How to control your time bandits

time_banditYou worked hard all day on a bunch of stuff. There were emails, phone calls, tasks, interruptions – and some fires that would have burned out of control had you not stepped up to play fireman. You’ve had a busy day, but what meaningful work did you truly accomplish? How much progress did you make on those gotta-do projects scattered all over your plate? Fact: being “busy” does not translate into being productive and making forward progress. Being busy can mean you’re procrastinating on work you should be doing. Being busy can mean that you’re doing work that others can and should be doing. Lastly, being busy can mean that you’ve set yourself up to be an easy target for time bandits.

There are all sorts of time bandits just waiting to rob you of your precious time. And they don’t even need to pick a lock to rob tiny morsels or big chunks of your time. Leaders make it easy by leaving their time fully exposed and unprotected. The only way to protect your time is to manage and defend it. But managing your time is like going on a diet or strict workout program. It requires a system and the discipline to be steadfastly accountable to it. Only then will the time bandits be held at bay.

If you’re tired of being robbed by time bandits, lock on to the following No-Compromise Leadership time management disciplines:

  • It’s you against the time bandits: Managing and defending your time is a deeply personal commitment to get your work done while fulfilling your responsibilities as a leader to those you lead. Controlling your time and how you use it is a solo act that is 100% dependent on your thinking and behavior. You can hire someone that is highly organized to help you manage your time … but you’ll drive that organized person crazy if you continue to free-float through time by doing what you want, when you want. Time bandits will rob you blind while you bounce around your busy day accomplishing little to nothing.
  • Build a “Time-Flow Plan”: At Strategies, we are relentless when it comes to coaching owners and leaders on how to build and live a cash-flow plan. There’s little difference between planning expense allocations and planning how to allocate your time. You begin by determining how much time you have to allocate in a month, week and day. Begin with the gotta-do’s like meetings and high-value events that you must attend. Next, schedule time, even if it’s an hour or two every other day, to work on high-value projects. Essentially, you are booking time for yourself to work on new systems, innovations and growth projects. Just make sure the time you’re booking for yourself is the time of day that’s most productive for you. I like early morning for writing and projects. Live your time-flow plan. No compromise.
  • Deadlines and milestones: If a project or initiative lacks a deadline, it rarely crosses the finish line. If it does, it’s often over budget and a little too late for the party. Deadlines create urgency. Milestones are mini-deadlines that break up a project into manageable pieces. If you’re not using a project management system to structure and drive your projects through to completion, you’re leaving the door wide open for the time bandits. There are many powerful, affordable and easy to use web-based systems available – but they only work if you and your team are disciplined to stick with it. (Hint: Strategies is building a web-based system for you.)
  • Filter interruptions: Interruptions are part of leadership simply because you are a decision maker. People want and need you for advice, guidance and solutions. But in that flow of interruptions coming at you, some are essential and urgent. Likewise, there are interruptions that are non-essential and nothing more than cleverly disguised time bandits. Filtering interruptions can be as simple as asking how urgent the issue is. If it’s urgent, deal with it. If it’s not urgent and non-essential, you can either schedule a date and time to address it, or direct the person to someone that can. The rule in filtering interruptions is to be respectful without compromising your time commitments. And yes, there will be times when an issue or crisis can, and should, blow up your schedule.
  • Protect your plate by keeping other people’s stuff on theirs: Leaders are problem solvers. But a leader’s true role is to develop those they lead to achieve their full potential. If your open-door policy has a bright flashing “Problem Solver” sign over it, you are giving an open invitation to any and all time bandits to enter. Simply put, if you’re the self-proclaimed problem solver, you are enabling others to easily move problems from their plate to yours – problems that in most cases, can and should be solved on their own. The moment you say, “OK, I’ll take care of it,” the transfer to your already overflowing plate is complete. The best response is, “I understand, so what do you think your best options are?” Coach, guide and encourage the employee to find the solution on their own. That’s how you develop talent and innovative thinking … and keep other people’s stuff on their plates and off yours.
  • Never be your own time bandit: I keep using the terms discipline and commitment because that’s what it takes to control, manage and defend your time from the time bandits. But the worst time bandit of all can be you. As leader, it’s easy to fall into that entitlement thinking that you can do what you want. Quite the contrary, your boss is the company. Your job is to drive The Four Business Outcomes: productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer loyalty. Your job is to keep the company’s vision shining bright and it’s culture pure. Your job is to take the company and it’s people to a better place. There is little time left on your schedule for wasting time and goofing off. No compromise.

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How thinking and behavior patterns shape your culture

behavior_pattern-2A person’s thinking and behavior patterns make them extremely predictable. That’s how you know certain employees are going to be late for work, that their projects will miss deadlines, and how they will react during a tough conversation. It’s why some people are detail oriented and highly organized while others are “big picture” and all over the place. It’s why some people work for a paycheck while others work to build a career and make a difference. It’s why some people fit your company culture and others do not.

For leaders, the challenge is to harness all those patterns of thinking and behavior into one highly functional and impressive tapestry. That tapestry is your company’s culture. Some patterns fit. Others don’t. Some patterns fade over time and need to be replaced. Some patterns act as support, holding things together. Some patterns lose their integrity causing the patterns that surround them to also lose theirs – that is, if you’re not paying attention.

Just as systems drive outcomes, patterns of thinking and behavior drive deeper outcomes, like trust, teamwork, loyalty, empowerment, passion and urgency. Thinking and behavior manifest themselves into a company culture. It’s pretty deep stuff, but identifying and understanding thinking and behavior patterns … and coaching those patterns … will make your company and its culture powerfully effective. It’s what No-Compromise Leaders do.

Here are my no-compromise strategies for identifying, understanding and coaching patterns of thinking and behavior:

  • How to observe and identify patterns: As a leader, your job is to continually assess the patterns of thinking and behavior in your leadership team and staff. You must also look inward at your own patterns of behavior because you set the standard for your entire culture. Look for and celebrate the patterns that fit and enhance the culture … not just the patterns that degrade it. Your quest is to understand the “why” of the patterns. Only then can you build on the positive patterns and effectively coach employees with patterns that do not support the culture. Note: This is not about catching people doing things wrong. It’s about identifying thinking and behavior patterns that reinforce your culture and coaching those that don’t. Seek to understand first. You can’t fix a pattern by simply telling an employee to stop doing it.
  • How decisions are made: Some people analyze things to death by examining every detail, fact and piece of data before making a decision – if they even make one at all. They get stuck in analysis paralysis. Other people make decisions with their heart without any input from their brain, or vice versa. Some are comfortable making decisions in the moment while others avoid decision-making at all costs. An educated and informed decision is always the best decision … but it can still go wrong. What’s your pattern for decision-making? You must understand your pattern before coaching others.
  • How problems are addressed: This is where thinking and behavior patterns get interesting. Playing the blame game is an all-time favorite maneuver seen throughout many companies. While one poor soul is being sought out or taking the brunt of the leader’s wrath, the problem continues to spiral out of control. In contrast, problems are like hot potatoes that get tossed around with no one taking ownership. And then you have the quick fix that masks the problem but rarely, if ever, thoroughly resolves it. Problems are puzzles. They have solutions. What’s your pattern for addressing problems? What pattern would you like your company culture to have?
  • How people communicate: Communication is a powerful driver in business. The better information flows, the more efficient and cohesive the company culture. Think of all the communication that occurs throughout your nervous system to do something as simple as walking forward. Now think about moving an entire company forward through the combined efforts of teams of people. Any disconnect in communication or information flow anywhere in the organization disrupts coordination and creates dysfunction. What does your communication and information flow pattern look like? Do you communicate openly and freely or do you selectively withhold? What pattern would you like your company culture to have?
  • How “I/me” conflicts with “We/us”: In a true team culture, every individual understands how his or her role is a link in the chain. A team depends and trusts that every link will perform, and in true team spirit, they quickly adapt should one link fail. But when multiple links routinely fail, teamwork fractures and breaks down. “I/me” thinking and behavior is … and always will be … in direct conflict with teamwork and the company culture. Some people like the concept of teams and being a part of a team … but their “I/me” thinking and behavior patterns eventually become the weak link. Strong, vibrant and competitive company cultures are comprised of “We/us” thinking and behavior patterns. “We/us” patterns must originate with the leader. Any trace of “I/me” thinking and behavior at the leadership level identifies the presence of entitlement behavior patterns. How much of the “I/me” and “We/us” patterns do you see in your company culture?
  • The dreaded “indifference” pattern: Indifference is a toxic “I don’t care” thinking and behavior pattern. I don’t know about you, but when any employee of mine degenerates to an “I don’t care” level, I stop signing their paychecks. I only sign paychecks for team members that are engaged, contribute and passionate about what we do. The rest can be indifferent on another company’s payroll.

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When it is personal, it matters

MS-TeamStrategies-v2aOn June 28-29, five riders on Team Strategies departed the UMass Campus in Boston and began a 155-mile, two-day ride to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. This was the sixth time I did the MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride. As in past years, I managed to convince two new riders to join our team. I tell them it is an experience of a lifetime that they will never forget. I tell them the hills aren’t too bad on Cape Cod. And I tell them that we’re riding to raise money for a worthy cause. One of the new riders was Ronit Enos, a salon owner from Hingham, MA. The other new rider was my nephew, Adam Ducoff from New Jersey. Rounding out our team were Sonny Rapozo of East Falmouth, MA, and Robert Korpak, my neighbor from Old Saybrook, CT – both of whom I introduced to distance cycling a number of years ago.

I ride for two very personal reasons. First, I ride to stay fit and to challenge myself physically and mentally. Second, I ride for my niece, Carrie Ducoff Comer, who was diagnosed with MS seven years ago. After last year’s MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride, I “convinced” my 42-year old nephew Adam to ride with me for his sister … and in memory of his father, my brother, who passed away two and a half years ago.

There are two parts to doing a charity ride – the fundraising part and the actual riding part. Team Strategies is a very small team compared to the big fundraising teams with 175 riders that consistently raise over $250,000 each year. But our little team, based on dollars per rider, is pretty impressive. In 2013, and again this year, our five riders raised over $15,000. Since 2008, I have personally raised over $25,000 for MS.

But raising money is simply the work of participating in a fundraising cycling event. It’s the actual ride that tests your mental and physical endurance. Like I said, I love to recruit people … perhaps “hoodwink” is a better word … into the sport of long-distance cycling and the MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride. I always remember the feeling of elation, pride and personal fulfillment as I crossed the finish line that very first time. It’s a feeling unlike any other, and the best way to relive that moment is share it with first-time riders.

MS-neil&adam-v1Last January, Adam came up to Connecticut to go bike shopping with me. Now, bike shopping with me means you’re going to spend way more than you ever imagined on a bike. Adam’s budget was $700 and the bike shop showed him nice aluminum bikes in that range. Then I had them bring out the carbon fiber bikes. You guessed it – Adam bought a beautiful $2,200 Specialized Roubaix.

Adam struggled the first day on the hills. I stayed with him and encouraged him to press on. It was slow going and completing the 75 miles on day one took about seven hours. He was beat … but not beaten. After dinner, I asked him if he was OK to do day two’s 80 miles. He shot back, “I came here to do this. I’m going to finish.” We headed out at 5:00 am, cranked our way over Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod and headed for Provincetown. His speed was better the second day. In defiance, he cursed at the hills as he cranked his way up. It was an emotional moment when we approached the finish line after 155 miles of riding. Adam said, “Lets cross the finish line together.” We hugged and remembered what his sister lives with every day … and felt his dad/my brother’s presence. When Adam returned home, he gave his ride medal to his sister.

Business is very much about endurance, overcoming adversity, and making it across the finish line. There are many times you must convince yourself to press on when you feel like you have nothing left to give … but you find it … and you do it. You do it because it’s personal and it matters.

If you would like to ride with Team Strategies in the 2015 MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride, click this link. 
Just keep telling yourself that Cape Cod is perfectly flat.

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Why the best business fix is rarely the first choice

potholeThe road to success is rarely a freshly paved superhighway. It’s more like an off-road trail that contrasts the easy stretches with obstacles, steep cliffs and, of course – lions and tigers and bears. Surviving the obstacles and hazards demands a good plan and the ability to adapt quickly should the plan go awry. And depending on the severity of the danger, sometimes the best plan is the toughest to execute. In do or die situations, you have to go with the best plan – no matter how tough it appears.

When things go wrong in business, decisions need to be made. Maybe it’s a crisis that’s been thrown at you, or a problem that has manifested over time into something big and ugly like excessive debt or payroll costs. The good news is that there is a fix for just about every business problem no matter how big and ugly it is. The bad news is that leaders often avoid the best and most thorough fix and run with the second best fix because it’s easier, faster, less controversial, will upset fewer people and will require less sacrifice. Translation: The second best fix is a quick fix that lacks the depth and potency to thoroughly rid the company of its big ugly problem. As a result, the problem resurfaces time and time again, as big and as ugly as ever.

Here are the four no-compromise leadership strategies to help you pick the best fix first:

  1. Shields-down objectivity: A business owner was talking to me about his company’s struggle with profitability and cash flow. It didn’t take long to discover that the elephant in the living room was his 60% payroll due to paying 50%+ commission rates. When I explained the need to install a new compensation system, like our Team-Based Pay, that will allow him to gradually get his payroll percentage under control, he said, “I don’t want to do that.” I said, “Ok, then you’re looking at adding service and/or product charges – or outright cutting commissions.” The problem with both fixes is that cutting commission will likely blow up the business and service/product charges don’t go deep enough to lower the payroll percentage to a manageable level. Big ugly problems require that all solutions be on the table. Usually the fix you want to do the least is the one you need to do the most. Put your resistance shields down and explore all options.
  2. Change is good: Big ugly problems in business are an indicator of broken and/or tired systems, complacency and disengaged leadership. Picking an easier, less potent fix for a problem to avoid rocking the boat is indicative of what’s ailing your company. Going for the fix that’s going to require planning, execution, training, coaching, engagement and accountability is just what your company needs. A controlled and thorough rocking of your boat is a good thing.
  3. Embrace action … not fear: Ignoring or hoping a big ugly problem will go away by itself is shortsighted and ultimately leads to further deterioration. Problems only get worse when left alone. Fear of the unknown is natural, but it’s not an excuse to avoid action. Fearing the best solution because it’s different or foreign to you severely limits your options. Don’t fear the solution – fear the big ugly problem that’s staring you in the face.
  4. Go “No Compromise”: No-Compromise Leadership means, “If it needs to get done…get it done.” It also means breaking through your leadership blockages that may include fear of confrontation, fear of numbers, or fear that some employees won’t like the change and leave. When problems get big and ugly, you need to get big and bold. You need to go with the best fix for your company, not the fix that will ruffle the fewest feathers.

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Why some succeed and others do not

loserI’ve been coaching business owners and leaders for 40 years. I’ve written four books, one of which is an award-winner, on No-Compromise Leadership and business growth. It is a joy and deeply fulfilling to see leaders transform their companies from “OK” to being productive, efficient, and profitable – and vision/purpose driven. It’s even more rewarding to see leaders tenaciously and courageously leading their companies out of the fiery pits of cultural and financial hell to the daylight of teamwork, profits and cash reserves.

But yet… there are those that just can’t seem to find success – even when provided with a map and directions.

You can’t do the work I do without understanding patterns of thinking and behavior. As I wrote at length in No-Compromise Leadership, a leader’s thinking and behavior is much like the operating system of a computer. The operating system sets the functionality and capability of the computer to exercise tasks. As human beings, we each have our own “operating system” that defines our learning and behavior styles as well as processing patterns (how we think). And just as your computer’s operating system requires periodic updates, so does yours.

Here are my TEN no-compromise “gotta do’s” for why some succeed and others don’t:

  1. Gotta have a purpose: Success is measured in many ways, not just by numbers. Success is about fighting for something that you believe in. Call it a vision, a goal or cause… it’s the purpose of what you’re seeking to achieve that pulls you toward success. Having a purpose is what pushes you to dig deep and find strength where you thought none existed. “I’m laying bricks” is about getting a paycheck. “I’m laying these bricks to build a cathedral” is about having a purpose. What’s your purpose?
  2. Gotta master the skills: Success in business takes more than great ideas and technical expertise – it demands achieving a level of mastery in guiding and controlling the Four Business Outcomes: Productivity, Profitability, Staff Retention and Customer Loyalty. It’s like being an orchestra leader where knowledge of music composition, instruments, leadership, consistency and, most importantly, emotion, must blend together seamlessly. Yes, you can surround yourself with masters of the various skills, but without personal mastery, neither the music nor the success will sound or look very good. What skills do you need to master?
  3. Gotta show up and do the work: Success stories in business and life are about people that showed up and did the work. They show up early and stay late. They don’t watch the clock waiting for work to be over. They not only take responsibility, they seek it out. Their nature is to become indispensible to the company. They can be counted on and trusted to be there. Those that wait around for success to be handed to them will be waiting a lifetime if they don’t upgrade their thinking and behavior – and they will always remain dispensable. Are you truly showing up to do the work? If not, get out of the way.
  4. Gotta do the tough stuff: Success in business and life comes from doing the tough stuff. By tough stuff, I’m referring to things like making deep cuts to pull your company out of a financial crisis, or having to fire someone you were close to because of poor performance or behavior. Difficult decisions and conversations are part of the voyage to success. Good judgment and integrity must prevail, but the tough stuff will always need to be done. What tough stuff is waiting on your plate?
  5. Gotta get uncomfortable: You can’t get physically fit without working out and feeling the burn. Likewise, you can’t achieve success kicking back and hanging out in the comfort zone. Success is about pushing the envelope and strategically rocking your boat. Simply put, getting to that elusive next level is going to require you and your team to break a sweat. What tasks and initiatives are you implementing to get uncomfortable?
  6. Gotta get back up: This one is easy; When you fall down… or get knocked down… you gotta get back up. Failures and losses are part of every great success story. Yes, serious blows can knock you down hard and take time to recover from, but recovery is not an option – it’s what successful people and companies do. Life lessons are often the hardest blows, but they’re the ones you truly learn from. What’s your “get back up” story?
  7. Gotta have a coach: Even though you’re surrounded by people, leadership can be lonely. There are always questions, strategies or second opinions on which you need objective guidance and insight. The best leaders have a coach to tell them not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. More importantly, a coach keeps you on task and accountable in ways that employees cannot. Do you have a business coach?
  8. Gotta believe in yourself: I do my fair share of doubting myself and the success I am capable of achieving. But in the end, I believe in myself. I’ve written an award-winning book that I wasn’t sure I could write. I’ve built a successful company that I wasn’t sure I could build. I’ve delivered speeches at conferences around the world that I wasn’t sure I could do. And I’ve completed many 100-mile plus bicycle rides that I wasn’t sure I could finish (and, at 64 years old, I’m doing another 150-mile ride again on June 28th and 29th). How much do you believe in yourself to go after what you really want?
  9. Gotta be true to yourself: Being true to yourself means never compromising your values, integrity and what you believe is right for you. It means walking away from opportunities and situations that don’t feel right. It also means respecting yourself and never allowing anyone to dictate what you can and cannot do – or to hold you hostage out of fear. When you stay true to yourself, you will always be on the path to success. How do you stay true to yourself?
  10. Gotta want it by a factor of TEN: As a leader, you must want success by a factor of TEN over those you lead. When you are that resolute, passionate and committed to achieving success, you create an undeniable sense of urgency and energy throughout your company. You become the leader that people want to follow, and your company becomes one that people want to fight for. Your vision becomes their vision. People quit leaders that aren’t going anywhere. Do you want success by a factor of TEN?

Consistency begins when Blown Plays stop

broken-play4In football, a “blown play” occurs when the original planned play fails to execute properly. The business equivalent of a “blown play” is when a system or procedure designed to create a specific outcome fails to come about the way it was planned. On the surface, blown plays are the result of inadequate training, preparation and communication. Go a little deeper and things like weak leadership, fragmented company culture and employee indifference add to the frequency and likelihood of blown plays.

The prime objective of leadership is consistency in execution. In my No-Compromise Leadership book, I give the following sequence:

No-Compromise Leadership = consistency in all Four Business Outcomes
(Productivity … Profitability … Staff Retention … Customer Loyalty)

Consistency = Predictability

Predictability = Accurate future mapping of the Four Business Outcomes

Accurate mapping of future outcomes = Sustainable growth

As the sequence above illustrates, the process from no-compromise leadership to sustainable growth is a continuous cycle. In order for sustainable growth to occur, no-compromise leadership must be the driving force in the process. It’s all about achieving consistency in execution by eliminating blown plays.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to banish blown plays from your company:

  • See without “average” filters: If you’ve been blowing a lot of big plays – you’d be out of business already. It’s the cumulative effect of repeatedly blowing small plays that keeps a company stuck in “average.” Take off the filters and really look at how your company is executing your current systems and procedures… especially in customer service. What you’re going to see is a whole lot of little blown plays that you’ve been tolerating for too long. Companies that consistently execute plays are the companies that you admire. They excel at the details and getting the little stuff right. Take off the “average” filters and you’ll overcome the obstacles to growth and consistency that need work.
  • Set and hold the “win bar” high: The reality of the “win bar” is that it’s pretty darn heavy. You need to be in shape to hold it at the highest levels where consistency and execution thrive and blown plays are rare occurrences. Yes, there will be times when things get tough, but lowering your win bar is a compromise. It’s also easy for complacency to get all over you… and therefore your team. Occasional rest stops are totally acceptable – but lowering your win bar is not. Why? Because lowering the win bar means you weren’t committed to going the distance in the first place. Teams stop believing in winning about a nanosecond after their leader stops believing. Blown plays define average. Consistency and execution define winning.
  • Mental telepathy blues: Employees cannot read your mind… so why do you continue to watch blown plays happen? I’m talking about that little voice in your head that keeps repeating things like, “What were they thinking?” and, “Can’t they just do their job?” The leading people part of leadership is about communication, engagement and coaching people to be the best at what they do. Being the best translates seamlessly into consistency. So the next time that little voice starts asking questions, recognize it as a signal for you to communicate, engage and coach people to achieve their full potential.
  • Train deeper: Training is preparation to play the game to win. A company’s defining commitment to consistently deliver excellence is a mirror image of its commitment to training and preparation. World-class companies are “world class” because they train deeper and harder than their competition. Too often, the rush to produce sales and revenue is done at the expense of training and preparation. Yes, blown plays are learning opportunities – but blown plays are not what “learning on the job” is about. Training is the essence of quality. Training deeper eliminates blown plays before they occur.
  • Accountability isn’t a stick: You’ll never create shared accountability and eliminate blown plays using a hit list of consequences. In business, accountability transcends the individual to include the team. Simply put, accountability is embedded in the thinking and behavior of a company and its culture. The beauty of teamwork is its shared accountability for consistency and execution. The only consequence in business is losing and knowing that you and the team could have played better… but didn’t.

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Success in business is . . .

success_isWe dream about it. We fight for it. We put everything on the line for it. But what exactly is this thing called “success”? Success is often referred to as a destination, but if that is correct, how does one know if he or she has arrived? There aren’t any quantitative measurements that define success. There isn’t a GPS destination called success. And if success is so amazing, why are there people happy as could be that are barely getting by, while others have all the trappings of success and are miserable?

Business success is the ultimate enigma simply because you never know if it has truly been achieved. If you believe you have achieved success, there is always uncertainty as to its sustainability. A few miscalculations, distractions or bad decisions and your “success” can disappear in a heartbeat.

But yet, we want it, which begs the question: if business success is so abstract and fleeting, why do we pursue it with such passion and tenacity? We pursue it because succeeding in business is about pursuing your full potential. Wealth, money and profit are merely the indicators and rewards of success. Leading a company to success is a test of character. It is a test of your ability to master business disciplines, exercise good judgment and take calculated risks. It is a test of your ability to surround yourself with the right talent, build a dynamic culture and lead it all to an extraordinary destination that is your vision.

Here are my no-compromise leadership perspectives on success:

  • It’s your success: You will never understand the true meaning of success if you’re trying to be someone else’s version of success. Success is something innately personal. It’s an insatiable internal craving to achieve your full potential…not someone else’s. Yes, you may need encouragement along the way, but the internal drive to achieve success is yours and yours alone.
  • Capacity to overcome: Achieving success in business is a long-distance marathon. There will be setbacks, cash-flow crises, betrayals, dumb decisions and nasty things the universe will throw at you. Inevitably, you will get knocked to the ground and feel beaten more than once. But you must continue on, always getting up and pressing onward. You must and will learn from your mistakes, as they will make you wiser.
  • Capacity to share: Business success isn’t about using people to get what you want. That’s a dictatorship where people perform out of fear. Business success is about people, fairness and integrity. It’s about leading a company by serving those you lead. Simply put, it’s about sharing success – not owning it. People will fight for what they believe in…and that means people deserve a stake in the outcome. Hitting a goal is a collective “WooHoo.” Getting a win is a collective “WooHoo.” Achieving gains in critical numbers and hitting a goal must be a celebration for all…triggering a team bonus.
  • Capacity to find balance: One of the most difficult aspects of business success is finding balance between business and personal. If it’s all business all the time, personal and family will be compromised. Likewise, if you devote too much time to personal and family, your business will be neglected and compromised. Companies do not run on autopilot. Even with a highly competent leadership team, a company needs its leader. Finding balance demands that you establish your own definition and criteria of success. When writing Steve Jobs’ biography, author Walter Isaacson asked Jobs why he was so willing to allow him unprecedented access and editorial freedom in the book. Jobs responded, “I want my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them, and wanted them to know why and understand what I did.”
  • Capacity for risk: You cannot succeed in business without taking risks. In many ways, business success is about you betting on your ability to take the right risks. If you have a low capacity for risk taking, you must adjust your definition of success accordingly. You cannot achieve extraordinary success by taking ordinary risks. And when taking risks are far and few between, leaders and companies become complacent and lethargic. Business success is about taking incremental risks, and every now and then…taking a big, hairy, audacious risk.
  • Capacity to transition: Business success means the ability for a business to adapt and grow to market conditions and to seize opportunities. It also means that leaders must adapt and grow in concert with the companies they lead. For example, leading a company that is two or three times the size of your present company requires new and more refined leadership thinking and behavior. It also requires the leader to let go of certain tasks and responsibilities in order to take on new ones. That’s how a company endures long term. The very worst things a leader can do are not evolving and maturing as a leader. That’s when the company gets stuck on the leader’s timeline and slows down as the leader ages. Companies have a life span that far exceeds that of its leader.

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How to get unstuck

stuckTodays MMWU is for all the leaders that keep wondering what opportunities exist over the horizon but never move toward it. Its for all the leaders that choose to tread water and are realizing that their arms are getting tired. Its for all the companies that are waiting for their leader to snap out of it and lead the way.

Being and feeling stuck sucks. You want to move forward, but you’re unsure where forward is. Moving backward isn’t a great option either. The only thing remotely appealing about moving backward is that you know what’s there and what to expect. But moving backward means retreating and giving up – and that’s not who you are. So you remain stuck in the middle of a crossroad, and the longer you remain stuck, the more frustrated, bored and confused you become.

Yes, being stuck sucksbut being stuck is a choice. Rather than moving forward (no matter where forward leads) you actively choose to be stuck over some very viable options open to you. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change and “what if-ing” things to death are the imaginary walls that keep people feeling stuck. The key to getting unstuck is recognizing that those walls aren’t real and can be vaporized by you at any time. Simply put, the first step to getting unstuck is choosing to be unstuck.

Here are some no-compromise leadership thoughts to get and keep you unstuck:

  • Its OK to take a break: Superhero leaders eventually burn out simply because running all out all of the time is unsustainable. Leading and growing a company is no different than exercising. When you push your body and muscles to new limits, they need rest and time to recuperate before you push them again. But if too much time passes, it’s like starting all over again. Challenge yourself and your company to gain ground and reach that next level, but do it at a pace you can sustain and allow time to settle into new behaviors before pushing forward again. The key is preventing rest stops from becoming complacent comfort zones.
  • Fallacy of being ready: It’s easy to get stuck while waiting for all the planets in the universe to perfectly align, but the truth is that you may never have the resources and finances you think you need in order to move forward. Most often, you need to move forward with what you have and pick up what you need along the way. I’m not suggesting throwing caution to the wind. What I am suggesting is that you must recognize when it’s time to move forward. Waiting for additional resources will do little to improve your margin for success. In business, you seize opportunities when you can. Hesitate and you lose.
  • Pick one that fits: One interesting fact about being stuck is that you’re stuck because you won’t pick one of the options and/or opportunities that are already before you. When you chose to be unstuck, your field of vision expands. You are not only open to new opportunities; you’re seeking them out. Your best strategy here is to pick one, study it’s potential, expand on it…and make it happen. Remember, it’s that first 20 percent of the work you put into an opportunity that lays the foundation to allow the remaining 80 percent to happen.
  • No plan is perfect: Just like GPS guides us to a destination, it can’t predict traffic, accidents or road closures – but it can and does quickly reprogram an alternate route. The best and most detailed plans are never perfect. The unexpected will always happen. A plan defines the vision and/or outcome. It gets you out of the starting gate, and once you’re out, your plan will be tweaked and modified so it can adapt to what reality throws at it. Too often, leaders get so stuck in creating the perfect plan that it never gets executed. Don’t obsess over creating the perfect plan. There is no such thing.
  • Success requires risk: Business is about taking risks. You cannot become a market leader doing the same things as your competition. All you’re doing is trading customers and dollars. There’s something inspiring about innovating new approaches to business and doing things your competitors cannot or will not do. I’m not talking about taking crazy risks; I’m talking about taking well-conceived risks that challenge you, your team and your company to get better. If you’re not willing to take risks – you’re stuck. Get over it.
  • Coaching Accountability: Congratulations on your decision to get unstuck. So what’s your plan? Where will you start? What skills and guidance will you require? What are deadlines and milestones? And the BIGGIE … how will you hold yourself accountable to completing your unsticking projects? This is where a business and leadership coach, in addition to providing expertise, can really help you stay focused, on track and accountable. Give a Strategies Coach a test run and see how it works.

Time’s influence on change

When I started Strategies in September 1993, there was no Internet, email or Facebook. We marketed Strategies magazine and our business courses almost entirely by direct mail. It worked then…but that type of marketing doesn’t work in today’s digital marketplace. In fact, after publishing Strategies magazine for fourteen years, I had to come to terms with the fact that the magazine was not part of Strategies future. I made the tough (but right) decision for the December 2007 issue to be our last. Although I miss my magazine, Strategies is a better company today without it because we can focus our resources on our core business of training and coaching.

Yesterday’s success does not assure success today or tomorrow. Yesterday’s success enhances your stature and reputation, but not indefinitely. A company must evolve and change as the reality that surrounds it evolves and changes. There is an inherent danger to holding on to yesterday’s successes for too long. It dials back a company’s sense of urgency to innovate and discover new opportunities. It makes a leader lazy and a company lethargic.

Time not only forces changeit demands change. Time dares you to keep up, and it never accommodates. If you’re comfortable, it will leave you behind. If you fear change and hesitate, it makes the change you fear more urgent and complex. Likewise, if you sync your change efforts to keep pace with time, it will take you and your company to extraordinary places.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to keep pace with time:

  • Your company’s natural rhythm: Every company has a natural rhythm. Some are fast, some are slow, and some are comatose. Aggressive and dynamic companies have a fast rhythm. They view and implement change as a matter of course. Sure, they hit a speed bump every now and then, but they quickly recover and get back up to speed. Companies with slow rhythms crawl from one comfort zone to the next and are highly resistant to even the most basic change initiatives. Comatose companies die a slow death because they can’t change. Leaders set the natural rhythm and pace of a company. What is your company’s natural rhythm, and what are you doing to keep it fast?
  • Gotta have a map: To keep pace with time, you need a map. The map is your vision and strategic plan set to predetermined timelines. The map details the steps, deadlines and progress points to be achieved. The first 12 to 18 months need high levels of detail and clarity. Every six months, the detail and clarity are extended out so that every 12 to 18 are sufficiently mapped. Without a map, it’s easy to find yourself speeding in the wrong direction as you fall out of sync with time. What’s your 12- to 18-month map look like? If you can’t find it, that may explain why your company is far behind where it should and can be.
  • Embrace it first: Change is a strange beast with which too many leaders and companies wrestle. Why? Because change is uncomfortable and forces leaders, teams and companies to stretch. Most importantly, change is about communication, information flow, systems, critical numbers and accountability. As I always say, “Change rocks the boat.” Change cannot occur when the leader is afraid to rock the boat, and change always begins with the leader. Change that begins in the employee ranks is called a “mutiny.” When was the last time you gave change a big hug?
  • Time is the throttle: Everything in business is time based. Your financial reports are a numeric readout of your company’s performance over time. Goals are time based. Scoreboards are time based. Critical numbers and growth indicators are time based. Time most definitely is the throttle that sets the speed and pace of business performance. If performance is not attached to time, the throttle is not engaged and the company free-floats aimlessly. Is your time throttle engaged?
  • Fear is the brake pedal: Fear is debilitating. Fear of change keeps the leader’s foot locked on the brake pedal when it needs to be on the throttle. Fear is a powerful emotion consumed with worst-case scenarios. The best question to keep fear in perspective is, “What’s the worst that could happen?” In most cases, the worst is actually not that bad. In reality, worst-case scenarios almost always happen when fear prevents essential change. Is your foot on the brake pedal or on the throttle?
  • Take a few giant steps: If time has gotten too far ahead of you and your company, how about taking a few giant steps to catch up? What needs to change in your company; what needs a little positive boat rocking? I bet you have a list of high value issues, change initiatives and stuff that you’ve been procrastinating and obsessing over. Maybe it’s getting control of your finances and fixing your cash-flow issues. Maybe it’s that funky culture that needs a shift. Maybe it’s that rebranding effort that’s long overdue. Maybe it’s that toxic employee that needs to go. It’s time to cast off the dock lines and start the voyage to new and exciting places. Take a few giant steps by leaping into action and getting back in sync with time. That’s what no-compromise leaders do.

Leaders think and speak as WE

scullingIt doesn’t matter if your title is owner, president, CEO or fearless leader – you are responsible for the wellbeing, performance and growth of your company. Just like we humans, companies are born. Healthy ones grow and prosper creating opportunities for leaders, employees and stakeholders. Likewise, unhealthy companies can suffer and die. And, like humans, companies have vital signs that can be read in the form of Profit & Loss Statements, Balance Sheets and Statements of Cash Flows. Physically fit companies are disciplined, accountable and purpose driven. Weak and sickly companies are undisciplined, rarely get things done, and wander around aimlessly hoping to trip over success.

Being the leader of a company is a truly unique yet extremely complex role. You may have an extraordinary vision, amazing empowerment skills, financial prowess, and a knack for innovation and strategy… but being the “leader” has nothing to do with you – it’s about the company. You are the voice of the company. When you speak, it is always as “we”, because you represent and are responsible for the “we” that IS the company. When leaders use “I/me” thinking, they are relegating the company to a secondary position where ego trumps integrity. I/me leadership thinking and behavior wrecks culture.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to master the discipline of thinking and speaking as “we”:

  • “We” has a pulse: A company has vital signs and therefore, a pulse. It is the leader’s responsibility to be ever cognizant of the company’s pulse and to ensure that it remains strong. That is why you must always think and speak as “we” – because what you think and say as a leader is simultaneously what the company is thinking and saying as a whole. Too many leaders just don’t understand the damage that is done when serving oneself is placed before serving the company.
  • “We” is more than one: When I speak to my team at Strategies about the company, I always use “we”, not “I/me”. As a leadership coach, my job is to coach people to master being the voice of their companies by using “we”, not “I/me”. “We” is inclusive. “We” represents energy and momentum. “We” is a company. On the flip side, “I/me” is about self, ego, power and possession. People join and follow “we” and the purpose, mission and vision of the company. People cannot rally around “I/me” because there is nothing to gain but a paycheck.
  • “We” is influence and significance: Yes, it is wonderful to hear a leader say, “Great job. I’m proud of you.” But when a leader says, “We are very proud of your work and your contribution to the company,” it communicates something much more meaningful. “We” is saying that the company is proud of you. The message it sends goes deeper because it is the company expressing gratitude, not just one person. Give speaking as “We” a try and you’ll see and feel the significance of this subtle communication shift.
  • “We” is worth fighting for: “We the people…” are the first three words of the Constitution of the United States. It goes on to say, “… in order to form a more perfect union…” For over three hundred years, those words have held our country together… not perfectly, but it’s still here. Well, the same goes for creating a company. People come together to fight for and protect what they believe in. They will fight for “We” and the leader that speaks for “ We”. Dictators are takers because all they know is “I/me/mine”… and that’s short-term thinking.

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