Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
As a global company that has had international offices and remote employees since I was first hired in 1993, we were not in unfamiliar waters when the pandemic hit, and we moved most of our employees to work at home. We were a highly mobile company with practically every employee using a laptop and a company supplied iPhone. As a company who jokes about the frequency with which we have reorganized over the years, we seemed to have a culture that thrived on change. These cultural and business practices, combined with an empowered and entrepreneurial workforce helped us thrive during the uncertainty brought about by 2020.
As we have begun to migrate back to work and transition into a hybrid work environment, some of the challenges associated with the dual work environments have proved more challenging than the transition home. Here are a few things to help you adjust to the new hybrid working model.
Know What’s Important
We all have roles and responsibilities that we must perform as part of work. You need to revisit those to make sure you are prioritizing the right things. Since being in the office, things may have changed, and the needs of your teams may have changed. You need to change your mindset from doing your job to doing the job that needs to be done.
Steven Covey promoted the Time Management Matrix in his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is a great way to identify what is important and not important and then also to compare with what is urgent versus not urgent. Too often we are faced with firefighting or in some cases a fog that gets confused for smoke and we are pulled away from what is important. Stay focused on what needs to be done and try to spend your days in the Important and Not-Urgent zone.
Schedule for Success
As I began to trickle back into the office after being 100% work from home, I was surprised with the amount of time spent with unscheduled meetings as people would stop by to reconnect. While at first, I was frustrated that my day was being eaten up with conversations, I quickly realized that engaging with my team is one of my priorities. I needed to be available to them and present. I also realized that I needed to make sure my schedule allowed me to have as much impact as possible during my time in the office.
To help me identify the best way to manage my schedule, I made two columns on a piece of paper and in the left-hand column I listed out all the activities and meetings that I needed to do in-person and in the right column, I listed all the things that I could do remotely.
By reviewing this list, I was able to identify the critical meetings and was able to select those days to be on-site. The rest of my meetings I moved around to accommodate my new schedule. I also changed my expectations for when I am at work. My focus is to be engaged and present for my team members and NOT about getting things done.
One of the great tools that I didn’t fully appreciate until the pandemic is the Calendar. Prior to the pandemic the administrative staff educated me to the potential power of the calendar to aid me in productivity. Having someone manage my calendar prevented people from stuffing meetings there that may not require my participation and even if it did, they may cram it between other meetings not providing adequate time to prepare.
Use your calendar. When working remotely, you realized quickly that you couldn’t just run down the hall and ask someone a question. Sending an email or IM on Teams could easily be overlooked if they were not at their desk. So, you scheduled meetings. Do the same as you return to work. You can easily schedule 15- or 30-minute meetings to catch up on topics.
Block off time. Use your calendar to block off time to perform certain work. Treat the work time as if a meeting was scheduled and you don’t want to be late. The vice versa is true as well. Schedule time to simply be available. Allow that time to be for casual work where you can be interrupted.
Don’t be afraid to shut your door: When you are at work expect that people will swing by your office to chat about last night's game, the latest project or simply to say hi. If you have something that needs your undivided attention, shut the door, and get to work. From my experience prior to the pandemic, a closed door really didn’t deter people from knocking to see if you were available. I put a small white board on my door and listed my days in the office and when I am working from home. On the board I left a simple instruction stating that if my door is closed, I’m busy and they would need to send a text. If it is open, come on in.
When the pandemic first hit, I was very impressed with the effort that people took to stay engaged. We created Check-In meetings that were more about connecting personally than professionally. We would have a few “happy hour” virtual meetings to connect for some after hour fun. The weekly Coffee and Conversations meeting connected around 170 people and despite the return to work, it is still actively being used by the remote personnel.
As you return to the office, you need to make sure you engage your coworkers. We added quite a few employees that you have never laid eyes upon and might be struggling to identify our Culture since they also have been remote. Find opportunities to visit the break rooms. Introduce yourself to people you do not recognize.
Create Intentional Interruptions. Take the time and make the time to connect with key individuals. I have long been doing 15-minute Walk and Talks to help me focus on the employee while also getting in my steps. I continued this virtually through the pandemic and now that I have returned to the office, I have started this back up in person.
Find Novel Ways. I started writing articles and blogs to connect with the readers. I share personal stories and experiences to provide insight to my perspectives but also to provide some indirect guidance. They also may trigger a future conversation or engagement.
Measure and Self Reflect
I spoke on Continuous Improvement at a company meeting several years ago and I finished the talk with a challenge to the people who were rolling their eyes about my enthusiasm for the improvements we were making - “If you are not trying to be better today than you were yesterday, then why the hell are you here?”
Block off time to spend in reflection on your work and your life. You can be as in-depth as you need to be but in regard to your return to work, you can target if your time in the office and at home is providing enough of and the right kind of impact. Is your Time Management Matrix still accurate? Has your purpose changed? Are you doing your job or the job that needs to be done?
Seek feedback from others. Do they feel that you are connecting with them? The more transparent you are, the greater the value of the feedback. Consider other perspectives. If you were another person, what would they see when they see you? How would you interpret your actions?
A lot has changed since 2020 regarding how and where we work. Responding to the changes and growing in this hybrid environment will be key to moving our company forward. While the complexity associated with engaging others and building personal connections has increased, if we collectively focus on engaging others and intentionally put in the effort, we will be successful Beyond Today.
In the book Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman, she writes about how Diminishers ask questions to prove their points and not to gain insight. They fill the void with explanations and justifications of their ideas instead of listening to truly understand others.
As I was reflecting on this section of the book, I realized that this is a common occurrence where I work, but also, something I engage in on a regular basis. I quickly realized there are some other common reactions to receiving feedback that are not always helpful.
You know this feeling well. You can feel the heat rising, you know your cheeks are getting a little flushed and you want to lash out and explain all this person’s faults. You want to talk about your past success and turn it back on the person providing you feedback. I had this experience just this week when I was provided some feedback on a way to improve the way I present updates in the monthly report. While I may be justified in my feeling that this person should not be throwing stones when they clearly live in a glass house, it doesn’t mean the advice or feedback they gave me is wrong. It was still valid.
This is another common reaction to feedback. One that I have found often in leadership settings when they receive feedback from surveys or Q&A sessions. Instead of listening to the intent or questioning deeper into their perspectives, they immediately justify and explain away the question as someone who just doesn’t understand or that they are looking at too narrow of a picture. Several years ago, the engineering group in my organization saw a drop in their engagement score. We could have easily justified it as to the workload, or the nature of the projects but instead, the Director decided to dig in deeper, ask questions and seek to understand. He quickly realized that there was a level of frustration because we had limited the travel budget in his group, and they were not able to attend conferences and present papers. We quickly made an adjustment to the budget and created a schedule and the following year, the score jumped significantly to lead the company. Instead of justifying a response, the leader chose to listen, seek clarity and then act.
Let’s Talk About Me
This may be the biggest challenge for me! I am a talker who loves to tell stories. “Hey that reminds me…” or “I know what you mean, one time ….” Those that know me are probably shaking your head as you read this - either in amusement or possibly uttering a few choice words under your breath! In Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott advises, “Don’t take the conversation away from others and fill the air with your stories.” Yep, this was a gut punch for me.
Let Me Repeat Myself
When someone challenges or provides feedback, my initial reaction is to provide additional clarity by repeating myself - maybe a little slower and a little louder - to make sure they heard me the first time.
This is one of my pet peeves. People repeat themselves as if I must not have heard the brilliance of what they said or am not of significantly adequate intellect to fully comprehend what they said. When in reality, I am struggling with how they came to the conclusion that this was a good idea.
The irony is that this is always my first response. When someone provides feedback to me. “Oh, I must not have been clear.” or “Let me say it this way.” Too often I am focused on me and my position rather than on the position of the other person. I am not engaged and locked in to receive their feedback. I heard them, but I did not listen to them.
Hearing vs Listening
There is definitely a difference between hearing someone and listening to someone. I consider hearing as an event. It typically is outside your control.
One of my favorite parts of Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, is when she talks about the power of listening and how it is critical to have a successful conversation. She says this about the power of listening: “It’s not enough to hear the words - that is only the beginning. But do you hear the fears, intentions and aspirations?” When you can engage in a conversation so deeply that the feelings and intentions are able to come forth from their words, then you are truly listening. She goes on to talk about how “intent is the scaffolding on which a story hangs.” I found this a great visual on why getting to the intent of a discussion and not just the surface talk is so important.
Engaging, being present and hearing for intention are ways to move you from hearing feedback to listening to feedback. Listening with intent will grow the conversation and increase your ability to impact others so people will continue to engage you Beyond Today.
It seems that the more time I spend reflecting on my experiences in work and life, the more thoughts and concepts rise up and drive me to feverishly capture them on paper. I keep a running log of ideas and stories that I would like to share, and I will typically use that list to guide the writing process. But sometimes, those moments and timelines seem to converge, and a new idea enters my mind and I find myself leaving my writing to jump ahead and put together a concept that is a compilation of many ideas. This is one of those posts.
I recently read two excellent books from Liz Wiseman, Multipliers and Impact Players. I followed those two with my current read, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. I typically listen to the Audiobooks and then attempt to capture notes for future reference. All three of these books have provided excellent insight but also tied in wonderfully with my own posts and specifically the 3 Pillars of Impact. While drafting a post about listening, conversations and asking questions that referenced those three books, I felt that it was all basic components of Leadership, but something that typically is not well taught or possibly even understood by new managers.
What makes a good leader? I asked myself this question and realized that the words I was coming up with to answer the question could easily be adapted to an acronym for L.E.A.D.
The ability to Lead begins with Listen. You must listen to those that report to you, that interact with you and that you report to. Understand what they are saying and implying. What are they not saying? In Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott writes, “it’s not enough to hear the words - that is only the beginning. But do you hear the fears, intentions, and aspirations?
Externally is the obvious meaning but a good leader also looks internally as well. Be aware of your own feelings and biases that could influence your judgment and perspective. What mental models have you created and typically use when engaging others? Are emotions impacting your response, and is that distracting you from logic? What fears are you hiding or are pushing you towards doubt, defensiveness, or anger? Is your excitement and enthusiasm pushing you to act and move when instead you should continue to listen, be present and prepare to engage?
While listening is the first step, without active listening and engagement you may just be “hearing” words. Engaging others through being present and using active questions to gain a better understanding allows you to enter the relationship. As a leader, those around you need to feel the engagement, the connection with them and their ideas.
Ask questions for clarity and understanding. To help move you in that direction, dig into their why and their intentions and do not simply respond to their carefully crafted words. As you engage you become part of the conversation as well as the process. It is your membership to the club and is necessary if your leadership is to be respected.
Engaging another is not always fun and games as some conversations may be difficult and challenging if there are differing perspectives. But even a discussion that is fierce or appears to be a conflict still shows engagement.
A leader must hold themselves and others accountable. A leader must Expect Excellence, (the 2nd Pillar of Impact), and the expectation, to be of value, must be measured and show progress. When your team knows you are listening and engaged, then they will appreciate when they see you hold people and yourself to those high expectations. But when they see a mismatch between what you say (listen and engage) and how you respond with your actions, they will begin to question their trust in you. You are viewed as not walking the walk.
So good leaders hold people accountable as well as themselves. The level of respect, even when in difficult situations, grows and their support and commitment to the process will be impactful.
Ultimately, you can have great connections with your teams but if you and your team fail to deliver it is all for naught. As a leader, if you are truly listening and engaged with your team, it should give you an understanding of their strengths and limitations. Through this engagement they should be aware of them as well and how they connect with others and where they need to improve.
Holding people accountable is your way to make progress down the desired path. If you are effective here as well, then the results should be delivered. Even if the targeted outcome is not achieved, the process and growth should have occurred. The knowledge and potential that you delivered should have value even if the goal was not achieved. This is why Deliver is the 4th and last step to LEAD Beyond Today.
(Originally posted on Dec. 29, 2009, as Have Fun While You Practice - Part III. Revised on May 3, 2022.)
This is another installment in the Make it Fun series. When you enjoy what you do, it rarely seems like work. Keep your workouts balanced and include games to increase the enjoyment and to add competition. Previously, we introduced a game to work on Free Throws and another shooting game that you treat like a round of golf. This is a common shooting game that I call U-to-42 where you shoot from established spots on the court and you work on multiple aspects of your game - shooting, ball fakes, ripping the ball, pull-up jumpers, and lay-ups.
Setting Up the Game
Start with five shooting spots along the 3-point arc: each baseline corner, each wing, and the top of the key. At each location, you make 4 moves.
Scoring is straightforward forward
Each spot is worth a total of 8 points so after you shoot from each spot (20 shots and a total possibility of 40) you will then finish by shooting two free throws with each one being worth 1 pt. to give you a total possible score of 42.
Learning From the Game
Keeping track of your make and misses at each spot can help you identify areas of your game on which to focus. Are there certain locations where you shoot a higher percentage than others? Do you hit more pull-up jump shots when you go to the left versus the right? Are you more comfortable shooting catch and shoot 3-point shots than attacking the basket?
Set yourself personal goals and compete against yourself trying to improve each time. Build in rewards and punishments. Introduce the game to your friends and when you are together, it can be a fun way to compete while also getting up shots. When you are not together, you can shoot them a text: “38 in U to 42. Try to beat it.”
To help you get a feel for the game, you can add a chair to serve as a “defender” to help as you attack or have a partner play soft defense to contest shots and help with attacking angles and finishes.
You can always adapt the game to where you are at your current skill level. In this drill, if you are in 5th grade or below, avoid the 3-point shot. Move your spot in a couple of feet. Focus on your technique and not heaving the ball to the basket.
As you improve your score, you can add complexity at all the levels.
At the 3-point line you can introduce jab steps, or a dribble move to create space. I don’t recommend the step-back 3 point shot unless you are an elite level player. There are much easier and therefore, much higher percentage shooting options than the step back. Don’t get caught up in the hype videos. Play the percentages.
For the pull-up jumpers, you could add in a second dribble to set up the defender for step-back move or you introduce a shot fake with a step through when the defender goes by you. Maybe you introduce a secondary move after the first hard dribble to change direction and create more space. Use your creativity.
There are so many options available for you on attacking the basket. There are many variations of dribble attacks to get around or split defenders. Introduce double moves as you attack the rim to keep the defender guessing. YouTube is loaded with finishing videos that you can practice such as floaters, Donuts (Rondo), Pro Hops, Euro steps and countless others.
What I have always loved about basketball is the endless number of games you can play while you practice. You are limited only by your imagination. As the youngest of five kids with a significant age gap, I learned an entire world was open to me when I shot baskets. Imagining I was playing at Boston Garden with Larry Bird or taking Magic Johnson to the hole at the Forum. Playing in the NCAA Championship for the Indiana Hoosiers, somehow always winning 100 to 98 on a last second shot or free throws. That imagination helped instill a love for the game that will continue to grow Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.