You Want It When??!!  …aka Artificial Deadlines are Useless

Another Monday morning and I’m looking at the list of things that had to be done last week but aren’t.

I guess they didn’t have to be done.

Some of us have boundary-setting challenges that make our lives more difficult when we start babysitting monkeys from other people’s circuses. And then some of us have deadline-setting challenges that make those around us stop taking our sense of urgency seriously.

If you’ve ever made it to the end of a day without getting your ‘to do’ list done, it may not be an expectation problem as many would insist; you might just be eligible to claim membership in the Artificial Deadline club.

Welcome to the club. My name’s Kevin and I set artificial deadlines.

The number one reason people (including ourselves) don’t meet the deadlines we set is there are no consequences for non-compliance. We tend to think we’re being blown off when, in reality, no one but us suffers when we get information just after the nick of time.

My girls grew up believing that if you wait til the last minute, it only takes a minute. We may claim we do our best work under pressure, but we can’t ignore the anxiety of having a deadline looming over our heads. As they got older, we added the Ross caveat: some tasks take more than a minute so you’re going to be late. That’s when the excuse making starts.

Here are some common artificial deadline practices I’ve seen – and used unsuccessfully – over the years and suggestions to stop using them:

  • I have to do it today. If it really has to be done today, it better be the first thing we do or else be a scheduled event on our calendar. Otherwise, it’s aspirational and will get overcome by events of the day. We’ll see it again on our list for tomorrow’s have-to list.
  • I need this before my 2:00 meeting. And here it comes sliding into home just before we leave for the meeting. Sure hope it wasn’t something we needed for the meeting; otherwise it’s just reading material for when we stopped paying attention to whoever is droning on during the boring meeting. If we need it for a meeting, we have to suspense it with enough time to review and ask questions before we take it with us.
  • I need this by the end of the day. Who’s end of the day… ours or theirs? Why then? Do we plan on working on it at the dinner table? After dinner? If we’re not going to look at it until tomorrow, why do we care when it’s finished as long as it’s there when we need it and of expected quality. I’ve found that “I want to review this first thing tomorrow morning because…” sets a clearer expectation for the preparer, and I’m happier with the product.
  • I need this by the end of the week. See above. Are we going to spend our weekend looking at something while the preparer celebrates not having to think about it anymore? I doubt it. Don’t forget to explain why it’s important to have it Monday morning.
  • And finally…
  • Let’s try to have this done by blah, blah, blah. Good luck with that. In my experience, no deadline means no results. That’s like my wife asking, “do you think we could trim the hedges sometime soon?”
work at dinner table

Not only do we bring this frustration on ourselves, but setting Artificial Deadlines erodes our credibility with others. If it hasn’t already, the practice is likely to leak over into our “I’ll have it to you by…” promises, and the next thing we know we’re leaders without integrity.

Speaking of which, I better wrap this up. It’s Monday morning and this piece is due last Friday.

How about you? Are you challenged with setting Artificial Deadlines? It’s a club membership you could do without in 2022.

But it’s up to you, leaders.

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Get a Real Job! …and make sure they know what you do

Get a Real Job! …and make sure they know what you do

A couple of decades ago, my daughter accompanied me to my cubicle in the Pentagon as part of Take Your Child to Work Day. Pretty boring for an 11-year-old who observed that my entire morning consisted of “playing” on the computer, talking to my friends around the...

You Want It When??!!  …aka Artificial Deadlines are Useless

You Want It When??!!  …aka Artificial Deadlines are Useless

Another Monday morning and I’m looking at the list of things that had to be done last week but aren’t.

I guess they didn’t have to be done.

Some of us have boundary-setting challenges that make our lives more difficult when we start babysitting monkeys from other people’s circuses. And then some of us have deadline-setting challenges that make those around us stop taking our sense of urgency seriously.

Dinosaur Tails and Backpacks — Check Your Six

Warning:  I intend to mix a bunch of metaphors in this article. If you’re an English teacher or just a self-appointed internet grammar snob, you may want to pass on by. Nothing to see here. These are not the metaphors you’re looking for… (waving my hand and using my...

Dinosaur Tails and Backpacks — Check Your Six

Warning:  I intend to mix a bunch of metaphors in this article. If you’re an English teacher or just a self-appointed internet grammar snob, you may want to pass on by.

Nothing to see here.

These are not the metaphors you’re looking for… (waving my hand and using my best Obi-Wan Kenobi voice)

A senior executive client of mine is fond of saying he sometimes forgets that, due to his position, he sometimes swings a dinosaur tail behind him, using a T-Rex as an analogy.

In other words, he can, at times, overlook the short- and long-term impacts of his decision-making; he may be able to change directions on a dime, but can those around him – that he impacts both directly and indirectly – make that shift just as quickly and easily?

Experience tells him (and me) that the answer is “no.”

That big ol’ tail swings without even thinking, knocking crap all over the place and causing all sorts of commotion amongst those being swatted. The lesson here, of course, is to remember that our decisions and influence – our impact as leaders – extends well beyond the immediate intent.

People and processes are affected all up and down the organizational food chain. That dinosaur tail cuts a big-assed swath of real estate every time it swishes one way or the other.

So what to do? How do we manage this appendage wreaking havoc in our wake? Well, curiously enough, I have a suggestion or two. Or three. Actually, a couple of questions and suggestions. They go hand in hand…

Realize you have a tail. That’s right, young tadpole, you have a tail. You may not have it forever, but you do today – be aware it exists.

Don’t be like the traveling morons who have their backpack strapped on while maneuvering down an airplane’s aisle, forever whipping around to check an overhead bin for space or to chat with their fellow moron, all the while forgetting they have a 10-12 inch extension on their back that occupies… well, an additional 10-12 inches.

I’ve been hit in the head, spilled drinks, whopped in the face, etc. because someone didn’t even realize they had a tail in the first place.

You, too, should realize that appendage is present, and can do real damage if not considered.

Ask yourself — should you be wagging your tail at all? In other words, if your dinosaur tail has the capacity to cause such carnage, are most decisions and actions better left to those closer to the action?

Maybe left to those with significantly smaller tails?

Ask yourself that very question every time you feel the need to swish that reptilian extension around like a kid’s Skip-it apparatus. (Google that if you’re scratching your head…)

And finally, assuming you simply must swing that dinosaur tail (and adding one more mixed metaphor)…

Check your six. I was in the U.S. Air Force for a lot of years but was not a pilot. Ask any pilot and they’ll tell you unequivocally that there are only two types in the Air Force: Pilots, and those who wish they were pilots.

Now I won’t disparage my aircrew amigos by bursting their bubble, but I will say that as pilots, they had cooler lingo than we did as mere surface-dwellers.

Check your six was one of those cool terms used by pilots, originally referring to the need to visually identify an enemy aircraft lining up behind you in your blind spot (your “6 o’clock position”).

It’s use has since expanded to mean keep an eye on your backside so bad things don’t happen, and to check your mirrors (real or figurative) before making a major move.

So, for our use here, check your six means take a look around you before making those big, bold, often-boneheaded moves that create a buttload of unintended consequences. Use some of that situational awareness we hear about.

Sort of a look before you leap, but for the benefit of others.

As a leader, particularly a senior leader, your decisions, influence and directions have an impact. We hope that impact is always good and positive.

Sometimes, however, that impact can swing like a dinosaur tail, causing unintended consequences in the damndest, unexpected places.

Be aware of your backpack, don’t wag your tail without forethought, and check your six.

The aircraft image above is a print, The Hunter Becomes the Hunted, by William S. Phillips. B-17s in WWII are headed to Berlin, with Luftwaffe F-190s attacking, while U.S. P-47 Mustangs — the Wolf Pack led by Col. Herb Zemke – are on their 6 o’clock position. A signed and numbered print proudly hangs above my credenza.

Meetings Are For People Who Aren’t Too Busy

An old friend sent me a picture the other day of this blue ribbon that says, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” He obviously remembers how I feel about meetings.

Turns out you can actually buy the ribbons here, and I know a lot of bosses who should pass them out.

We leaders have got to get a handle on the endless parade of time-wasting, morale-draining meetings we expect our people to sit through!

Routine, regularly scheduled meetings – the ones that are on the calendar until the end of time – are the worst! They typically involve endless droning around a table about activities that only one or two people in the room care about. When the boss at the head of the table tolerates such time wasting, the expectation is that everyone has to say something, and we’ve all experienced the guy who’s a little too fond of his own voice.

A bunch of years ago, everyone in my directorate was required to attend a weekly staff meeting like the one I described above. I used to tuck a couple of Sudokus in my notebook to make it look like I was taking notes (I know, not setting a good example). One week, I asked the director if I could skip the meeting if I was too busy. He said, “Sure.” I never went again.

  Later, talking with a senior government leader about making meetings more productive, I got some pushback on my value judgement. He said, “It’s the only time we all get together. How else will everyone find out what the others are working on?” I remember an executive at the highest level of the Department actually saying, “The daily meeting’s not for you; it’s for me to find out what everyone’s doing,” as if there a throne at his end of the table.

Trust me, there are far better ways to connect the people who need information with the people who have information. If you’re a boss and doubt what I’m saying, give this to your people and ask for their thoughts.

Productive meetings don’t happen by accident. We would see a dramatic improvement in Return On Time Spent In Meetings (ROTSIM – a new metric?) if we try these proven steps:

Put someone (preferably someone who values efficient use of time) in charge of the agenda. Meetings without agendas usually end up being free-for-alls. If we absolutely have to have a routine meeting to update the boss, let’s make it clear in advance that no one brings anything except their most critical issues that a majority of people around the table really need to know about. Any issues that only the boss and the person speaking care about should be handled one-on-one or in an email.

Get rid of as many routine meetings as you can. I was once part of an organization that actually tracked the number of meetings attended as a performance metric. Really?? Instead, try only having meetings when there is something to decide. Have clear objectives, not open-ended ones like “Discuss employee engagement.” Send pre-work to the attendees so they can come to the table as an informed participants, not as sponges.

No marathon meetings! People lose focus and creativity when held hostage for more than an hour or two, especially after lunch. If need be, break the agenda in half and have two shorter meetings appropriately spaced.

Finally, make sure someone’s keeping track of decisions and deferred issues. Make it a written record, to include who is responsible and a deadline for each. Make information “due-outs” part of the pre-work to speed up decision making in the next meeting.

Did I strike a nerve with anyone? Any meeting fans out there? Might as well start ordering blue ribbons.

Leaders know how to improve ROTSIM. How about you?

 

10 Client Lessons from 2021, PART DEUX

Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.
— Aristotle

This is Part 2 of a 2-Part series

It’s interesting… this 2-part series has just ten client lessons learned from 2021. I could double that number with little effort. Helping and watching clients grow, learn and succeed creates an incredible learning environment for me.

In Part 1, I remarked on the following lessons learned:
1. Culture is everything.
2. Intellect, purpose, and leadership are key.
3. Metrics without a system are meaningless.
4. High functioning teams disagree.
5. Low-hanging fruit creates early wins; allow grace with future misses and missteps.

Part two has another five lessons, all picked up as I work with, observe and assist clients. These are a bit more personal, and deal with our actionable behaviors.

Some are simple lessons that just needed reminding, others are breakthrough processes, at least for that particular executive or team. Let’s get started…

6. Before any reaction from a leader, always ask “to what end?” Zig Ziglar once wrote, “Take the high road – there’s a lot less traffic.” Often we get smack dab in the middle of a contentious situation, and simply forget why we’re there in the first place.

Our goal in any situation, especially when emotions are starting to become a key part of every conversation, should be to attain the best available result (note I did not say simply “best result) while maintaining our credibility, the mutual respect of all parties and the longer-term relationship. Let’s unpack this a bit…

“The world is watching,” a phrase first used as part of the civil-rights movement in the 1950s, is instructive here. People are watching how we deal with the totality of the situation. It’s not enough to be right; those around us keeping an eyeball on our actions also want us to do right.

Why fire someone when you can let them resign? (There are exceptions to this, but few)

Do I really need that apology?

Am I forcing a decision that doesn’t need forcing?

Do I want to win, or do I want to change someone’s behavior? (Ask yourself this one a lot)

To what end? is a great question to ask as you feel yourself being sucked into the quagmire of tit-for-tat and one-upmanship.

Don’t go there. Stay on the high road. Keep your leadership behavior elevated and maintain your presence and credibility. You can actually win big by allowing someone else to enjoy a small victory of their own.

7. Poor communication can defeat effective leadership. Announcements, follow-ups, rules changes. Messaging is one of the more important parts of leadership, particularly at the senior-team level. It does us no good to do great things and then screw it up with the delivery.

In messaging to teams, large and small, plan, prepare and rehearse. Don’t try to use a simple message to also “remind everyone to sign up for…” or other such nonsense. Keep focused on the issue; short, direct and positive.

Put on your cynic hat and ask yourself how someone could object to the message or messaging and be prepared to adequately address those objections.

We frequently manage to irritate people with little effort on our part. Let’s not add insult to injury by irritating them when making an otherwise-positive announcement.

8. If you are forever saying “I don’t have time,” you’re likely in over your head. The best leaders have time. Yes, you read that right – you have the time, particularly for those employees who need you. If not, you’re in the wrong line of work.

When an employee sticks their head in your office and says, “I know you’re busy, but do you have a minute?” They are actually telling you that you seem too busy for them, meaning their interruption was all that much more difficult (I’m not talking about jaw-jackin’ John who drops in several times each day just to waste time – that’s for another article on another day).

One of the key behaviors of those demonstrating real executive presence is the appearance that they have ample time to invest whenever necessary. Those with presence don’t seem to be spastic and harried all day, a slave to both their calendar and current raging fires.

They seem calm and in control and are masters of their time. They seldom, if ever, offer “I don’t have the time” as an excuse, nor do they appear too busy to have that discussion.

Did I mention they seem clearly in control?

9. If you’re planning to grow, but not building your bench, you’re planning to fail. Most fast-growth efforts become stymied from lack of leadership, not resources.

  Now, I realize my bias in this conversation, but hear me out. Organizations looking at growth, particularly significant growth, are all awash in planning and such. Flip-chart-slinging-strategy sessions with 10-12 company execs and influencers, good chow (pre-apocalypse, anyway) and maybe even drinks at dinner.

The plans… they are a-flyin’.

Capital dollars resourced? Check.

Recruitment plan? Check.

Facility preparations? Check.

Leadership bench availability? Nah, we’ll wing it.

Wait… what??

If you believe your plans – those 3-ring binders represented by endless slide decks – why the hell aren’t you planning for your growing leadership needs? Think you’ll just wish hard, rub the lamp, click your heels together and boom! Leaders everywhere, all ready to get to work and manage your newfound, hard-fought growth?

News flash, Einstein. Not gonna happen.

Plan for growth by building your bench. If we develop existing and potential leaders for potential growth, there’s no downside. Either we need them and promote them, or we have better trained leaders in existing roles.

Hard to see a downside here. Planning includes leadership planning.

10. Grace and accountability can coexist. You may have heard before, but my most successful clients continue to reinforce the concept.

This has turned in to my mantra of sorts.

This whole bit about how holding others (and ourselves) accountable is mean-spirited or somehow offensive needs to go the way of the $1 cup o’joe. It just ain’t so. At least, it doesn’t have to be so.

This is the crux of the matter. Holding ourselves accountable isn’t narcissistic, it’s just pulling our weight.

Expecting accountability from others isn’t aggressive or forward, it’s compassionate, caring and kind. It’s knowing that we all do better when we expect the best from everyone.

Demonstrable empathy is a true example of successful leadership.

Empathy, at its core, is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling; taking it further, empathy includes caring for other people and having a real desire to help them. And one of the best ways to pull that off in leadership is to be clear with expectations, vicious about providing resources and support, then creating the environment where we hold each other accountable for achieving what we set out to do.

Our ultimate goal is to help each other – to steal from Army recruiting – Be all we can be. Be the best we can be.

For a leader, it means bringing kindness, empathy, and respect; It means using those as levers to help others succeed, to grow and Improve.

Grace means courteous good will. Sometimes even unmerited assistance.

Accountability means personal ownership of a specific expectation or result.

Grace and accountability can coexist.

Best Boss Ever: Back to the Leadership Basics in 2022

Wow! Where the hell did 2021 go, and why did it leave us with so many work environment leadership challenges that none of us saw coming at the beginning of 2020? We’re struggling how to manage a blended (at home / at the office) workforce and either losing workers as part of the Great Resignation (yeah, that was predictable) or trying to attract the talent we let go during the pandemic back to our company.

That’s what’s facing most of us in 2022. What worked in 2019 didn’t work in 2020. What worked in 2020 didn’t work in 2021. And this being the first newsletter of the year, let’s talk about what will work in 2022?

The basics. That’s right, let’s get back to the leadership basics in 2022. If you haven’t read the phrase ‘leadership hasn’t changed much in a couple thousand years’ in one of our newsletters or heard it in our coaching, you must be new to Triangle Performance.

Why do I believe in the basics? When’s the last time you heard a service industry employee say unsolicited, “I have the best boss ever!

It had been so long for me that I was stunned when I heard it.

I was simply picking up my dry cleaning near closing time one evening when I expressed my appreciation that this small, local dry cleaners was able to stay open through the long period when none of us were getting our business clothes dirty. She nonchalantly replied, “That’s because I have the best boss I’ve ever had.”

To be honest, I was so surprised I didn’t even ask her why… until the next day. I went back and asked what made her boss the best.

  • “He talks to us, not at us.”
  • “He has a large workforce but makes an effort to know each one of us individually.”
  • “He made sure each of us was okay with reduced hours during the pandemic but never had to let anyone go.”
  • “If we make a mistake, he helps us learn how to learn from it and not repeat it.”
  • “If there’s conflict in the workplace, he addresses it immediately and helps us resolve it so we can all work together cooperatively.”
  • “He takes time to talk to me as a person and really listen; I feel like he genuinely cares how I’m doing.”

HOLY LEADERSHIP SKILLS, BATMAN!

You can accuse me of making this stuff up for the sake of our business or because I ran out of things to write about, but that would be your loss. This is the unadulterated result of real-life leadership, and it’s so basic that we should be embarrassed if our team doesn’t already feel like this person does.

Think of those bullets as a to do list for 2022.

So I’m going to call this boss Karl, because I want you to think of him as a real person and not just the boss. That, and the only guy I actually know named Karl couldn’t possibly be confused with the boss.

I wanted to find out where Karl got his secret leadership sauce, so I called him. Surprised and with humility, he quickly told me he didn’t do anything special… which was true. None of the statements above reveal anything special, except maybe not letting anyone go because of COVID.

Karl succinctly summed up his leadership philosophy’s source: “I had a great boss when I was younger.”

From watching his boss, Karl came to believe it’s not all about making money but also about helping others. Karl asked, “Who else is going to help those who work hard catch a break if not us bosses?” Good question.

Because Karl knows all his employees individually, he can tell when someone’s a little off and looks for little things he can do to make a difference. I dare say that while some of us may notice when our folks are having a bad day, very few of us would take the next step like Karl.

How about that last bullet up there? Really Listens and Genuinely Cares!!! Not nearly enough of that in the workplace – or in the home or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Karl tries to live out his motto “If you care, I care” with his people, and it shows.

One of a leader’s top responsibilities is developing new leaders. I’m glad Karl’s boss took that responsibility to heart… and so are his employees.

So what can we do that we know will work in 2022? Leadership basics. Let’s dust off our basic leadership skills and start the new year off on the right foot, shall we?

It’s up to you, leaders.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

10 Client Lessons from 2021, PART 1

Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.

          — Aristotle

This is Part 1 of a 2-Part series

I love the Aristotle quote. There’s plenty of successful leaders and organizations that “know,” and they do well with that knowledge. The next level folks, they understand, and they teach that knowledge to others, sometimes even unknowingly.

I’m a lifelong student of leadership. I live it, breathe it, study it. I coach executives in it, and advise senior-most teams on its concepts, principles, and values.

Yet I learn – from those very people paying me for counsel. No, this isn’t a consultant-stealing-my-watch-to-tell-me-the-time moment; it’s how we all get better. We study, learn, execute, examine, and adjust – adapting to changing environments and results.

And I learn a ton from our clients. Watching them execute, adjust, and execute again. Testing, reinforcing, molding behaviors to fit their organization’s needs. It’s fun to watch. So, I’ve decided to share my learnings; after all, I learned them from someone else, it only seems fair to pass them on.

My Top 10 Lessons Learned from Clients, circa 2021:

1. Culture is everything. Let me say that again – culture is everything. With a successful, intentional culture, you can overcome a talent shortage, resource constraints, even an occasional supply chain breakdown.

We cannot, however, progress past an ineffective culture. Organizations succeeding (not simply surviving) through our recent apocalypse didn’t do so simply because their CEO was smarter than the others, or because their credit line held up.

Culture supports leadership and organizations when tangible resources cannot. People’s desires to succeed, based on their support of the organization’s direction and demonstrable principles, is what separates the surviving from the thriving. Get it right.

2. Intellect, purpose, and leadership are key. In senior roles, intellect, purpose, and leadership beat out subject matter expertise hands down. Sure, rockstar functional expertise coupled with these components would be fantastic; but frankly, that functional mastery is way down the list for success.

Not to say we don’t want subject matter expertise – only that, when canvassing candidates for those roles, don’t start with specific knowledge. Start first by identifying those with the intellect (business acumen, learning ability), purpose (desire to succeed, proven processes), and leadership (influencing, collaborating, driven).

3. Metrics without a system are meaningless. Metrics must be built on a system to be truly successful. A system is a repeatable process with predictable results.

Windfalls may make bonus time fun, but do not showcase leadership success. The occasional windfall is a pleasure for all to enjoy, to be sure. But a reliance on windfalls is like buying lottery tickets as a retirement plan.

If a manager is producing solid metrics but is unable to describe how they did it or equally unable to explain how those metrics will be repeated, they aren’t leading, they’re simply along for the ride. A fun ride, to be sure, but they aren’t leading. Good leadership takes advantage of good luck – it doesn’t require it to succeed.

4. High functioning teams disagree. A lot. Difficult discussions are essential for team success. Remember, when reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the organization is better served.

One of the most high-functioning leadership teams I’ve worked with didn’t necessarily start out that way. It wasn’t until they could trust each other enough to safely disagree – frequently if necessary and with strong passion and conviction – that they really began to gel.

This same team asked for 360 surveys on the entire team, not uncommon in my world. Then they wanted to share their results with each other; again, not entirely uncommon.

Finally, and this is the uncommon part, I facilitated a session with the team to share openly in groups how they could help each other build and improve on the strengths and opportunities identified in each other’s 360 survey. Courage, transparency, vulnerability. A big deal.

5. Low-hanging fruit creates early wins; allow grace with future misses and missteps. Frequently, we replace a key incumbent with someone who has all the necessary skills that the predecessor lacked. Maybe the former exec was disorganized and a slow decision-maker; we fill that position with a hyper-organized high-speed decision-maker, and it immediately makes everyone say “oooh,” and “aaah.”

Followed by “Damned, we’re smart. We put the right person in the right job!”

Then, reality hits. The honeymoon wraps up, and the new exec faces some challenges that maybe they weren’t prepared for. Maybe they make a bad decision or two. It’s easy to say, “I’m not sure we put the right person in that job.” In fact, however, mistakes will be made, some things will get screwed up, missteps will occur, judgments will be questioned.

Know this. Realize going in that Mr/Ms NewExec will do some great things initially (hopefully), but eventually will become part of a functioning reality where big things happen and mistakes are made; we accept both and move on. Accolades for wins, grace for losses. Two heads of the same coin.

Stay tuned for 10 Client Lessons from 2021, PART 2

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