Moving From Good To Great

In his great book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about what happens in some organizations that make them great, while other organizations plateau at good. The question you need to ask is whether you have a good company (or team), or a great company (or team). Have you hit a plateau or are you really seeking to be great.

“Good is the enemy of great” is one of my favorite quotes from the book because I think it is so true. Too often I see organizations and teams who confuse good with great. They think that because they are making a profit or having success, they have reached the pinnacle. However, when they really look at the potential, they see that there is a whole new level available for them to pursue.

Below are a few things to help you consider whether you have a good or great organization or team. See how you do.

  1. Do you feel like you have the right people on your team, in your organization? Good teams will “accept” people as “not the best at what they do, but a good person” while great teams ask themselves whether team members can be the absolute best at what they are expected to do.
  1. Do you have a common vision of who you are and what you want to accomplish? Collins calls this the Hedgehog Concept. There are three questions you can ask yourself to help determine your Hedgehog Concept:

What are we really passionate about?

What do we do that drives the economic engine?

What can we be best in the world at?

  1. Do you confront the “brutal facts”. Good teams understand there are difficult issues to be dealt with, but have the tendency to put them off or ignore them. Great teams use these difficult issues to open discussion and look for better ways to do things.
  1. Does your organization or team have the discipline to focus on the important aspects of being great? Have you identified where you need to be more disciplined? Are you holding everyone accountable for doing the things that will make you great?

How did you do? Are you good . . . or are you great? The “great” news is that either answer presents opportunity. Take a step back, consider where you are and make plans to become even greater.


Doing What You Say You Are Going To Do—Is It That Hard?

Whether you call it being accountable or being responsible, doing what you say you are going to do is critical in being an influencer of people. But why does it seem to be so hard for some to do what they say they are going to do, while others make it seem easy and are seen as being more dependable or shall I even say, trustworthy?

Part of it starts with wanting to be what I call “pleasers”. You know the type. The person that never wants to say “no”. The person that overcommits. Even though in the back of their minds they are saying to themselves, “How am I going to pull this one off?”. Unfortunately, many of us are this type!

Another part of what makes doing what you say you are going to do more difficult is that you overestimate your ability to accomplish everything! I see this many times with new supervisors. When they are promoted, not only do they get the supervisor or manager title, but many think they get the “super cape” that goes with it, giving them the superpower to accomplish the impossible. Unfortunately, wanting to do something, and having the time, experience, and resources to do it is totally different.

When it comes to doing what you say you are going to do, a couple of strategies emerge.

Strategy 1 – All In: These are the individuals we’ve described above that are “all in”, no matter what the situation or the cost. This unfortunately leads to over promising and under-delivering in many cases.

Strategy 2 – All Out: These are the individuals that won’t commit for fear of failing. The philosophy is to aim low, get lucky, exceed expectations, and be seen as a hero. This is often termed under-promising and over-delivering.

I advocate a third strategy that is simple and will help you be seen as a more trustworthy, influential leader.

Strategy 3 – Realist: These are individuals that look at what needs to be done and then looks realistically and what they are able to do. They don’t over-promise, they don’t under-promise, they methodically look at what they can realistic accomplish and commit to it. As they work through the situation or task they “own” their commitment, they “act” on it and they “answer” for it. This is simple in concept, but requires a commitment by you as an individual to follow through and be accountable.

The payoff is clear. Better relationships, less stress, increased productivity, and being a trusted, influencer of others.

I Wish They Would Just Do What They Said They Would Do: Making Accountability the Choice

Recently there has been an increased emphasis on accountability in our organizations.  Superior accountability leads to superior everything – service, teamwork, and productivity to name just a few.

What we must remember is that accountability is a personal choice that we make, a promise or commitment to others, or even to ourselves, to make something happen. Accountability is first and foremost a mindset. A way of thinking, seeing, and acting that allows us to:

  • Take Ownership – that is, to agree to accept responsibility for something—even when we don’t know the exact outcome of what we’ve agreed to do. Once we’ve agreed to take ownership of something, we then need to “Take Action”.
  • Take Action — we take actions to ensure that what we agreed upon gets done. We take action even when the going gets rough. Finally, after we’ve completed what we said we’d do, we need to “Take Responsibility”.
  • Take Responsibility —we take responsibility, regardless of the outcome. So if we hit the mark and the results are great, we accept those results; and if we missed the mark, then we accept responsibility for the outcome.  We can move forward and learn from the lessons we just experienced.

If we want to make accountability the ultimate choice, it must start with us. We must model the above, Take Ownership, Take Action, and Take Responsibility.

After ensuring that we are modeling the way, we help others be accountable by making sure they know outcomes for what we are expecting from them. It’s hard to hold someone accountable for something they didn’t know was expected of them.

Next, help them “Take Action” by giving them the tools and resources they need to be successful.  And don’t underestimate the resource of your time to show them how to do what you want them to do. Your time and attention is one of the most valuable resources you can give them.

Finally, review results, positive or negative, and help them to “Take Responsibility”. Keep in mind it’s easy to answer for things when things are going right. It is important that you create a culture where it’s okay to make mistakes. Not disastrous mistakes, you have to watch out for them, but mistakes that help them learn and get closer to the right answers.

Accountability, it’s a choice personally and as a leader. How are you doing?

Leaders Start With Why

I often hear from leaders in our management development programs who are frustrated with employees who don’t do what they are supposed to do. When pressed on why they think this happens, responses typically vary, but usually land on the fact that employees don’t do what they are supposed to do because they aren’t clear on what is expected of them.

I agree. I think it starts with clear expectations and mutually understood SMART goals. But that’s just a start.  Great leaders understand that managing the performance of others is not just setting clear goals. It’s more than “What” we are doing and “How” we are going to do it. It can be taken to the next level by taking time to make sure others understand “Why”.

I can understand that my job is to share certain information with people. To do that I document and present the information in both written and verbal form. However, if I not only focus on the what and how—but also why the information is being communicated I might look at how I document and share verbally to hit a bigger goal, such as motivation or a sense of urgency.

According to Simon Sinek, best-selling author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action, the fundamental difference between organizations like the “Apples” of the world and everyone else is that they start with “why.”

What does that even mean? To explain this concept, Sinek has developed what he calls the “Golden Circle”. The Golden Circle has three layers:

  • Why – This is the core belief of the business. It’s why the business exists.
  • How – This is how the business fulfills that core belief.
  • What – This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.

Sounds simple, but what Sinek found is that most companies do things backwards. They start with their “what” and then move to “how” they do it. Most of these companies neglect to even mention why they do what they do. More alarmingly, many of them don’t even know why they do what they do!

As managers, we can apply this to many of our everyday interactions with those around us.  Next time it seems like one of your team members is struggling, consider whether it is a “What”, “How” or “Why” issue.

Want to learn more, check out this video by Simon Sinek at Ted Talk.

Leadership Develops Daily, Not in Day

An often overlooked quality of a leader is patience. Now I know you might be thinking that by patience I mean patience with difficult employees or situations. For the sake of this conversation let’s consider patience when it comes to developing as a leader. Successful leaders develop skills over time. It isn’t something that just happens overnight. John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You shares what he calls the “Five Levels of Leadership”.

Level 1 is what he calls the Position Level. Every leader starts with a position, a title. But as a leader, you need to understand that it’s not about the position you hold, it’s the person you are. You can lead by position power and get short-term results, but if you continue to lead through the position you hold you won’t be successful long-term.

Level 2 is what Maxwell calls the Permission Level. Team members will give you permission to lead them if you take time to develop relationships with them. Relationships take time to develop and it means reaching out to make a connection.

Level 3 is the Production Level. In this level people begin to follow you, not just because you have a position, and not just because you’ve taken time to develop relationships, but because of the results you are getting. They see you as a person that works hard, does what they say they will do, gets results and succeeds. People want to be around and follow successful leaders.

Level 4 is the People Development Level. This is where leadership really starts to get exciting because you are growing as a leader through your development of others, most notably the growth of other leaders that you develop.

Level 5 is the final level and is often referred to as Personhood. A better term from my perspective is Leadership Legacy. As Maxwell comments, you don’t do Level 5 leadership, it is something that is given to you. You are given Level 5 leadership after you have successfully navigated Levels 2, 3 and 4. Like your position is given to you by your organization in Level 1, Level 5 is given to you by your followers.

The key though as we look at all of these levels is that it takes time. It takes patience and persistence. Developing relationships takes time. Producing results takes even more time. Identifying and mentoring future leaders takes a lot of time. Leadership is a journey that develops daily, not in a day.

So here’s a question for you: Where are you on your leadership journey?

A New Twist on SMART Goals

Earlier I talked about Ken Blanchard’s old book that is new again, the New Leadership and the One Minute Manager.  There is a major change in the Situational Leadership® model to add in Goal Setting as the first skill in being a situational leader. Of course, whenever you talk about goal setting, we almost immediately go to SMART goals.  This acronym has been used for years and while some have modified it slightly to meet their needs, typically it stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound. Personally I’ve always had a problem with having both Attainable and Realistic in the acronym. I know they are different, but at the same time they seem redundant. When working with managers I usually substitute Aligned, meaning to make sure that the goal is aligned with the department goals, division goals and corporate goals. I also struggle with the difference between Specific and Time Bound. If you are Specific, shouldn’t that include an element of time?

The New Leadership and the One Minute Manager introduces a new twist to the old acronym. Blanchard proposes:

  • Specific: What is the goal and when does it need to be accomplished? What does the goal look like in terms of time, quality, quantity, cost or even percentage of change.
  • Motivating: Is the goal exciting. Is it motivational to the individual?
  • Attainable: Is the goal realistic, reasonable and achievable?
  • Relevant: This answers the question of whether the goal is important to the organization, division or team.  Basically, will accomplishing this goal make a difference?
  • Trackable: Pertains to the way progress is counted. Don’t confuse this with specific. Specific would be “I want to lose 15 pounds in 3 months”. Trackable is the measurement system I’m going to use (scale for pounds lost, tape measure to measure inches lost, etc.) that is going to be used to track success.

To me the big change comes in defining the difference between Specific and Time Bound from the old model. It makes sense now to be Specific and Trackable. The other change I like is adding Motivating. If the person isn’t motivated to accomplish the goal it stands a good chance of not being accomplished.

Overall, I like the new model. It makes sense and is something I think all supervisors, team leaders, managers and leaders can use to propel their success. The beginning of the year is a great time to make sure your goals are SMART.

Good luck.

What’s Old Becomes New! The NEW Leadership and the One Minute Manager

For many of us who love to read and study the topic of leadership, one book that is in almost everyone’s library (or should I say iPad now) is the book “Leadership and the One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersy. First published in the 1970’s, it introduced us to the revolutionary idea of situational leadership. Over the past nearly 50 years the content in the book has stood the test of time because the concept of situational leadership works. So why mess with perfection? Well, that’s a question that I’m sure Blanchard will talk about when he comes to Iowa for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry annual conference. (By the way, if you’re interested, give us a call at ATW and we’ll share the information on how you can see Ken Blanchard speak on June 11th in Davenport.)

Blanchard and his team released a new version of the book in 2013. They didn’t just update subtle areas, they actually redefined the three skills of a situational leader. In the original book the first skill was Diagnosis – what is the developmental level of the person you are leading in reference to the goal or task you are asking them to accomplish.  The second skill was Flexibility. Flexibility refers to the leader’s ability to flex and be comfortable using different leadership styles. The final skill was Partnering for Performance, where the manager partners with the person they are leading to focus on what they as a leader can do to make the employee successful. Again, these three skills have provided a solid foundation for leaders for nearly 50 years.

So what changed in this new version?  In talking with Blanchard he commented, “We always felt a very important skill was missed up front, goal setting.” So in the new Leadership in the One Minute Manager the three skills have become Setting SMART Goals, Diagnosis, and Matching. As you can see, Diagnosis continues to be a strong skill needed but it is now preceded by making sure the person you are leading has a clearly articulated and mutually understood goal.  Makes sense. How can you diagnose a person’s developmental level without a clear goal/expectation to reference? And the new third skill set, Matching, basically combines Flexibility and Partnering for Performance.

Having just spent some time reviewing these new concepts I’m excited for another 50 years of sharing these concepts and unleashing the potential of leaders. Of course that would make me 100 years old but hey, it’s a clearly articulated goal. Now can someone diagnose what I need to do to make it happen?

Check in for next week’s blog and we’ll talk further about a new twist on SMART goals!


Managers Developing Unconscious Competence

Uninterrupted think time is awesome! The only problem is we just don’t get enough of it. As I write this blog I’m somewhere between Atlanta and Guadalajara and just finished reviewing some of the content for our upcoming Manager Boot Camp. I continue to “wow” myself with the obvious when I actually get the thinking time I just referenced. My latest “wow” is that when it comes right down to it, there isn’t much new to be said about being a great manager. Hire the right people. Set clear expectations. Provide the tools and resources necessary to do their job.  Provide ongoing coaching and feedback. Formally appraise performance. And then reset…new expectations, new tools and resources, etc.

Great managers don’t have to think about it. They’ve mastered their skills. They’ve progressed through what we call the four levels of competence.

Level 1: Unconscious Incompetence. This is the level where managers don’t even know what they don’t know. They are “unconscious” to their “incompetence”. Good managers will figure out what they don’t know and progress to the next level.

Level 2: Conscious Incompetence. At this level, managers have identified the skill sets they need to work on and begin to work on themselves because they know that before they can be truly successful working on others they must first work on themselves.

Level 3: Conscious Competence. This is where managers start to have fun because they are starting to succeed. They are consciously doing the right things and developing partnerships with those they lead so they are having successes together.

Level 4: Unconscious Competence. Everyone strives to get here. This is the point where things just happen because they have become so ingrained in the manager. They don’t have to consciously think about what to do, they just do it.

So I leave you with a question to think about.

Where are you in your level of consciousness as a manager? And more importantly, what should you be doing about it?