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.

You Don’t Have to be a Jerk; Really, You Don’t

   — Grace and accountability can coexist

Lots of you have asked why I say “Grace and accountability can coexist” so frequently, particularly since (a) I tend to be exceedingly direct in my approach,  (b) I have a blog named “The Brazen Leader,” and (c) I coach and speak extensively on accountability cultures and what that means.

Lemme ‘splain.

No, there’s too much, let me sum up:

  1. Yes, I am usually direct in my speaking and coaching style. There’s good reason for that, as most of my clients are C-level, and trying to make a point to them while dancing around the yard is likely to result in eye-rolling, yawning and general disgust. Think really, really, short attention spans.

So, I go straight to the point first, then clean it up if I need to. Spoiler alert – seldom do I need to. Direct people generally need to hear things in a direct fashion. That I enjoy it is just icing on my cake.

  1. It’s true, my blog is named The Brazen Leader (you do read my blog, right? Subscribe and follow now. Do it. See “direct in style” mentioned above). But being brazen doesn’t mean being an asshole.

[brey-zuh n]

adjective
1. bold and without shame.
2. shameless.

In today’s day of milquetoast and timidity, this definition suits me just fine, and should rally all leadership to remember that leadership is a responsibility, an obligation, and a noble calling; that those who follow us don’t need a buddy, commiserator or simpatico.

They didn’t show up looking for a friend—they need us to lead. And that means doing so outwardly… decisively… boldly.

Sure, we should be understanding, and empathy is a hallmark of a successful leader. But being in front means sometimes you get in people’s face. Sometimes tough-love is the best love. And sometimes—just sometimes—it means the loneliness that comes from making the hard calls. The decisions that are best for people and organizations, even if not immediately popular.

It means being bold, and without any shame whatsoever.

It means being Brazen.

Note, I never said be a jerk or an asshole. Be Brazen.

  1. Finally, this whole bit about how holding others (and ourselves) accountable is mean-spirited or somehow offensive needs to go the way of the dodo bird. 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.

As mentioned above, 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.

Accepted Doesn’t Mean Acceptable

… even if we’ve always done it that way

We Texans were a little bit whiney last month during SNOWVID-21, but most of us are better now that we’re back to the old normal of the global pandemic. There are still some recovery efforts and healing going on that are teaching lessons “we” thought we’d already known. That’s the royal “we” because it’s less damning than saying I.

Like untold numbers of Texans, my wife slipped on the ice last month and broke a bone. It’s the shoulder attached to her dominant hand rendering her mostly unable to fend for herself for the last few weeks. I thought the occasional use of humor would take the edge off of her frustration; apparently, I used the phrase peeling her grapes and feeding her bon bons one too many times.

How often do we use humor around the workplace that not everyone thinks is funny? Hey, just because they don’t have a sense of humor doesn’t mean I’m not funny, right? In last month’s At C-Level, Kevin Berchelman wrote about being more aware as senior leaders of how their “suggestions” impact others. Same goes for humor… and any other little comments the boss makes. We can never forget as leaders everything we say or do is being paid attention to.

I can hear a lot of eye rolling out there accompanied by disappointment that I’m getting all politically correct. I’m not. My point is a leader’s style may have been accepted for years, and people say, “Well, that’s just Kevin being Kevin.” But just because what’s said and done has been accepted by others, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

When it comes to humor, no one likes to be made fun of, and whether or not others think it’s mean spirited they’ll certainly be on guard for when it’s their time to be the butt of the joke. I’m not advocating a humor-free workplace; I’m saying that humor – and anything we think – will probably better received if we don’t express it the very second we think it.

Enough about humor. Another example: someone leaves a meeting to retrieve something he forgot at his desk. As he leaves, the boss makes a comment that is interpreted as less than complementary. The boss doesn’t think anything about it because it’s always been accepted, but the result is a trust killer: everyone else around the table now knows that the boss talks about them behind their backs. Not acceptable.

A board president makes an innocent comment to a new board member in response to his suggestion: “That’s not really the way we do it here.” The comment is accepted by the other board members, but the president just proved that she’s not interested in diverse thought and confirmed what the new member already anxiously thought… he’s an outsider. Accepted but not acceptable.

We roll our eyes in response to a suggestion. We just devalued that person’s experience and professionalism in front of others (at least that’s the perception). Public humiliation is always a morale booster.

We nonchalantly comment about someone’s clothing. Okay, Judgey McJudgeface, we just made others self-conscious as they assume we’re judging the way they dress. We just showed our genuine selves to them. Again, accepted behavior for years but not acceptable for a leader trying to build team cohesiveness and trust.

These are not big things to us, and we’re usually not even aware we’re doing something unacceptable. And because we’ve long accepted that behavior from others – including from those who lead us – we accept if from ourselves. It’s become a bad habit that we don’t know we should break.

And like most bad habits, breaking them isn’t difficult (just stop it!), but it’s not easy either. It requires us to consider others before we let that thought whirling around in our head like a centrifuge come flying out of our mouth.

As leaders, our small but unacceptable words and deeds are usually – and unfortunately – accepted by others. But they certainly shouldn’t be by us.

We have to be intentional about demonstrating acceptable behavior. After all, leading by example isn’t an option.

How about you? Acceptable or just accepted?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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