Archive for September 2011

How Well Are You Sharpening Your Saw?

September 23, 2011

Habit #7 in Steve Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is called “Sharpen the Saw.” Covey uses the common analogy of a woodcutter who is sawing for several days straight and is becoming less and less productive. The process of cutting dulls the blade. So the solution is to periodically sharpen the saw.

We’ve found that in practice, however, most people fail to understand what sharpening the saw really means. If you’re overworking yourself and your productivity begins to fall off, common wisdom says to take a break, maybe even go on vacation. However, that isn’t sharpening the saw — that’s putting the saw down. When you put down a dull blade for a while, the blade will still be dull when you pick it up again.

Sharpening the saw is actually an activity, just as the analogy suggests. Think about what it would mean to sharpen the saw of your life. Here are some saw-sharpening ideas:

  • Exercise
  • Improve your diet
  • Educate yourself (read, listen to audio programs, attend a seminar)
  • Learn a new skill
  • Set some new goals or review/update your old goals
  • Organize your home or office
  • Clear out a bunch of little tasks that you’ve been putting off

Now the woodcutter can’t just alternate between cutting wood and sharpening the saw indefinitely. Downtime is needed too, but it isn’t the same as sharpening the saw. The woodcutter can become even more productive by sharpening the blade, studying new woodcutting techniques, working out to become stronger, and learning from other woodcutters.

Forgetting to intentionally sharpen the saw can lead to a feeling of burnout. If you merely alternate between productive work and downtime, your production capacity will drop off. You’re still working hard, but you don’t feel as productive as you think you should be. When you sharpen yourself regularly, you’ll find that you can flow along at a steady pace week after week without getting burnt out.

Empower yourself to sharpen your saw, and you’ll be even more successful.


You Cannot Give Enough Feedback

September 16, 2011

When asked “what’s the one thing you most admire about your best boss?”, most people answer something about communication and feedback.  When we ask people “what’s the one thing you’d like more from your boss?”, most people answer something about more communication and feedback.

So if communication and feedback is most admirable from leaders AND most people feel they don’t get enough from their boss, what are the chances your direct reports are getting all the communication and feedback they want/need?  In the same way you want more feedback from your boss, your directs want more feedback from you.

When giving feedback keep these basics in mind

  • Feedback should on-going and delivered frequently;
  • Feedback should be delivered timely, immediately after the demonstrated behavior;
  • The feedback should describe the observed behavior not be personal or an opinion;
  • Tailor the feedback to the direct report’s personality style;
  • Keep the feedback productive, corrections should focus on future behaviors;
  • Deliver both positive and course correction feedback (positive should out-weigh corrective).

Empower your direct reports with feedback and communication and you’ll both be more successful.

Consistency Is The Key To Effective One-On-Ones

September 9, 2011

When our kids were growing up, we took them out to breakfast every Friday morning before school.  We rarely missed these routine times together.  During each breakfast we would ask “How’s school going?” and almost every time the answer was “good, okay.”  The important point is almost every time.  One time the answer was a mumbled “fine” followed by a shoulder shrug.  Not the usual “good, okay;” after further questioning, we found out there was an issue in science class.  If it were not for the regular breakfast meetings and the consistent questioning, science class would have been a big problem.

Be consistent with your direct report’s one-on-ones.  Hold them at the same time each week, and ask the same check-in questions.  When your direct report has challenges, knowing they’ll have your attention regularly gives them a built-in forum for dealing with the problem.

Asking the same check-in questions during each session will yield the same responses most of the time.  That gives you a basis for measuring unusual answers that may indicate underlying issues.

One-on-ones are one of the most powerful leadership tools in your toolkit.  Exercising consistency will make them even more successful.