a close.
Part Two: Create a thorough strategic plan and execution plan for the coming year.
For part one, ask yourself and the team :
- What did we plan to do?
- What did we actually do? (Are we good at execution?)
- What went well and why? (So, was this a good plan? And then, assuming we carried out the plan…)
- What can be improved and how? (So, what do we need to correct, tweak, change, add?)
After an honest after-action review of the year coming to an end, then you tackle the planning part of the meeting.
For part two, I strongly recommend that you consider the excellent approach recommended by Verne Harnish, author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. He provides plenty of resources, including his one-page strategic plan.
His plan revolves around the “four decisions”:
- People: Does your organization have the right people to meet its goals?
- Strategy: Do you have a real plan – or is your team just reacting to the marketplace?
- Execution: Are you achieving your project milestones and strategic goals?
- Cash: Has your payroll increased beyond your planned budget?
This I know… the very act of planning well will help you have a much more productive and profitable year. It really is leadership negligence to skip this step, or to do it poorly. Do it well. It will pay rich dividends.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
“There are very, very few organizations today that have sufficient leadership. Until we face this issue, understanding exactly what the problem is, we’re never going to solve it. Unless we recognize that we’re not talking about management when we speak of leadership, all we will try to do when we do need more leadership is work harder to manage. At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.”
– Dr. John P. Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard and Chief Innovation Office at Kotter International
It’s amazing to me how many people who are in positions of leadership in the eyes of others function as managers—not leaders—all the while referring to themselves as… leaders! However, in the final analysis, John Kotter reminds us that being a great manager at a time when what’s needed is great leadership puts your organization in a very vulnerable position.
I often ask myself, “Why is there such a lack of leadership in so many organizations?” I think that in some cases, we misunderstand what leadership is; and I believe that sometimes we miss the starting point of leadership, which leads to frustration—which causes us to default to being a manager, instead of a leader.
Great leadership is not about barking orders to everyone around you. It’s not about motivating people to do what you want them to do, while making them think that it is actually what they wanted to do. That’s really just manipulation, disguised as motivation; and great leadership is not about manipulation. Great leadership is about enabling people to work together to achieve a shared vision. Increasingly, I believe that the key thought is “shared vision”, and the key word is: shared.
I lead a lot of workshops where people say, “The problem in our organization is trust.” Leaders want teams to trust each other, and they want employees to trust leaders. However, I find very few leaders who are willing to trust the employees enough to allow them to participate in creating a “shared” vision.
Leader, ask yourself some questions:
- Have I articulated a clear vision for my organization?
- To what degree is the vision a “shared” vision?
- Do the people in the organization really “own” this vision?
- What percentage of the employees could accurately describe the vision?
- Can I explain the benefit to the employee if the organization achieves the vision?
Without that trust and without that shared vision, leaders are faced with either management or manipulation. Pick your poison.
Did you know that everyone has a “love language”? It’s the way we prefer to express and receive love.
Psychologists and counselors use the term when referring to romantic relationships, but this same concept can be applied to work relationships also.
In the workplace, it’s called an “appreciation language”—the way one prefers to express and receive appreciation. It’s a great way to ensure that you’re showing gratitude in a manner that most impacts each specific employee.
There are five kinds from which to choose, according to Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White’s guidelines:
- Words of Affirmation
This language uses words (both oral and written) to affirm and encourage others. Some people prefer one-on-one communication, while others value being praised in front of others (but it is important to know that relatively few people like to receive public affirmation in front of a large group).
- Quality Time
Under this category, personal, focused time and attention with a supervisor is highly affirming. It could also include hanging out with coworkers, working together as a team on a project, or simply having someone take the time to listen to them.
- Acts of Service
This type of appreciation is about assisting in getting a task done. Helping a teammate catch up on work or working collaboratively on a project that would be difficult to do alone are all ways to demonstrate appreciation for their efforts.
- Tangible Gifts
This language is pretty self-explanatory. However, the key to an effective gift in the workplace is the thought, not the amount of money spent. Taking time to notice what a colleague enjoys and buying them a small related gift shows that you are getting to know them as a person.
- Appropriate Physical Touch
The keyword here is appropriate. These interactions occur spontaneously and in the context of celebration—a high-five, fist bump, slap on the back, or congratulatory handshake. To not touch one another at all often leads to a cold, impersonal environment for those in this category.
So, which language are you? And most importantly, what languages are most effective for each of your colleagues?
Knowing this could be the difference between a coworker feeling uniquely valued or just part of the crowd.