How Long Will This Take?

I’m impatient.  Age has done little to curb my drive.  As soon as I imagine something, my internal clock starts ticking.  I spend a lot of time imagining where I and my companies could be in the future.  Decisions about strategy and focus are carefully considered and, once they achieve a sort of mental critical mass, I want them to happen now.  I know, this is not realistic.  But the time spent between planting and harvest is sometimes excruciating.

So I’ve learned to ask a couple of questions:  How long will this take?  And, how long will it last?

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I often measure opportunities, tasks, conversations through the metric of these two questions.  How long will it take?  How can I shave a few minutes off of repetitive tasks?  How can I smoothly move through the day without retracing my steps, my thoughts, my decisions?  Smooth, organized efficiency is a thing of beauty.

But, how long something takes only tells part of the story.  How long something lasts is the weightier question.  An hour, or week or month, spent on someting that fades quickly is pleasing to my dopamine-induced check list.  But I’m in it for impact.  So, how long an investment of time lasts is my favored metric.  An hour, or week or month spent on something of value that may last years is time well spent.

As I ponder time spent at the end of my day, I’ve learned to be pleased and grateful for investments in people, projects, tasks that will likely outlast me and my work.  Amid an endless stream of delightful distractions I am most thankful for the moments spent each day on those people, projects, ideas that will last.  Some days (or weeks) are more fruitful in this way than others.  Some days end with a long list of utterly delightful “done” check marks but with little significant achievements.  Other days, I’m able to focus my attention and prioritize my time and (limited) talent on those few things that matter and that will last beyond the week. Those are good days.

How did you spend your day yesterday?  Even when your time is largely dictated by others, it is still possible to invest part of it in things that will last.  So, tomorrow, as you gleefully check things off of your to-do list, ask yourself how long this will last.

Oh no, you didn’t! (Social Contracts and those who violate them)

Have you ever wondered how some people make it through life?  They perpetually stumble their way through their days violating every social contract held dear by others.  They cut in line, drive slowly in the left lane, invade your personal space, speak loudly on their cell phones in public places and wear Crocs with sweats.

Join Donnie Quitugua and I as we drive along in Donnie’s Porsche and talk about our experiences with people who are blissfully unaware that other people also occupy the same space.

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Click this link to listen to the Podcast

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/bagj5-9bc3dc?from=yiiadmin

 

Hire Smart!

Walter Wriston said, “If you have the wrong person in the job, there is no management system known to man that can save you!”

So, hire well.  Take a lot of time to find the right people.  People who have demonstrated competencies for years like curiosity, a velocity of work, humor, and humility.

In this podcast, Donnie Quitugua and I talk about hiring well.  Crack open a bottle of wine, unless you are driving, and listen along.

HQ Podcast Cover

Click on this link to listen to the Podcast:

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/kn8bd-9bc434?from=yiiadmin

Sport or War?

Have you noticed that some people just seem happier that others?  They seem to have a twinkle in their eye, a bounce in their step and a subtle grin on their face regardless of what is going on around them?  Even in the middle of difficulty, they seem to be having a good time.

What is their secret?  I’ve been watching them for years and figured out a way to study them, too.  I’ve discovered something: they approach most (if not all) of life like it is a sport.  It’s a game, rather than a war, to them.  They engage with everything they’ve got, they take risks, they grow and they learn.  They resolve conflict and deal with difficulty all the while thinking “this is fun!”

In contrast, other people seem to be “fighting the good fight.”  They think they are in a battle.  They have enemies and strategies.  They overcome and conquer.  Their predominant mental model is war.  Their approach to avoiding life’s greatest challenges comes from Sun Tzu rather than Pete Carroll.

 In our three decades of intense study of effective influencers and leaders, we’ve tracked the impact of people with either War or Sport mental models.  And… drum roll… the Sport mental model leaders are dramatically more effective than the War mental model leaders.  Some of our measurements reveal a 40% difference in productivity.  And, nearly ALL innovation comes from leaders, and their groups, working from a Sport mental model.

So, watch yourself.  Do you battle or play?  Do you fight or compete?  Are they enemies or  athletes?  Are you a player coach or a commander?

Learn how to play at work.  You’ll be surprised at how much more effective you will be.

Four Disciplines of Communication During Times of Change

Everyone loves change but no one wants to do anything differently.

I didn’t coin that phrase, but I like it.  I use it often.  It’s true, isn’t it?  We like the idea of change but once it impacts our habits the reality is a little less desirable.  We also claim to like change as long as it’s the other people who change while we get to stay the same.  That, we think, will solve everything.242534AB-7DDB-480B-8CFB-656622E6F915

I’ve learned a few things from effective leaders guiding their large and small companies through transition.  The good ones all follow these four disciplines:

First: They assume good intent.  They start with good intent as the motive when someone complains.  They assume good intent when someone disagrees.  They trust that the intent behind even annoying actions is good.  While the intent may be difficult to discover and it may be different, good leaders assume the motive driving actions (or inaction) is good. And they assume that the on rare occasions when intent is malicious it will eventually present itself with stunning clarity.

Second: They communicate directly and avoid triangulation.  Gossip is the single most destructive force in an organization navigating change.  When Bob is frustrated with Sue but talks to Pat, he is triangulating. He is gossiping.  He may have convinced himself that he is getting perspective or venting or seeking guidance.  But we all know he is triangulating simply to avoid direct communication and conflict.  Great leaders will not tolerate triangulation and they do not practice it themselves.  They communicate directly and, when approached by someone bent on talking about frustrations with someone else, regardless of the organizational heirarchy, they interrupt and redirect.  They ask, “Have you talked to her about this?” And they add, “You need to talk directly.  When will you do that?”

Third: They never believe the first report.  In change, whether slow or fast, whether complex or simple, frustration can arise.  Great leaders never believe the first report of a frustration or of a mistake.  They always ask for context.  And they make decisions in a broader context than what is passionately presented.

Fourth: They never trust lonely numbers.  Lonely numbers are presented absent their context.  They often create shock or awe but, when compared with other numbers, change their meaning.  17 people died in the hurricane.  That’s a lonely number.  17 people died in a hurricane; 9 of them were in a passenger van driven by a 18 year old who lost control of the vehicle before winds hit 40 miles per hour.  We have $500,000.00 in the bank.  That is also a lonely number.  Our monthly salary burns through $370,000.00 and our accounts payable are $220,000.00 per month.  Now that half a million dollars in the bank doesn’t seem like much.  Context, context, context.

Great leaders practice all four of these simple thought and communication disciplines.  They are especially good at using them during times of high-stress change.  Try one of them on for size each week for the next month.  Start with the first one in week one, then add one each week until you are good at all four.  You may be surprised at the positive impact they will have.

 

Vampires and Slow Leaks: The Unexpected Impacts of Negative People

It took a while, but I came to a conclusion:  Negative people are not good for me.

Before you roll your eyes at the elementary nature of that observation, consider what I mean by negative people.

And, consider what I mean by “not good for me.”

Martin Seligman calls them pessimists.  People who trade in “yeah, but” and “it will never work.”  They are schooled in the feelings of unease and doubt.  They perpetually scan the environment for threats and, unsurprisingly, always find them.  Even in their most nascent forms, threats are exaggerated and nourished until they become reality for the pessimist.  And in communicating their consternation they trigger the listener’s lymbic response to threat.  They push the amygdaloid button and flip the flight alarm (or, in my case, the fight alarm).  They sap us of our creative what-if energy.  Our neurological-emotional systems are much faster than our creative-executive systems so when threatened they take control of our mind and body.   The fear response, even when barely triggered, is a powerful force in the human brain circumventing judgement and creativity.  Pessimistic people are afraid and create fear in others.  They do not inspire critical thinking or enhance wisdom.

I heard the narrative for years: Negative people are critical thinkers.  And their perspective is important, even valuable.  We need their point of view, so the narrative goes, to make the best decisions and to formulate the most effective strategies.  And I believed that narrative for a while.  For far too long, actually.  Until it occurred to me a decade ago that critical thinking and cautious perspectives can also be obtained from people who are not governed by smoldering fear.

Pessimistic people have an explanatory style grown out of a lifetime of worry and subtle, foreboding fear.  Their life-lenses are tinted with a dreadful hue.  Defaulting to what “has been,” their role in flights of creativity is to emphasize the unrelenting gravitational pull of “reality.”  They bore small holes in the neurology of vision and hope.  In the best of situations they are slow leaks in the ships of adventure and achievement.  In the worst case they are Dream Vampires.

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I know this seems harsh.  If so, my next thought is downright severe:  Get away from them.  Get them off your teams.  Uninvited them from planning and problem-solving meetings.  Drop them from interview panels.   I’m not saying they are worthless human beings.  I am saying they are the most expensive people on project.  They are hidden coral reefs in the sea of opportunity.   As difficult as it may be to see them and their impact, once you see it, move on without them.

Then surround yourself with people enthused about the What and Why and engaged in the How.  Build your teams with gritty, persistent, tenacious and resilient people full of the love of what is and what can be.  Read their emails, listen to their podcasts, drink their Scotch (thank you Robert Alt).

This strategic shift in my life has paid off.  My companies are populated with enthusiastically creative people at every position.  They brim with messy innovation.  Threats, real ones, are turned into opportunities.  Weaknesses are humorously shored up.  Confusion and conflict fuel genius.

We’ve said No to pessimists and jumped into the cold lakes of challenge only to emerge time and time again reinvigorated and giddy with possiblility realized.

Take stock.  If you have pessimists on your team, study their impact.  If you discover they are not really pessimists but just having a “bad hair day,” coach them, encourage them and move on.  But if they are Vampires preying on hope, if their bad hair day has lasted two years, it’s time to move on.  You have to much to create, too many gold nuggets to discover, to wait another month.

 

Open Door, Closed Mind

“I believe in an Open Door Policy,” said the candidate for the position, arms crossed, leaning back in the chair.  “I’m accessible 24/7/365.”

The interview panel looked up from their notes, shifted in their seats, then looked back their notes.  Each member of the panel is a seasoned leader and each felt the momentary tension that such a “policy” creates.

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As a leader, manager, supervisor in a complex environment, accessibility is important.  But, it can also be a liability.  It can unintentionally create a habit in the workgroup that results in laziness and supervisor-pleasing.  Running to the “boss” or supervisor or leader for everything, just because her door is always open, assumes that she has all the information, the larger perspective, and the time, to address every challenge that arises.  It assumes that the risk of decision-making is solely hers.  This habit results in a subtle re-definition of the job: one moves from “doing a better job” and toward “doing what the boss wants so she will be happy.”

I’m a supervisor, a leader, a manager.  I like being happy.  But, making me happy as the central goal, will usually mean the best ideas are left behind.  Oh, I’ll be happy—eventually.  But pleasing me is not an early indicator of success.

So, I have learned to cultivate an Open Mind.  To do that, I often have a closed door.  I’m not accessible 24/7/365.  I step away, to do the deep work required to learn, and to see through my own psychology.  I invest my best time and energy in building an environment in which my teams can flourish.

Even though my door is often closed (or it’s open but I’m not behind it), I’ve learned to cultivate a voraciously open and curious mind.  Especially when it’s uncomfortable.  I measure my success in large part by how much learning I’m engaged in.

So, next time you hear, “I have an Open Door Policy,” pivot and ask, “How often do people change your mind when they walk through that open door?”  That’s what the interview panel asked the candidate.  Now it was his turn to shift in his chair.  He dodged the question.  He couldn’t remember the last time his mind was changed by someone he supervised.

We wish him well.  Just not with us.  IMG_0194