This spring I worked with a team that had seen impressive growth over an 18-month period. But you wouldn’t have known it by how they presented themselves. They were exhausted. They were experiencing low-level conflict and tension. They complained that if things kept going this way, they were expecting significant employee turnover. Despite their success, the future looked bleak, like a recipe for burnout.
The first thing we did was to take stock of where they were and what they had accomplished. Not the version of things they were making up, but the real reality. We talked about how they’d grown. We talked about how their communication was mostly successful, even with their fast-moving client. We talked about systems that they had built, without even realizing, along the way. It was a collective hugfest, and once their mood had shifted they found a few very simple solutions that could significantly increase their efficiency.
What they realized is something so many of us forget. Success doesn’t mean that all problems will be resolved forever. Change invites new opportunities…and new challenges. So the next time you feel like the problems never end, ask yourself: is this new challenge is here because just before it, I did something well?
For more on how to be more creative and solve bigger problems, take a look at “Positive Intelligence” by Shirzad Chamine. Please feel free to schedule a call with me by clicking here about your role on a team that feels like it is in chaos.
One of the things I hear consistently from clients is, “We’re working on clarifying roles and responsibilities.” And while that’s important, it’s not the whole issue. Take my recent visit to Dunkin Donuts. When I asked for more milk in my coffee, the woman said, “How many milks?” ”Huh? Just the one?” I thought to myself. For those employees, each squirt from the machine is a “milk” and they, in turn have trained the customers to ask for milk by number. It’s one approach — roles and responsibilities are clear — but I believe it leaves people disengaged and not accountable. The Dunkin Donuts was in the middle of farm country and we were talking about milk. What could be more basic?
Marie Kondo woke us up to the reality that we can’t organize our way to a beautiful home. Buying more boxes to organize stuff only gets us more boxes. The real issue is that we have too much stuff. It’s the same with organizing people and work. While we do need to organize ourselves, without the simplifying element of trust, and without understanding the underlying dynamics of the organization’s culture, we don’t get the productivity we want. According to Patrick Lencioni, absence of trust leads to artificial harmony and conflict avoidance. In one of the most powerful exercises I do with teams, each person gives and gets positive and difficult feedback about their behavior. People love it because they finally learn that they can ask for what they need without creating conflict. Combine that with well-defined roles and responsibilities, and it’s a powerful combination.
Camping in Vermont this past August, my family and I discovered a beaver living just 100 feet down-river from our site. On day two we named him George because he swam in very close to our dock to smell and listen to us. Not long after, he smacked his tail and dove underwater. I shifted from “Awwwww, cute,” to a nervous, “heh, heh,” when I realized that I had no idea how beavers behave when they feel threatened. “Is 100 feet too close?” “Is the tail smack a signal that he is about to run out of the water, teeth bared, claws extended, ready to attack?” “Can a beaver run faster than a 10-year old boy?”
I wrestled with some feelings of shame after boasting that I was going camping. I’m really just a city girl who knows more about getting from City Hall to the Upper West Side on the subway at rush hour than I do about the rhythms of nature. And it occurred to me that growth is like that. Whether you are growing your team or business, just got a promotion, or are working to be a more effective leader, it’s often not what you thought it would be. You are disoriented. You need time to learn new rhythms. You may feel some shame that you don’t know what you’re doing. All of that is normal.
In the end, I learned that George was in fact signaling to his buddies that we were in their space. And that his normal behavior was a good thing because it meant he wasn’t rabid(!) I managed my disaster fears and was amazed by how quickly I learned his rhythms. I even got the attached photo of him doing his morning swim.
If you are experiencing change (and we all are these days), know that some wobble goes along with growth and change, for you and for your team. If you want to have a quick chat about change and growth, click here.
When I was in business school, a fellow student in my strategy class always had the response the professor was looking for. It was especially impressive because the professor was notorious for assigning 60+ pages of dense reading per class. After the third class, I asked him how he did it. He said, “Pay attention. In class, she tells you the key reading. Read that; leave the rest in a big pile for someday, when school’s done.” (I hauled those readings through four apartment moves until I finally gave up.)
I’m forever grateful to this student for reminding me of the importance of prioritizing. From then on I felt prepared, and the boost in confidence was game-changing. Today as an entrepreneur/CEO, that lesson is more important than ever. If I didn’t spend significant time each quarter, month, week and day prioritizing, delegating and plowing through, I’d be at a standstill. Time management is a vast topic, but here are a few of my favorite rules:
- Outside of your daily work, decide 2-3 goals each quarter and focus consistently on those (one should be results/bottom-line oriented). You will not grow your team and organization if you don’t move “important/not urgent” goals forward. And yes, putting aside other goals is hard, but focusing on too much leads to overwhelm and lower productivity.
- Write a to-do list, then schedule it. And leave yourself A LOT of time between tasks. Things take longer and shorter than you expect and if you schedule it too tightly, the plan doesn’t work.
- Plan to do less. Ending the day feeling disappointed saps way too much energy. When you put less on your list you are more likely to end the day with that happy, skipping feeling, and that builds momentum.
- Do it. Don’t let “not fun” get in the way of doing things. You will lose out on the feeling of accomplishment.
- Measure and celebrate your success. Every day I take a few minutes to review what I am grateful for from the last 24 hours, including 2-3 accomplishments. The shift to my well-being, and reduction in my stress, is immediate. To learn more about this, see “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor.
- And finally, make a Whole Life To Do list that includes personal and work. I learned this from Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Personal things that take mental space are like a tire with a slow leak; you can’t fully concentrate and work things take way longer.
Nothing matters more than your well-being, and taking good care of yourself leads to much greater productivity. If you want to have a conversation about time management, click here to book a complimentary call with me.
There’s a feeling in the air that I love towards the end of August. The city has more people again, and there is a palpable anticipation. It makes me want to run to the stationery store and load up on notebooks and bubble gum smelling Hello Kitty erasers, and cut and fold paper shopping bags into textbook covers. It’s the end of the ease of summer, and I look forward to being swept up in the reconnecting and being productive.
If you haven’t already, it’s a great time to think about what you are wanting next. We do get swept up, and if you don’t take a moment to consciously think about how you want to grow as a manager or professional, it can be October before you know it, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas.
So take a moment. What’s going on for you? Is there a goal that’s been floating for a while? What would further progress look like, and what immediate next steps could you take? If you would like to have a quick conversation about your next steps, click here to schedule a complimentary call.
I just ended a four-week grand jury duty. Yes, every afternoon for four weeks. It was a challenge to say the least. But what I love about jury duty is the sitting around waiting, and talking and connecting to New Yorkers you don’t get to talk to every day. It’s the best. It opens up so many perspectives.
One conversation I had was with a lovely 21-year old Orthodox Jewish woman. She told me that her community’s tradition of shutting down all electronics, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, has taken on new meaning in the digital age. Saturday has become far and away her favorite day of the week. No cell phone, just doing things with friends and family and connecting. What a gift.
The rare times I’ve forgotten my phone over the last couple of years have been so peaceful. I am determined to have a screen-free day each weekend with my family and friends. Join me?
During my Career Confidence course this summer, one participant said that what she liked most was having clear and concise steps to follow — to figure out the kind of job she wants, how to talk about herself to the people who can help her get promoted or a new job lead, and what to say to feel confident in an interview.
When I work with managers, they often say that they knew what I’m teaching, but it’s nice to hear it confirmed. A bit like when you put on an outfit and turn to your friend and say, “Are the earrings too much?” “Yeah, go with the simple ones,” “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Thanks.” It’s like we are flying by intuition half the time and it is so nice to have confirmation that we are doing it right (or a helpful tweak if we aren’t). Reducing uncertainty helps decrease stress and increase confidence.
So give it a try. What are you wanting to do next to grow in your career or as a manager? One of my favorites models for a simple career/leadership architecture is “Expect to Win” by Carla Harris. You can grab one of her pearls and make that a focus for the next few months.
Four Secrets to Getting Your Employees to Take Initiative…So You Can Get Your Work Done
What Getting Fired Taught me About Work
Just after my 30th birthday, I got fired from my job. I still remember the room spinning when I got the news. It wasn’t something I ever expected to happen, and yet it was an enormous gift. Here’s what I learned:
- The company is not your parents. I guess I was naive, but it never occurred to me that the company wouldn’t go out of its way to support me. From the experience, I learned to take a more mature, consultant-style approach to future jobs. Make sure you bring value and you know what it is, so you can negotiate what you need.
- You will come back from failure. Every day I see clients terrified of failure, and the fear really holds them back. Learning that important lesson has helped me continue to take risks, and that is where the big successes come.
- Listen to your voice. The job I got fired from had lasted two months, and I knew when I interviewed that it didn’t feel right. I was lucky to get another job quickly and spent the next couple of years learning to listen to my voice to figure out the right job for me. I then went on to have the five most productive years of my corporate career.
Getting fired and finding my way is a big part of why I do what I do. It was a blessing because it pushed me one big step towards facing a big truth — that while I’d gone to good schools and gotten jobs at impressive companies, I was making decisions based on external measures, not my own.
This summer things haven’t slowed down. I’m happy about it, but I can smell the suntan lotion and hear the seagulls, taste a cool cocktail as the sun gets low in the sky. Being busy is more draining when you feel the pull of summer. In the first few years of my business, I took three weeks off in August. My kids were small and things tended to slow down, so why not. Over the years I’ve learned to hold that time religiously because every single year, I come back with so much creative energy.
I know most people can’t take that much time, but it is important to restore yourself. Here are a few of my favorite time management tools to create space for fun and recreation:
- Schedule fun and friend time first. Put these on your calendar and plan work around them. If you let things happen spontaneously (especially with kids in the mix), it won’t happen
- Plan by quarter. Decide what you want to accomplish three months at a time, and only do those things. Put the rest on a list for next quarter. And please, keep the list short in summer
- Close each week by looking at the major things you got done, ask why each is important, what further progress would look like, and what are the immediate next steps. Put those on the list for Monday
Time management isn’t just about getting more done, it’s about feeling satisfied with your efforts.
That’s it. Short and sweet. Have fun!