Hi everyone, this one’s for all my fellow mountain bikers and leaders. I’m just getting back from a mountain biking trip to Arkansas where I arrived at the conclusion there’s some similarities in what it takes to be successful on the bike, and in professional and personal pursuits.
One of the hardest things to train yourself to do when mountain biking is to look 10-15 feet down the trail instead of what’s right in front of your tire, but it’s a critical skill if you want to succeed on the bike. This gives your brain time to understand what’s coming (rock, turn, root) and formulate a plan to successfully go over or around it. If you look down and focus on what’s directly in front of your tire, you end up making continuous adjustments and not being comfortable with any amount of speed. This makes for a jerky and awkward experience which limits the fun and can discourage people from riding more.
The same thing happens in business to leaders who get bogged down in the daily business and don’t look up and out at what’s coming in the future. This doesn’t give them time to properly prepare for the next challenge and ends up adding to the stressful cycle they’re caught up in, fighting whatever fire is raging that day. It’s just as difficult to train yourself to look farther ahead in business as it is on the bike, but it’s also every bit as important to achieving success and enjoying the experience. Just like your brain figures out and automatically adjusts your body to compensate for obstacles in the trail, your team will figure out the best way to run the daily business if you tell them what’s coming.
The second similarity is the effect that confidence and drive have both on the bike and in business. On the bike, if you believe you’re going to crash, then you’re absolutely going to crash because you’ll be so focused on not crashing that you won’t be doing the things you need to be to take the trail on. You won’t be aggressively pursuing excellence, instead you’ll be trying to avoid failure…. The same is true in business if you focus on avoiding failure, as you’ll end up in a declining state because you aren’t pursuing the things that lead to success in the current or future environment.
Our actions follow where our thoughts are so show up each day with a strong drive and focus on how to be successful, not how to avoid failure. Inspire confidence in the team by looking ahead for opportunities and obstacles so a plan can be set in motion to find success. Show up strong. Get out there. Take some risks, and have fun doing it!
I was traveling this week, so although I don’t typically watch sports on TV, I did by accident at the hotel gym. The screen was split, showing a basketball coach on both sides coaching opposite teams in the same game. For one coach, it was his first game as head coach and the second coach had hundreds of games under his belt as head coach. Their actions and body language were strikingly different, which had me instantly thinking about how leaders change over time.
The first coach was pumped up, holding a stance like he was in the game himself, and shouting encouragement to his team! The second coach wasn’t speaking at all, in fact he looked kind of bored, and was just watching to see how the game was progressing. There was a stark contrast in the behavior of these two coaches, but I believe we can learn from both of them in this situation and become better leaders as a result.
The first coach was bringing a lot of passion and energy to his team, actively supporting them in making decisions. I think this is great and demonstrates the drive we have on our first day as new leaders to make a difference! Great leaders somehow keep this energy and optimism going throughout their careers and their teams benefit from it, but they also learn to trust their teams to carry out the strategy and vision without the leader constantly managing every detail. This is important and something the first coach will hopefully learn; bring the energy but let the team make decisions. Detach from the details so you can see the bigger picture and create a strategy that fits the environment.
The second coach was definitely detached, so much that the team wasn’t getting any feedback or encouragement from the sideline….. He had let hundreds of games wear him down, and somewhere along the way, lost how important it is to be excited about the things the team gets excited about. The effect of this behavior will be a lack of motivation and end with poor results. This coach needs to reset and remind himself before every game to be present in the moment and provide encouragement to the team to keep them motivated to win!
Each of these coaches were doing some things correctly and some things incorrectly as a result of their personalities and time as leaders. On Monday morning, remember this contrasting tale of two leaders and combine their strengths to encourage and motivate your team to win the game, while doing your job and seeing what it takes to win the championship. Your attitude sets the tone for the team so show up with the energy you brought to your first day as a leader!
There’s nothing worse than wondering what unplanned issue is around the corner that’s going to impact your business or life, and for many, it can lead to anxiety and the feeling you’re not in control of the outcome. Given the current hiring situation mixed with supply chain interruptions, this is an all too common feeling among leaders trying to keep it all together. We’ve all come to expect the unexpected but few are preparing for it which sets them up for failure when the next calamity hits.
Rather than wait for the next interruption and then figure out how to react to it, I began performing stress tests on critical areas of the business to see how prepared we were and what steps we would take in each event. This has been incredibly powerful towards easing the anxiety associated with running a business dependent on international supply chains and it’s been a differentiating factor with customers who count on us to perform. I got the idea from the post-recession banking industry which was required to pass stress tests for liquidity in order to avoid needing a bailout in the event of another economic disaster. Given how unstable hiring and the supply chain have been recently, it’s been a lifesaver.
Running stress tests forces you to think about what could happen instead of worry about what might happen, which eases the mind and makes you feel more in control. Stress tests apply to your personal life as well. Looking to retire? Try living on the anticipated retirement budget for a few months to see if it’s feasible. Want to run a 5k in the middle of summer? You better get out of the air conditioned gym and try running outside to see how it feels. Be intentional about planning and preparing for the worst and put yourself back in control today.
There are numerous benefits to helping others succeed. First and foremost, most of the people you help will remember it and do the same for you some day. I remember my father-in-law mentoring a young intern pharmacist by helping him with homework over the phone, and years later witnessed him ask for advice from the young pharmacist who had graduated by then and was an expert on the latest developments in the industry. When you help others, it builds your network of people who can be relied on for advice, references, open positions, etc.
Experts say we retain 50% of what we write down and 80% of what we teach to others. By teaching others, you’re actually reinforcing the knowledge you’ve learned so it doesn’t fade over time. When teaching, you gain knowledge yourself from getting the perspective of someone who views the problem in an entirely different way. If you’re open enough, interactions like this lead to the next industry development or business disruption because you’re able to combine your deep industry knowledge with someone else’s knowledge of current technology, etc.
Finally, helping others succeed is a sign of strength and leadership potential. Your organization will notice who’s sharing knowledge and helping the entire organization grow, and who’s hoarding knowledge to keep everyone else weak. Both the sharing and hoarding are very apparent to leaders in the organization, and despite the hoarders believing they’ll be promoted for their superior knowledge over everyone else; the opposite is true. Good leaders recognize the power in sharing and teaching within the organization and will promote people who possess this behavior.
If you want real respect in the workplace, act with complete integrity, even in situations where the consequences aren’t high. This gives everyone around you the confidence that they can count on you when there are real consequences at stake. Leaders lose a lot of credibility when they tell employees a lie when asked a sensitive question. If you can’t talk about it, tell them that in a way that’s respectful and let’s them leave the conversation with dignity. They know you can’t talk about everything and they will respect you for telling the truth.
The same holds true for customers when you make a mistake. Own up to it at all costs, always. You may think your customer doesn’t know enough about your business to smell a lie, but we know from our own personal experiences as customers that isn’t true, just wishful thinking. If a customer feels they can’t trust you to tell the truth, they’ll quit you just like the employee who feels disrespected when you lie. Our first reaction is to save face but in the long term, you lose credibility. Honestly, people know mistake are made and they’ll respect you for owning it, especially if you’re owning a mistake made at a lower level that was out of your control.
One frequent instance where being transparent is frequently abused is in job interviews or when approached for new positions. Your new employer will quickly find out what you know or don’t know, and they will be disappointed to find out you don’t know what you told them in the interview. Talk about starting off with zero credibility and having to rebuild it if you’re even able to keep the job! Avoid the mess by being brutally honest and the people interviewing you will know they’re dealing with someone who values integrity and can be trusted. It’s easier to train someone with integrity than deal with someone you don’t trust.
Quit being fake today, no one appreciates it and they never have!
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.
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!
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.