Leadership is Uncomfortable

If you are doing it right, leadership is uncomfortable. Not in a weird, creepy way, but in an “I have to do things I don’t want to do kind of way.”  These “things” are different for everyone, but every leader has things they have to do that make them uncomfortable.  I think if we are honest with ourselves we mostly uncomfortable with the same few things.  We all know that getting outside of what makes us comfortable is vital for a leader but being honest about this and talking about these times will make it easier to step outside that comfort zone.  The few things I get uncomfortable with or at least give me some level of anxiety are below.

Making decisions.  I have no issues making a decision.  I rarely, if ever, get analysis paralysis, or make premature decisions.  I think I’m an above average at critical thinking.  But even with high self-confidence, I still get uncomfortable making decisions.  I want to make the right one, I know I will make mistakes, but what kind of mistake will I make and what cost will that mistake incur?   Will it hurt the people that work for me?  Will my decision set my organization back to a place that was even before I made the decision?  Time will be lost, but will that lost time be worth it?  The big thing with making decisions is to realize that you will make a mistake, you will screw it up from time to time.  But as long as you recognize these moments early and learn from them, the lost time is not wasted.  It is time well spent because you learned and will apply it the next time you face that situation.

Tough conversations (confrontation). Talking to your boss about their toxic behavior, telling a coworker they smell bad and need to shower, telling someone you like that they are doing a lousy job, or firing them.  These are all very uncomfortable situations, and they never get better.  The hardest for me is to tell your peer or your supervisor that they are making a mistake or doing something that is causing a problem.  It is especially tricky when you know they will react poorly to your input.  The best way to handle this is to provide many examples and do your best to be gentle.  Taking criticism is hard but getting into a match of who makes the most mistakes will not help the situation.  Give them an opportunity to respond to the criticism, but don’t get involved in a back and forth about who does what.  If they want to talk about your behavior, tell them that you are more than willing to discuss it after you have resolved the current issue.  Being calm and reasonable is usually the best way to deal with the confrontation.

Pressure to perform.  Let’s face it; performance is why you get paid.  A leader is responsible for tasks that they are not actually going to do.  You have to ensure people do well and to do that you must make sure the processes are there to support high-quality work.  This, above all, is uncomfortable.  How do you get people to perform at a high level?  How do you get them to want to do the tedious work and do it every day?  Everywhere and every job is different, but listening to your people is the first step, having high standards, feeding confidence to your people and holding them accountable is a great start.  Work hard and be deliberate in your actions and you will do great.

 

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The Storm

In November of last year (2017), I wrote an article about my team that articulated the trouble we were in.  Poor performance all around.  I also determined the course of action was to simplify the tasks and build a solid foundation.  We had quite a bit of turnover which caused chaos within the team.  Now, a few months later I want to revisit my team.

The decision to simplify was the right one.  I called a meeting with the team and wanted to discuss how we could simplify the tasks and still meet the operational mandates of the organization.  But before I could call the meeting, one of my most honest (and forthcoming) supervisors came by to talk.  He was frustrated; with me, with the job, with almost everything.  The bottom line was he was losing faith in me.  Admittedly, I was initially upset and frustrated that he couldn’t see my vision and was losing trust, but after some self-reflection, there was no way he could see things from my perspective, with all the turmoil going on in our division.  He was doing me a great favor by talking to me.  He was warning me about the storm that was coming.  A storm I could feel but wanted to believe I could prevent with my sheer willpower and leadership skills.  What I realize now is that the storm is essential.

With this new information, I still called the meeting, but instead of my original plan, I decided to have a very candid discussion about their frustrations and wanted to make sure they had a chance to vent.  Listening to them complain about the things I was and was not doing is difficult!  But I know myself and understand my strengths are not in sitting back and letting the team complain without interjection.  I challenged their thoughts and beliefs.  I wanted them to know I heard them, but most of their frustration was due to miscommunication and misunderstandings, which we addressed and agreed to work on.

Now we are moving forward.  I scheduled and held the meeting two weeks later to address simplifying the work and getting more organized.  And my team feels better because they have a voice and it has been heard.  At the meeting, we discussed, among other topics, daily tasks that are not accomplished and I reinforced our commitment to accountability.  The simplified tasks and functions have worked like a charm.  The mistakes are down, and morale is higher than it has been over the past year.  This is all due to higher quality work and clear expectations of performance.

Since we have reestablished our foundation and are performing well, we have begun to get back to more advanced training.  We have developed several new items to train on to push the employees beyond their comfort zone.  The entire division is doing phenomenal and consistently improving.  They complain a bit, but without pressure, there is no growth.

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Don’t Be Busy, Be Effective!

I hear so many people talk about how busy they are.  It is constant.  Each new task, each new problem, the same response every time, “I’m too busy to add more to my plate!” We’ve all heard it and might be true in some cases, but other times its just hyperbole.  It seems like the cool thing to say as a manager, that you are the busiest and have no time for anything else.  That you are overworked and many other descriptions of the same thing.

The problem is being busy is a bad thing.  How can you or your organization be agile and be able to adjust to meet demand if you are so busy?  A great quote I read once is “You can’t be too busy mopping the floor, to shut off the faucet.”  So being busy is just an exercise in priorities.  Sometimes you won’t have the option of what to do or which priorities you have, but you can always discuss it.  When you are in a position to determine your priorities, it is all about doing what is important for the organization to be successful.

So, how does an organization do this?  There need to be deliberate discussions about what is and what is not a priority.  Hopefully, the items determined to be a priority align with the organizational goals.  If they do not align, then this is a good indicator you have either the wrong goals or the wrong priorities.

Achieving a balance is needed because cleaning the bathroom might not be an organizational priority that will align with an organizational goal, if it is not done regularly, nasty things will happen. This is where the problems begin because at some point everything will become a priority.  What you end up with is managers not being able to distinguish priorities for their work.

Look at the typical tasks you are required to complete and build priority groups.  Doing so will help the members of the organization responsible for creating a suspense for these tasks a way to determine how long to give the group to respond.  You might create five priority groups that your organization can assign tasks to, then when something is a low priority, people won’t ask for a same-day turnaround.

Take, for example, a low priority task like providing the IT department the type of paper you use.  This job would easily fall in the lowest priority category.  That category would come with a minimum two weeks completion time, meaning you have two weeks to respond.  If the priority needed to be bumped up, clear and compelling justification would need to be provided.  Once your organization knows how to prioritize, it will be easy to find the balance that is “just right.”

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The Rent to Own Organization

I had a supervisor (Bob) that used to ask, “Are you a renter or an owner”? It seems like a crazy question in the context of organizational management, so I would usually say “I rent my house, but own my car!” After that, I would usually get his famous LOD (Look Of Disapproval). The look was meant to get everyone to be serious when we were off topic and not focused. Bob continued to ask if we treated the cars we own better than the cars we have rented. Nobody wanted to admit it, but it’s clear we treat the cars we own better than the ones we rent. There are many reasons we do this, but one of the biggest is that we will not be around to see or even care about the long-term effects our nonchalance has on the vehicle.

At this point, we could mostly see where he was going. But the question still stood. How do you get people in an organization to treat it as if they own it? How do you convince people that are only there for a few years at a time to treat everything as if they are going to be there for 20 or 30 years? I’ll admit, it’s not an easy question to answer and there is never a perfect solution. Below are three things you can do to get a start.

  1. Give ownership to your people. An excellent way to get people to be owners is to give them ownership within the organization. Give them responsibility for processes, people, operations, or equipment. Give them autonomy to work within the parameters you set and allow them to make mistakes, learn, and they will start down the ownership path.
  2. Deliberately guide the culture. Culture can go a long way to making employees feel like owners. Culture is created from the top down. The leaders of the organization are responsible for showing the rest of the organization what is important. To drive culture, bring all the leaders together and develop a clear path to the culture you desire. Make empowerment and ownership a focal point for the culture and let the team come up with ideas to help move it along.
  3. Put people first. The greatest and most important way to make your organization “world-class” is to show your people that the organization cares for them. Do things for them without agenda or expectation that the organization will get something in return. A great example is to encourage personal progression outside of the organization. Help your people make progress on their dreams. If this action is taken, you will decrease employee turnover rates and even when you help someone get become qualified in an area outside of your business, you will gain their loyalty. These people will advocate on your behalf to other potential employees.

Apply the above three steps in your organization, and you will be well on your way to converting renters into owners!