Clarity is key.

In this world of constant change and redefinition, dealing with ambiguity has become a critical capability for leaders and their teams.  Indeed, we need to find ways to forge ahead with confidence, even when the sands are shifting beneath our feet.

That said, too often, leaders use this as an excuse for not communicating clearly or giving clear direction.  Instead of the boss owning responsibility for these things, fingers are often pointed at employees for not being able to perform in ambiguous situations.

Setting clear direction and communicating crisply and clearly, even in murky situations, is an essential responsibility of leadership.  When people aren’t sure of what’s being asked of them, or their accountabilities are fuzzy, it slows them down – or paralyzes them entirely.  They are afraid to make a mistake, go in the wrong direction, or step on others’ toes.  This drives down productivity and morale, and increases costs to the organization.

If you are hesitant to give clear direction to your team because you’re unsure of the broader strategy, take the initiative to clarify it for yourself so you can clearly communicate it to the troops.  If the organization’s strategy is in flux, then break things down into smaller, shorter-term pieces and direct your team to work on those things.  Clarity is key.  The clearer you are, the greater the chances your team will meet or exceed your expectations and feel better about their work.

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When you’ve done wrong, apologize!

In our everyday business and personal lives, there are countless ways we can make mistakes that hurt our relationships.  We drop the ball on a commitment; violate a confidence; say or do something offensive.  And the list goes on.

As human beings, we are not perfect.  These moments will inevitably occur.  The more important question is: when they do happen, how do you respond?

It’s staggering how reluctant people can be (leaders especially) to take responsibility for these kinds of mistakes and apologize swiftly and sincerely.  Pride, ego, and fear of being viewed as weak often get in the way.  Before you know it, the moment has passed, you’ve avoided the conversation and moved on.  But the other person hasn’t. Ditch the notion that an apology is a sign of weakness. Indeed, it takes strength to own your mistakes, and it helps strengthen your relationships and your character when you take this important step.

There is a right and wrong way to apologize.  Saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way” suggests they are the one with the problem.  The right way is to own it and express sincere regret for the damage done. People are by nature forgiving. When they believe your apology is authentic, you will most likely be forgiven.  On the flip side, an insincere apology will exacerbate the situation. 

Today, ask yourself, “is there anyone in my life who deserves an apology?”

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Develop an attitude of gratitude.

There is a “gratitude movement” brewing; an emerging realization that by actively appreciating the good things, we can transform our lives, relationships and careers.  It’s so easy and (unfortunately) natural for us to focus on what’s wrong…what’s missing…what needs to change.  

As we move into a new year, consider the possibility that life --- your job, your team, your marriage, your company – may have a plethora of positives that are hidden beneath the shadows; positives that when recognized and verbalized, can change your outlook and your relationships.

I am not suggesting turning a blind eye to issues that need attention, but more equal “air play” of the good stuff.  A better balance.

When was the last time you told a direct report, boss, friend, spouse or child what you appreciate about them?  How often do you intentionally take stock of the blessings in your life? Just the act of doing these simple things can shift your perspective as well as your mood.

As you relate to the world – your world – as a happier, more grateful human being, you will see that others relate to you differently.  As a leader, you can set a new tone of positivity that can energize and motivate your troops.

Begin your journey of gratitude today. Reach out to 5 people (a mix of personal and professional), and tell them what you appreciate about them.  See how you feel….and how they react!  

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Don’t sit on performance issues.

It is staggering how many times we come across leaders who are avoiding performance issues on their teams.  They know someone isn’t cutting it, and yet they avoid having the crucial conversations.  They allow the sub-standard performance to continue under the guise of giving the person another (and another, and another) chance.

There comes a time when you know that there is a talent mismatch; that you’ve put a person in a role that does not play to their strengths, or that they simply cannot meet expectations.  This person is a liability to you and the organization, and you are doing them (and their colleagues) a disservice by refusing to address it head-on.  Everybody has their sweet spot: areas where they excel.  If someone is not excelling on your team, you need to help them move to a place where they can shine.

As a leader, surrounding yourself with top talent is job #1.  It is the crucial factor in accomplishing key organizational objectives and enabling you to enjoy greater work-life balance.  When you have mediocre talent on your team, you will have to work harder and longer (often shifting into micromanagement) to get the job done right. You will second-guess the output of the team, and often find yourself settling for okay when you know you could have great.

What are you waiting for?  Today, resolve to take action on that nagging performance issue that you know needs to be addressed.  You and your organization will be better for it.

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Make "active listening" a habit.

Listening is one of the most essential practices of successful leaders.  In fact, it underpins all healthy relationships.  Messages, both direct and subtle, are coming at us all the time.  The question is whether we are paying close enough attention to truly hear them.  As a leader, a lack of active listening can have major impacts:  you can become disconnected from your customers and your employees, you can miss an idea for your next great innovation, lose touch with the political landscape of your organization, and the list goes on.

In an environment of “continuous partial attention” where multi-tasking is the norm, it’s hard to stay present when we are interacting with others.  How many times have we had a conversation and come away wondering if the person heard a word we said?  We feel deflated, minimized, even disrespected.  On the flip side, when we feel like we have truly been heard, we feel valued and energized.

To become a better listener, shift from passive to active engagement in your interactions.  Turn your phone face-down and turn away from your computer screen.  Make eye contact.  Take notes while the other person is talking.  Stop and summarize what you are hearing along the way.  Ask follow-up questions. At the end of the conversation, recap what you heard, and any next steps that will be taken.

Today, try these techniques with a colleague, friend or family member.  It’ll become one of your most helpful habits!

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