Archive for the ‘Performance Acceleration’ category

Help Direct Reports To Become Better Thinkers

December 7, 2017

More and more leaders are realizing their competitive edge lies with their talent.  And with their talent, they realize the greatest opportunity for growth is to develop their critical thinking skills.

Leaders must first create a safe environment for people to make mistakes and to admit thinking errors.  If this isn’t accomplished, people may feel afraid of embarrassment, humiliation, and perhaps even loss of professional status.

Once people feel comfortable explaining their thinking process, the leader can coach them on their critical thinking.  The leader’s first impulse will be to correct the direct report, provide the proper solution, and move on.  Providing the solution and explaining the rationale rarely works to develop cognition.  The successful leader should ask questions to encourage the direct report to exercise that brain muscle and develop better critical thinking strength.  Some questions leaders may ask to coach for better critical thinking include:

  • “How did you come to that conclusion?”
  • “What are the facts that led you to that conclusion?”
  • “What other options have you considered?”
  • “What would happen next?”
  • “Have you considered your bias?”

Leaders who empower their direct reports to learn from mistakes develop them to become successful critical thinkers.

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One-On-One Meetings Are Important-Not Urgent

November 30, 2017

In 1994, Stephen Covey, along with A. Roger and Rebecca Merrill, introduced the four-quadrant importance and urgency matrix in their book First Things First.  In the book, Covey describes a framework for differentiating tasks that have long-term benefits (important-not urgent) from daily, more time-sensitive tasks (important-urgent). Without a concerted focus, the important-not urgent tasks are often neglected until they become important-urgent.

Regular (weekly or biweekly) one-on-one meetings between leaders and their direct reports fall into the important-not urgent category, but are often forsaken by leaders because they are too busy dealing with the important-urgent.  It’s in the one-on-one meetings that important-not urgent topics are discussed and dealt with before they become urgent.

During our leadership training sessions, we ask leaders to raise their hand if they’d like weekly one-on-one meetings with their boss (or would have liked them when they had a boss).  Nearly everyone in the room raises their hand (who wouldn’t want regular non-pressured meetings with their boss?).  We then ask the leaders to lower their hand if they conduct these meetings for their direct reports. Sadly, most leaders do not lower their hand.  Why is it that direct reports are willing to invest in the important-not urgent but bosses are not?

Empowered leaders conduct regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports, and experience less important-urgent issues and more success.

Consider The Two Pizza Rule When Putting Teams Together

November 17, 2017

The two pizza rule states that the number of people working together should not exceed the number of people that can be fed by two pizzas.  The rule was popularized by Jeff Bezos at Amazon who believes two pizza teams create a decentralized and innovative workplace.

The idea behind two pizza teams is that the fewer the people working together, the more effective the communication becomes.  The number of communication links in a two person team is 1, a five person team 10, a ten person team 45, and a 20 person team has a whopping 190 communication links.  The U.S. Navy Seals have learned that four is the optimal size for a combat team.  Larger teams need more communication whereas smaller teams can have better communication.

When assembling a high-function team, a leader may be tempted to include team members from several areas just to make sure everyone is represented. That rarely works – look no further than our government to see what happens with large teams. Ideally, leaders should choose at most six or seven non-ravenous people if they want a highly functional team.

Empowered team leaders build teams using the two pizza rule and have more successful teams.

Group Job Activities Into Three to Five Accountabilities for Best Results

November 12, 2017

Chunking is a term psychologists use to describe a technique individuals utilize to group responses when performing a memory task. When we take pieces of information and group them into chunks, we are better able to remember the details.  Psychologists argue our short-term memory can handle anywhere from three to seven chunks.

What’s easier to remember: 2485222593 or 248-522-25-93? “Jobdefinitionisimportantforsuccess” or “Job definition is important for success?”  This is why we chunk numbers and words.

When defining job functions, leaders easily identify dozens of activities and functions required in the job.  This extensive list usually becomes the basis for job descriptions.  Unfortunately, employees can rarely recall all the job activities for which they are responsible, and end up not accomplishing everything.

The best way to structure job activities is to group them into three to five larger chunks called accountability buckets.  The leader and direct report can then think of the job in these easy to remember chunks, thereby improving their performance.

When defining direct reports’ job functions, empowered leaders chunk the activities and experience more success.

Appreciate The Value Of Personal Accountability

October 27, 2017

The one personal skill that continues to differentiate success from mediocrity is personal accountability.  Personal accountability is defined as the ability to be responsible for the consequences of one’s actions and decisions.  Personal accountability is a personal skill that can be observed and developed.

A person who has a strong sense of personal accountability has an internal responsibility to be accountable; a willingness to “own up” that will be exhibited in the person’s actions.  Someone who has personal accountability will perform well even when expectations are not clear, resources are hard to find, or competition is tough.

How do leaders know if the people they are looking to hire or their direct reports have personal accountability?  Ask these questions:

  • Tell me about a time when it was necessary to admit to others that you had made a mistake.  How did you handle it?
  • Give an example of a situation where others had made an error or mistake and you had to take the blame for their actions.  How did you react?
  • What is the worst business decision you ever made?  What made it the worst? Would knowing what you do now have helped you to avoid making that decision?
  • Give me an example of a lesson you have learned from making a mistake.  What did you do differently going forward?

Leaders who understand the personal accountability capacity of each direct report will be empowered and empower others for greater success.

Impulse Control Creates Better Leaders

October 20, 2017

In 1972 at Stanford University, Walter Mischel studied a group of four-year old children and conducted the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.  Each of the children was given one marshmallow, but were promised two if they waited twenty minutes before eating the first marshmallow. Some children were able to wait the twenty minutes, and some were not.  Mischel then studied the children into adolescence and found that those children able to delay gratification were psychologically better-adjusted, more dependable, and better students.  Bottom line: delaying gratification resulted in more success.

Good impulse control is considered a positive leadership characteristic and as psychologist Daniel Goleman indicates, an important component trait of emotional intelligence.  Leaders are under much pressure to deliver results faster and often forsake greater future success because they choose today’s immediate gratification.

We see this in leaders who hire questionable candidates who can immediately contribute over high-potential candidates needing some grooming.  We see this in leaders who choose to complete a task themselves today instead of delegating it to a developing direct report because it gets done faster.  We see this in leaders who fail to prepare a succession plan for their direct reports because it takes up too much time today and figure they’ll just deal with it later.

Empowered leaders control the impulse of today’s short cuts and experience greater success tomorrow.

Through Preparation, Then Through Trust

October 13, 2017

One sign of a controlling leader is they become ineffective when they or their cohorts are not around to use external controls.  It’s not uncommon to hear a leader say, “I can’t go on a two week vacation, the place will fall apart if I’m gone that long.”

Going away for two weeks is a perfect way to test for empowerment; however, leaders cannot just dump and run.  Here are some actions leaders can take to ensure they and their direct reports feel confident while they are gone:

  • Document the critical aspects of the leader’s position;
  • Identify direct reports who are capable of these aspects (they need not all be carried out by the same person);
  • Train and/or cross-train;
  • Have a direct report do the aspect of the work as a trial run before leaving;
  • Finally, enjoy the time away.

By empowering direct reports to perform aspects of the leader’s job while they’re gone and entrusting them to make decisions in their absence, direct reports will successfully increase trust, confidence, engagement, and productivity.  Leaders may even find that allowing the direct report to continue that work upon their return opens new options up for them.