Lead by Example

If you want team members to work effectively, you should be doing the work with them, at least occasionally. This is especially true when it comes to tasks that many leaders find beneath their level in the organization because it sends powerful signals that build a better team. I started out as an hourly skilled laborer in my organization and I can tell you first hand, I had little respect for bosses I never saw on the shop floor. Here are 4 benefits to getting out there.

1. By sweeping a shop floor or stocking a warehouse shelf, it shows you are humble and not above a little manual labor with the team. This motivates the team by showing them the task is important enough to the success of the organization that the boss will spend time on it. I get in early enough to help the night shift clean up and the day shift to get staged and ready. This signals the team that I’m committed to working hard and putting in hours outside of the normal business day to contribute to the success of the organization. They’ll work harder in return.

2. It shows you care that the task gets done and done the way you would if it was your daily job. This sets a standard for quality that the team may not arrive at on their own if you’re telling them what to do and how to do it from the office. You’ll earn respect from the people who matter the most; the ones doing the work that’s essential to sustaining the business. A level of participation and quality will be achieved that won’t be if you never show up and pitch in to set the example.

3. I guarantee you will find things that need improved to be more efficient along the way. Ask the team members you’re working with questions about the process. This lets them know you care about the safety and efficiency of the work being performed and that you’re committed to improving the organization when you see opportunities. Next time, they’ll come to you with suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t worry that they’ll find out you don’t know how everything works; keep your ego in check and approach it as an opportunity to understand the business better, the team will respect you for the efforts.

4. Successful teams are built on successful relationships and you won’t build those relationships if you’re not getting out and visiting employees at all levels of the organization, especially your direct reports. They’ll be more comfortable and open up more when you’re working alongside them. You’ll be in a position to put rumors to rest and share opportunities for growth with the team to help them feel secure the organization is in good shape. People fear the unknown and if you’re not talking about the positives, they will assume the worst and may look for other positions.

Make time to get out there and lead by example!


Retirement Savings? Start Small.

“Money makes money. And the money that money makes, makes money.” -Ben Franklin

Retirement is one aspect of life most of us will participate in, either by choice or because poor health forces us there, so why do so many people delay saving for retirement? The earlier you save, even if it’s a small amount, the more time compound interest can work in your favor to grow your retirement savings. I recently spoke to a high school class of graduating seniors about how to be successful in their careers and ended my speech with an example of how investing $100 consistently each month throughout their 40-year careers could make them millionaires compared to the $230,000 they would save if they began at age 50 and invested $1,000 a month for 10 years with the same annual return. Perhaps my words of wisdom were lost on 18-year olds just starting out in life but the example is a useful one for demonstrating the power of compound interest to people of all ages and will hopefully spur some to start saving today, even if it’s a small amount.

The rule of thumb is you should shoot for replacing 80% of your annual working income in retirement, so for someone making $100,000 a year today, that would be $80,000. Another rule is that you should only draw 4% of your savings in order to have decent chance at making it last through an average retirement. Under these guidelines, someone would need $2 million saved in order to draw $80,000 per year safely. These are general guidelines and I encourage the use of a professional retirement planner for your individual circumstance, but this example demonstrates what a large and important task saving for retirement actually is and surprises many who haven’t made it a priority.

Another example is that money invested at age 25 triples by age 45 based on average U.S. stock market returns. U.S. employers and financial service firms have done a great job making it easier for people to save and invest for retirement with many employers matching up to 100% of employee contributions up to a maximum amount. If at all possible, you should be saving the minimum amount to receive the match from your employer because if not, you’re passing up on free money that will grow into more money over time.

Another great tool most employer 401k plans offer is the ability to automatically increase your contributions on a scheduled basis. This makes it easy for people who want to get to a point where they’re saving 15% of their income but can’t get there all at once. By increasing the savings rate 1% annually for example, it reduces the anxiety and allows people to adjust to saving more over a long period of time.

Saving for retirement is important and the earlier you start the better off you’ll be, but if you’re behind train yourself to be intentional about it. There are so many free resources available to learn more about retirement saving that anyone can learn enough to understand the basics on their own. Start Small and build up with the help of a professional retirement planner. Just like a personal trainer will hold you accountable for behavior that benefits you, so will a good financial planner. Starting is the hardest part, so start today and encourage those you care about to do the same!


Live a Little


Motivated professionals love to work, and the argument could be made the world is a better place today because of their contributions, but how many end up regretting not living a little more when they reflect on their lives? My favorite TV commercial of all time is the old guy telling his grandkids how much he loved Harleys when he was younger. When they asked him about it, he had to tell them he never got it….he spent the money on aluminum siding instead! I put a link to the video above but it’s a great reminder that we’ll all die some day and most of us will get old enough to reflect on our lives.

I’ve always worked a lot, even when I was a kid, but as I get older I’m having to live with some regret despite achieving a lot of my personal and professional goals. Because I write every week about achieving goals, I feel the responsibility to remind everyone to live a little along the way. I don’t advocate quitting your job when you’ve got more responsibilities than savings though, just don’t spend your entire life working. Be intentional about creating balance between work and the rest of your life. If you enjoy work like I do, it’s really easy to dig into it for nine days or nine months, only to look up and find you missed some opportunities away from work to have new experiences.

One trap we fall into is thinking that if we push through this month or this year, everything will quiet down and we’ll have less on our plate at a later date. I do this a lot and find that it never holds true; the more value I provide, the more opportunities come my way to provide value. That’s a good thing but learning to manage it is a challenge, especially when ego and simple pride in your work get in the way.

Building a good team who shares your values and pride in the work your organization does is the best way to lighten your load enough to step away but keep an eye on them, there’s a few who will need to be encouraged to live a little as well. As a leader, you will be respected more by your team if you encourage them to enjoy life outside of work and get a higher quality of work being accomplished when your employees have some balance and aren’t burned out. Here’s to summer vacations!

Problems? Look in the Mirror First.

I could probably write an entire book on the subject of owning the outcome and getting out what you put into something but I want to keep it short today. I used to be a blamer but have learned a lot by reflecting on successes and failures and learning everything I could from good leaders. Learning to take ownership for your situation is a lifelong journey that some never complete. We can’t control everything that happens to us but we can control how we react to situations and usually the results we see today are the effects of behavior or decisions from our past that led us here. Once we realize and accept that, we can start to change the future by making better decisions today.

If you’re a leader, blaming others for failures is never the right decision because the root cause most likely began with you. Did someone screw up? Sure they did, but how long have you been tolerating behavior from that person instead of having hard conversations to get better results or getting that person off the team? If you choose to keep them on the team knowing they don’t perform, or you haven’t given them the tools or training they need to be successful, the problem is yours to own. You won’t get better results until you own most of what’s challenging you and preventing you from achieving goals. It’s way easier to blame others which is why it’s the most common excuse for not reaching goals, but it doesn’t help and actually causes others to question your leadership.

Personal goals are no different. You didn’t have time to go to the gym last week because work was so busy and everyone needed something from you? The kids needed driven to a friends house? Who didn’t have the confidence to say no and manage priorities? You. Accept that your behavior causes you to miss goals and own it. Either set different goals or change behavior to achieve them. Trust me, you’ll feel better taking ownership of outcomes and will begin to get better outcomes, a little at a time.

Expand Your Knowledge to Expand Your Potential

Knowledge is powerful because it builds your personal and professional value. In turn, this value helps you attain better positions, more clearly understand yourself, and lead the life you want. Historically, higher education through a university was your only option for attaining knowledge but now there are many free or low priced options available that people can benefit from on their own schedule. Universities are great because they force you to think deeper and more broadly than most people would on their own but if going to college doesn’t fit your circumstances, don’t be defeated.

The recipe for success in gaining knowledge on your own is be curious and train yourself to explore knowledge in areas that interest you. Discover the art of reading or listening to podcasts from experts in your field; you’ll be amazed at the amount of material available. Following and learning from these experts will not only help you gain knowledge but help you see the opportunities that exist and experience the culture of people who are thriving in whatever it is you’re interested in.

Reading and listening to people you respect is the next best thing to having a mentor to help coach you on what it takes to be successful in your field or interest. You’ll find out how they achieved success and everything they’ve learned along the way. As you progress on this journey of knowledge, connect with like-minded people through forums and other channels at all levels of experience and knowledge who will answer questions and help you learn more. You’ll find that most people are helpful and enjoy sharing what they’ve worked so hard at learning because it makes them feel good about where they are on their own journey.

Like everything else in life, your results from this journey will be directly related to the effort you put into it. Dedicate time and be intentional about widening your viewpoint and it will soon become a part of your routine that you look forward to each week. Challenge yourself the same way a university would to hold yourself accountable when no one else is there to do it for you and you’ll be rewarded with the power of knowledge.

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

How many of you avoid situations that make you uncomfortable, even if you know that behavior is holding you back from reaching your full potential? You’re not alone and it’s nothing to be ashamed of because you can change the behavior by Starting Small and working towards getting more comfortable over time. Here are two scenarios that hold people back from advancing in their organizations, despite being highly skilled or experienced in the fields.

Avoiding interaction with “higher-ups”: I’m not saying you should hang out in front of the top boss’s office all day attempting to get her attention to brag about your latest success, but don’t go out of your way to avoid management altogether because you’re uncomfortable speaking to people with more authority. Organizations are flatter than ever before and here’s a secret for you; management likes to talk to employees of all levels and not just about work either. Most executives are more approachable than they are perceived to be and they are interested in hearing what’s going on in your world because it helps them understand the current environment, both internal and external.

If you avoid interactions with people in other levels of the organization, it will hold you back because someone else in the organization is just as skilled but they’re doing a better job talking about successes and engaging with management. When a higher level position opens up, that person has an advantage you don’t. Be intentional about seeking interaction with management a little at a time. Talk to your boss’s boss at the company picnic or holiday party for instance. Be your own advocate because if you don’t, chances are no one will know how awesome you are because your boss may be taking credit for your ideas.

Spending money: Many of us in the business world are great at managing finances but are uncomfortable spending money on things, even if we know it would improve the customer or employee experience. Don’t go overboard and spend every dime, but take a look at your habits and views on money to determine if your personal habits are holding back your organization. Many of us would have a hard time spending our personal money on a lavish dinner so we avoid doing the same when entertaining employees or customers.

Begin to look at each opportunity not as a cost to the organization but as an investment in the future. Does the investment have a good chance at generating a higher return than its cost? An example is employee turnover. How much is it costing you in training costs and lost productivity because you don’t want to pay what your competitor is, spend to remodel the office, etc.? Develop your spending muscles by taking some employees out to lunch. It won’t bankrupt the company and it definitely won’t hurt morale. As time goes on, ramp up your spending to match your goals for growing market share, etc.

This is simple, basic stuff, but it affects individuals and organizations everywhere and it all goes back to being intentional about your goals and having the courage to gradually change behavior to achieve those goals. What other behaviors are holding you back? I’d love to hear them!

Don’t Overreact

Everyone has been through challenging times in their lives that are discouraging or even traumatic. Most of us tend to fight fire with fire when faced with these challenges and many times we end up making poor decisions because we’re being driven by emotions or ego in an effort to counteract the situation and immediately make it better. This reactionary behavior makes things worse, leading to more despair, more bad decisions, until something breaks the pattern, hopefully before hitting rock bottom in a dark place.

I recommend freezing in these situations and allowing your emotions to settle before making any large decisions. This does two things: 1. It allows you to reflect on how you ended up in the situation and whether or not the outcome was ever under your control to influence. 2. It will bring clarity to the situation and allow you to make an informed decision based on facts, not emotion. You’ll find that being intentional about this process will improve your decision making abilities and bring you peace of mind when you come to the realization that you don’t need to try and fix things immediately, especially when they’re outside of your sphere of influence.

Ego drives this type of reactionary behavior because we either want to show the world we never fail, or that we can fix other people’s failures. Certain cultures and demographics are more prone to reactionary behavior and decision making based on ego, which is why it’s critically important to build a diverse team. A diverse team that’s empowered to push back will keep the ego in check and allow for a well thought out decision to be made with input from several different perspectives.

Is your organization struggling to make meaningful changes or develop new ideas for problems that have plagued you forever? If the answer is yes, it’s probably time to look around and see if your team is diverse enough to reduce group think and empowered enough to push back against employees with strong egos who are having an outsized influence on the decisions.

Culture Change

Every leader who has ever tried to change the culture of an organization knows how difficult and frustrating that can be. It’s a real challenge to get followers to share your vision and then communicate the same vision to their followers and have it stick. The larger the organization and more layers of management there is, the harder it will be to achieve meaningful cultural change across the organization. Good news, you can use the Start Small strategy to help in the process!

In my experience, the best strategy is to focus on one or two aspects of the business that are going to make meaningful impact and just focus on them until you’ve achieved your goal for those aspects. Constantly bring those things up in every conversation you have with followers to let them know this is important and the focus won’t move until we’re happy with the results. Before attempting a change, actively seek advice from all layers of the organization and any stakeholders that will be impacted. This will help give you valuable insight into the current culture and perspectives of followers that you’ll need to convince to accept change. It will also help get buy in if followers feel their input was valued and instrumental in the final decision.

Once you’ve decided on a course of action and one or two things to focus on, clearly communicate the importance and impact to the business to your followers to help them understand the “why”. Chances are, they’ve been through change before that didn’t fit their world view and their leaders didn’t do a great job communicating the change so this is important to get right. The biggest challenge will be knowing how hard to push and when to back off a little to give room for the change to take effect. If you are confident the change needs made for the long-term success of the organization and you did the work to be confident this is the case, don’t waiver in the face of dissent.

You’ll have followers that fight change regardless, but as a leader, you have to be strong and consistent in your message that the change is important. It will be much easier to change one or two things and get followers used to the process before attempting drastic changes that would shock the uninitiated and cause disruption and noise in the business. What changes do you know need focus in your organization?

Personal Growth

Personal growth is the best place for using the Start Small method because of the complex nature of working through your emotions and beliefs. The more complex the situation is, the better the method works and it doesn’t get more complex than trying to work through decades of experiences that have brought you to the place you are today, both good and bad. Most of us struggle to make changes because we’re afraid we’ll be judged by others if we fail, so we choose to just keep going with what we have, just waiting for “the right time” to change.

By Starting Small, there’s less chance for failure because you aren’t taking on a monumental goal, just taking the initial step that puts you closer to the goal to build confidence in yourself. How many people want to lose 20 pounds? 50 pounds? They choose a date to start, roll out of bed 2 hours early, run 2 miles when they haven’t run in years, and eat nothing but kale and broccoli, only to find they didn’t lose 5 pounds that week, call this a failure and give up because it’s really hard and they aren’t making large gains. In other words, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Maybe this works for you, great; but it hasn’t worked for millions of people looking to reach their personal goals so those people need another method.

With the Start Small method, I suggest those people don’t even focus on losing weight but on making small changes to behaviors they know contribute to the problem. If you’re drinking a soda every day with lunch, decrease the size a couple days a week for a month, then cut out soda one day a week. Soon, you’ll be losing weight without suffering through the pain of kale and running. You’ll begin to build confidence and making small behavioral changes will become a part of your life over time, ultimately allowing you to achieve success. Build off the small gains, and don’t let the end goal overwhelm your focus on positive daily activities.

The key to this working is to remain intentional about your goals and admit to yourself that going all out on a large goal isn’t sustainable for your personality and forgive yourself for failing, because you will fail from time to time. Accept failure as an opportunity to improve and get back to making small changes. Focus more on the behaviors than the goal itself so the failure doesn’t destroy your confidence. What small change can you make today to get you closer to the goal?

Learn as You Go

It’s amazing what you learn as you begin a project or goal. Many times you believe you have it all figured out and then as soon as you begin to do the work, you find it’s completely different than you envisioned and a major adjustment is needed. Sometimes this turns out to be a good thing because the goal turns out to be much simpler than you had imagined. Humans have a natural fear of the unknown and by Starting Small, we can bring some clarity to the goal and reduce the fear that existed before the project began.

Just this week, my team had a meeting to discuss initiatives we’ve been working on for a few months now. We gave two projects the green light to begin because we felt the best way to dial them in completely was to start using them and find out what needed to improve by experience rather than keep forming strategies around the ideas. There are limits to the Start Small method though and I don’t recommend throwing something out there if there are consumer or worker safety concerns. For the majority of personal and professional goals, it works out great to figure things out through experience rather than devote a ton of time to planning the whole thing out only to find it doesn’t work in the real world.

I recently had a customer who was dead set on purchasing an expensive product based on the specifications. Just to be sure, we decided to show the product in action at a different customers’ site and 10 minutes into the visit, the customer came to the realization that the product wouldn’t work with their material and they would need to continue researching alternatives. In this case, they were able to learn from experience without spending money or time to find out something didn’t work in their world. I’m willing to bet you have similar opportunities to learn by someone else’s experiences, Start Small and get out there!