Align Your Leadership Spine

leadership alignmentRemember the 55-38-7 communication rule? Even though its specifics have been disputed, there is truth to the idea that the messages you send are muddled when your words don’t match your behaviors. The same confusion can occur between your company’s strategy, initiatives, and daily work. To avoid confusion, align this leadership “spine” by adjusting your intention, attention, and actions. When you do, strategy and initiatives inform daily work and flow together. When you align these leadership activities, you bolster your capacity to lead. Here’s how:

Clarify Your Intentions

Intentions set the course for what you want. Your intentions seem obvious to you, but they aren’t necessarily obvious to everyone else. Without the benefit of knowing exactly what is in YOUR head, others interpret your messages based on what’s in THEIR heads. For example, from your perspective, if you’re hesitant to move forward on something, you might be concerned about identified risks. However, others might interpret your slow decision-making as a lack of know-how or of confidence or interest in moving forward with an initiative.

Your intentions are unclear, when:
1) your decision and resulting action plans are disconnected from your company’s vision, mission, values, and strategy and/or
2) you haven’t communicated your decision and proposed action plan in a way that explicitly ties them to the company’s broader strategy.

To clarify your intentions, create a clear line of connection between company vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities/goals by highlighting the decisions you made and actions taken. Communicate these connection to direct reports and others before you start moving your decisions forward.

Move From Distraction to Focused Attention

With clear intentions, your employees will follow your lead regarding where to put THEIR focus. Thus, you must limit distractions and model an ability to focus your attention on the things that will help your company stay the course.

To determine your level of distraction versus focus, look at how much time and effort you give to people and tasks related to what you say are the company’s most important priorities. The 80/20 rule serves as a general guideline. That is, strive to spend approximately 20% of your weekly working time performing tasks that are appropriate to your role and that relate to your team or company’s important initiatives.

Check yourself by looking back at how you’ve been using your time over the past couple of weeks. If you’ve been distracted from the company’s most important priorities, look at what’s getting in your way (e.g., allowing unnecessary interruptions, unclear work processes for direct reports that create dependency on you, failing to take time to analyze data or to plan next steps, etc.).

Take Deliberate Action

With clear intentions and focused attention on important priorities, you’re ready to “walk the talk” and to take action, appropriate for your role, to move things forward. You could . . .

  • spend time following up with direct reports on progress in their respective roles,
  • communicate with a broader group of employees about what’s happening and how progress is being made,
  • spend time fostering internal and external relationships that will further those initiatives, and/or
  • ensure direct reports develop new competencies that support the initiatives.

The bottom line is to do the tasks and strengthen the relationships that will further the original intention of the strategic and tactical plans.

It seems so simple to make sure your words and actions are reflecting company priorities. Yet, if you don’t consciously maintain that aligned focus each day, you can easily become reactive and find yourself distracted by events that aren’t worth your time and attention. In the end, you will see how powerful it is to align the leadership “vertebrae” of intention, attention, and action.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics during rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Beliefs That Are Wasting Your Time

jugglingFeel like you don’t have time to get around to important tasks? You might be frustrated that you are extremely busy but aren’t accomplishing the important stuff that would move your strategy forward. Underneath, you may be angry or resentful that you have to do it all. What if you are wasting your own time because of a few of your own subconscious beliefs? These five beliefs are counter to time mastery and could be causing you to waste your time:

1. “No one else will do it right.”

Have you ever found yourself working on a project or task that you could have delegated or assigned to someone else because you didn’t have faith that others would do it correctly? You are the victim of a perfectionistic belief that only you know how to do things to high standards. That may or may not be true, but does everything need to be done perfectly?

When assigning a task to a direct report, make sure you describe the quality standards required. To keep things on track, schedule follow-up meetings to check in and encourage your employees to check back with you if there are questions about how well something needs to be done.

2. “I can’t count on anyone else to get it done.”

Do you find yourself working on something that a direct report should be doing because you don’t trust them to get it done? Similar to perfectionism, you might have a trust issue around the timeliness of completion. In addition to deadlines and check-in points along the way, counter this belief by working with your employee to prioritize the work. This may include identifying other tasks that can be postponed, re-assigned, or dropped altogether. This way, you can keep things on schedule for timely completion without doing it yourself.

3. “I’ll pick up the slack because my employees are already overworked.”

It’s not a bad thing to assist your team with task work once in a while. However, you know it’s a problem if you believe you need to rescue them often. Also, you may feel resentful that you are picking up slack even though you chose to do it for them. When you frequently take on the work of others, you often bury yourself with work that is not of strategic value for your own role.

Before being tempted to ride to your employees’ rescue, help direct report prioritize their tasks. Often, they will be able to see where they are spending too much of their time on tasks and projects that are not that important at the moment in favor of those that are more pressing and strategic.

4. “I need to be available to everyone 100% of the time.”

When you put yourself at the mercy of the needs and timetables of others, others will interrupt your attention and focus frequently. You might “need to be needed” or “need to be liked”. It’s not selfish to schedule some uninterrupted time to work on your own tasks. It’s akin to being in a meeting when you wouldn’t expect others to interrupt you for routine questions.

To counter this belief, train your staff that a closed door means “I can’t talk to you now.” Also, build some predictable “open door” time into your schedule, when they are welcome to pop in. Finally, train them to save non-urgent questions for regularly scheduled meetings, such as weekly one-on-ones or weekly team meetings.

5. “It’s easier to do it myself.”

Yes. You can do many tasks faster than your employees because of your experience and knowledge. However, when you do this, you deprive employees of the experience. You also deprive them of the lessons they could learn from making a few mistakes along the way. Either you’re showing off or you are falling victim to a notion of false expediency.

Making time to delegate the task with clear expectations and a reasonable timeline will save you time in the long run as you build up employees’ independence and competence. Over time, you’ll be able to delegate more and more to them, saving you more time in the long run.

As a leader, your main job is to facilitate the work of others based on strategic priority. Your job is not to mire yourself down in the task work of others. When you catch yourself with these beliefs, you’ll find that they are really about you wanting to show that you can produce the work like a sole contributor. Great. But that’s not your job anymore. Time to pass on your know-how to your direct reports and free up your time to lead.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

The Hidden Meanings Behind Those Pesky Interruptions by Employees

“Hey, Boss. Do you have a minute?” How many times a week do you hear that? It can be frustrating to hear those words when you

interruptionswere finally getting some momentum on your own projects. What can you do to maximize your own time at work by minimizing interruptions by your direct reports? First, you need to understand the hidden meanings behind them.

Hidden Meaning 1: “Should I even start this?”

Employees will interrupt you to get clarification about what you really expect them to do. This occurs when employees are unclear about your expectations or when you have a habit of jumping in to do their work (aka “micromanaging”). To counter this, get clear about how your time is best spent and which tasks and meetings could be delegated to direct reports. Also, clarify your expectations by defining the scope of work you assign them, along with deadlines and check-in points.

Hidden Meaning 2: “I’m not touching this with a 10-ft. pole.”

When things “blow up”, employees will interrupt you to solve the problem they see as “above their pay grades”. Often, you can avoid these types of “fires”. Minimize this type of interruption by exploring “why” things went sideways to begin with by using The 5 Whys technique. Once you know the root cause of the “fire”, you can put things in place to avoid these types of events and the interruptions that result.

Hidden Meaning 3: “This isn’t working the way it should.”

When processes aren’t working consistently to produce the expected results, you’re likely to get an unannounced knock at your door with a question about how to do something. Decrease interruptions due to process questions by spending time up front to (1) clarify ownership of processes, (2) automate what you can, and (3) fix the root causes of backlogs, poor hand-offs, and errors.

Hidden Meaning 4: “When are you gonna be around to discuss this?”

Your employees will interrupt you haphazardly if they are uncertain of your availability for questions and consultations. It pays to create predictable and consistent opportunities for them to give and receive information they need to do their jobs. To do this, ensure you have scheduled, timely meetings with direct reports – in groups or individually — for reporting back, checking up, and checking in. This allows you to stay abreast of what’s going on and encourages employees to save their updates for your next scheduled meeting.

Daily huddles and meetings on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis can cover the strategic and tactical information that needs to be shared. Additionally, you can schedule a couple hours throughout the week where your door is open for employees to talk with you for up to 15 minutes about the inevitable “things that come up”.

Instead of getting annoyed at interruptions, take the time to assess the reasons for the interruptions. Then, create the clarifications, processes, and meetings that give your direct reports the access to you that is warranted and productive.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Feeling Overwhelmed is Your Own Fault: 8 Tips to Stop It

With equanimity, you see into the transient and imperfect nature of experience, and your aim is to remain ‘disenchanted’ — free of the spells cast by pleasure and pain. In this . . . sense of the word, disenchanted, you are not disappointed or dissatisfied with life; you simply see through its apparent charms and alarms and are not knocked off center by either.”      –Rick Hanson, Buddha’s Brain

The world moves so quickly these days, it feels hard to keep up. With the proliferation of available information, you can trick yourself into believing that you need to keep up with all information and happenings. However, it isn’t simply paying attention to everything that’s going on that makes you productive and valuable; it’s staying intentionally attuned to the things you’ve identified as important and relevant to your business that keeps you productive and on target.

In short, you’ll stop feeling overwhelmed when you learn to say “no” to everything that is not fundamentally important to achieving your current goals.

Here are eight tips for reducing feelings of overwhelm and keeping yourself on track with the things you’ve identified as important:

  1. Get comfortable with the fact that most information is just noise. Just because information is accessible doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you.
  2. Determine what’s fundamentally important to maximize your business and yourself. The really important things for business tend to be the basics: mission, vision, values, current goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), key relationships, and professional development for you and your staff.
  3. Base your everyday tasks and activities what’s fundamentally important. Look at your calendar. Do your day-to-day appointments and scheduled blocks for projects etc. reflect the fundamentals as they relate to your position? Whether you’re the CEO or the VP of Human Resources, there are things you ought to be doing to further the company’s current goals. Are you? If you find items that have low value related to the company’s goals, figure out what to do about them, including delegating them to others who have the capability and could grow from the opportunity.
  4. Reduce your connection to irrelevant information. Doing simple things to decrease distraction can reduce feelings of overwhelm, like turning off pop-up email notifications, creating email rules that dispense with low priority email messages, and unsubscribing from email lists that you rarely find helpful.
  5. Train your staff about your response priorities. Which topics are front-burner for you? What counts as an “emergency” when they should definitely interrupt you? What’s your response time for texts versus email versus phone calls and when should they use each method of communication?
  6. Build time into your schedule when you are intentionally available for drop-in conversations. This presumes that you set aside “do not disturb” time when you are focused on strategic and project work. Having “office hours” when you’re readily available encourages others to access you on your terms, not theirs.
  7. Find root causes to other disruptions or time wasters. “Fires” usually occur when they wasn’t a good process in place for handling a situation. Look at ways to create or refine processes for handling most things that are likely to challenge your staff, so they learn to do things without you.
  8. Question whether you really need to have or attend the meetings on your calendar. Maybe you do, but it’s good to review whether meetings are really a good use of your time.

Practice seeing through the “charms” and “alarms” of life to keep your center. Knowing what’s important and saying “no” to the rest is the key to reducing feelings of overwhelm.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman challenges leaders to become agents of positive change in their companies by making everyone around them as invested as they are. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

 


Free, Live, Online Class: How to Create a Distraction-Proof Workplace 

July 26 & 27, 2016

Go to curiousmondo.com to register and for more information.

 

How to Protect and Maximize Your Time

What is your most precious asset as an executive?

Some say money and investments. Others believe their professional relationships and networks top the list. Still others put personal health, vitality, and energy as number one.

However, there is one asset that is not renewable and that makes it more precious than any other:  Your time. Every second you use up is a second you cannot get back.

While money, relationships, and health are valuable and even precious, they are all renewable to some extent. For instance, you can earn back lost money and can find new opportunities and investments to replace others that went south. You can renew relationships by repairing strained ones and by meeting new people to bolster your network. Additionally, you can make healthy choices regarding diet and exercise and can manage stress to enhance or maintain your health, vitality, and energy.

You know time is precious. Yet, at work, you act as though you have all the time in the world. You insert yourself in situations that are more suitable for or best left to others. You waste time doing things that are not essential to further your career or to achieve your company’s strategic priorities. You spend time handling tasks that are not the most important things for your particular leadership role.

The results? You feel overwhelmed. You lose focus. You fail to move the important or high-impact items forward. Consequently, your other assets suffer as well. The stress of too much to do causes a corresponding loss of energy and vitality. You do not relate as well with others because you are distracted and cannot give your full attention. Ultimately, you are apt to make poor decisions that cost money.

Time is indeed your most precious asset. To protect it, treat it as respectfully as you would your money, relationships, and health by doing the following:

  1. Measure how you use it. You routinely use data when analyzing the performance of your company, your employees, and yourself.  In the same way, gather data to measure how strategically you spend your time. Two or three weeks’ worth of data is usually enough to get an idea of the types of activities you pay attention to. Go longer to get a fuller picture. You may be surprised at what you think you spend time on versus what you do in practice.
  2. Analyze your decisions regarding how you use it. Based on your company’s strategic priorities, are you spending time on role-related tasks that move those priorities forward? Chances are you could create better alignment.
  3. Make more strategic choices going forward. Adjust the use of your time to reflect the things that are most important for your life, your role, your career, your company at present. This might mean you decide to delegate tasks to an administrative assistant or other direct report. It might mean you intentionally schedule appointments with yourself in your calendar to define and protect the time necessary to attend to priorities that are important for you.
  4. Do what it takes to set boundaries to execute those choices. Some of the biggest time wasters are interruptions, “emergencies” (usually not yours), poorly run or otherwise unproductive meetings, poor work processes, and hours spent perfecting your work product, such as memos or other reports that don’t need to be perfect.  Also set boundaries by signaling your unavailability when you need time to concentrate by shutting your door or by using your administrative assistant as a gatekeeper.

In the case of time, sunk costs are truly sunk forever. For more impact, maximize the time you spend at work. You will be surprised at how your personal productivity increases.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is an executive coach for senior leaders who want to get clear and focused and see better results in productivity and profitability in their organizations. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: bethstrathman.com.

3 Tips for Taking Control of Your Attention

attention, listeningBemoaning the maddening busy-ness of your workweek? Why do you feel you have to be constantly connected to incoming input?

You’ve done it or seen others do it: constantly texting (probably multiple conversations at once), emailing, browsing, gaming, or talking on the phone.  To what end?  There is no way that ANYONE has that much they NEED to engage with throughout their waking hours. Maybe it has to do anxiety that constantly taps your shoulder, making you believe you must be on the lookout for real time problems or new opportunities or risk missing out on something important.

I call it “rocking chair” behavior: you’re moving, but you’re not going anywhere.

Just because you have the technology that provides a constant stream of information doesn’t mean you should or must stay at the end of its tether.  You are deluding yourself into believing that everything that is reported in a 24/7 culture is relevant or important for your survival and success.

It’s not.  Most of it is simply noise.
“Life . . . is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth

You are hard-wired to perk up at anything perceived as “negative” in the environment for your own self-preservation.  However, in today’s world, this caveman threat response is working overtime. Your residual reptilian brain equates almost everything you encounter in the modern world with a wild animal attack. Consequently, the constant assault of 21st century information translates into a stream of perceived survival threats, creating feelings of overwhelm and locking you in a constant threat response.  Contrary to the benefit you thought you were getting by drinking in all this data, the resulting chronic threat response actually decreases your thinking capacity and narrows your focus instead of expanding it.

Just stop it.

I’m not advocating burying your head in the sand to avoid what requires your attention.  Simply, become smarter about where you put your attention.  Have the courage to pull yourself loose from the constant stream of input focus on what is really important.  Become intentional about what information you allow into your awareness, then consciously and deliberately determine what to do with it.

 “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”  — Lao Tzu

Here are 3 suggestions for uncoupling yourself from the barrage of input and deliberately attending to what matters:

1. Set an intention

. . . an intention to stop getting sucked in by each piece of information coming your way and the temptation to respond immediately to it.  The earth won’t stop spinning if you don’t immediately text someone back or allow a phone call to go to voicemail.  And no one will hate you.  Others are probably surprised that you are so available most of the time anyway.  (Try not watching TV or streaming news for a week.  You’ll be surprised on how much you DIDN’T miss out on.)

2. Set boundaries with yourself and others

. . . about what you respond to and when.  When do you choose to be most available to respond immediately to texts and phone calls?  What times throughout the day do you choose to return emails? What times of day do you choose not to respond immediately to phone calls, email, or texts?  What is the definition of an “emergency” that will justify an interruption and trigger an immediate response from you?  To whom do you choose to always respond immediately — Boss? Parent? Child? Spouse? Bookie?

3. Clarify the purpose and current vision of success

. . . for yourself and your organization.  Knowing this, you’ll know what information is relevant to attend to.

At bottom, you must have the courage to choose.  Choose what you allow into your world.  The rest can remain noise.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more about her at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Tips to Increase Your Personal Productivity

personal productivity, time managementYou’re smart. You’re hard-working. You have the necessary resources and good employees. Yet, you feel as though you get nothing done during most days. Most of the time, you feel off-balance and pulled in a hundred different directions. You spend to much time feeling unfocused and wondering why you can’t get the “important” stuff done.

In short, you feel overworked and “unproductive”.

When looking to increase employee productivity, many leaders often look at the structure of their business, employee performance and engagement, and work processes. And these are excellent places to tweak to make sure the business is hitting on all cylinders. However, when it comes to your own personal productivity, it’s something you probably weren’t taught in school.

You might underestimate the impact you have on their employees, not realizing that your energy, habits, values, and focus radiate throughout your company or area of responsibility. For this reason, any productivity gains from improving company-wide work processes and employee performance can be hampered if you haven’t examined your own ability to be more personally productive.

Being personally productive doesn’t mean you need to be pitching in and doing the work that is assigned to and more appropriately done by others. Rather, it requires you to do the work appropriate to your leadership role effectively.

To maximize your personal productivity, start with these three ideas:

1. Design your calendar to reflect business priorities.

Your company’s current goals come from the strategic plan. In turn, your calendar must reflect these strategic goals and priorities. For example, if your company is aiming to increase revenues by 10% over at 24-month period, you must schedule the appropriate weekly activities that ensure you are doing your part to achieve that goal.

Examples of these types of valuable tasks might be (1)  recognizing employees who are going the extra mile toward the company goals; (2) meeting with your direct reports to monitor progress toward the overall goal; or (3) working with a team to help them determine how work processes can be improved to help achieve the goal.

It seems like such a simple concept. Yet it is easy to get caught up in the daily swirl of “administrivia” and lose track of the next steps you must do or follow up on to keep the larger goals and initiatives moving forward.

And you really probably need to concentrate on these goal-driven activities about 20% of the time you spend at work (or about 10-12 hours per week). The remaining hours of your weekly calendar will reflect the routine activities that normally consume your time – meetings, phone calls, email, keeping up on industry trends, reviewing financials, board business, meeting with key customers, processing through the information that lands in your office, etc.

2. Create a personal workflow system.

Make sure you are comfortable with the way information flows through your office. Then, consciously and intentionally dedicate time everyday to process through the information coming into your office via your physical inbox, phone, email, and other systems in use within your company. Again, the goals from your strategic plan help you prioritize the items to do or delegate to others.

3. Delegate more.

And speaking of delegation . . . .  Because your aim is to be productive rather than merely busy, make sure you are doing the work that is appropriate to you goal. Other tasks can be delegated to others. Be sure to fully utilize your administrative assistant and direct reports. Delegating to others will free up time for you and give opportunities to develop through delegated tasks to those who have the skills and expertise. Delegate work if it is not critical that you perform it and if it’s work that is appropriate in responsibility level for the position to which you want to delegate it.

You will find that putting these simple steps in place keeps your mind clearer and more focused and reduces stress by creating a framework that helps keep your most important work moving forward and in perspective.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more about her at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.