Beyond the Hype

Everyone has an opinion about what matters when you are climbing the ladder of success. I’ve been told that education is everything and conversely, that education means nothing. I’ve been informed that it’s not what you know… but who you know that makes all the difference. I’ve been chided for wanting to finance the next generation of technological tools and I’ve also been dismissed for suggesting process improvements and thorough due diligence before investing thousands in upgrades which may or may not meet the need.

Interestingly, every one of these opinions hides within it an inkling of truth. The high wire act is made abundantly clear as we endeavor to discover what’s “more accurate” in a specific situation… and to do so without losing our footing and prematurely falling before you reach the other side.

So, how do we avoid falling?

By going… beyond the hype. Taking an objective look at your situation AND examining the place and space that you occupy within it is a starting point. Ask yourself some questions like…

  1. How did you get here?
  2. What do your professional relationships look like… with peers and leadership?
  3. Do you have mentors? If not, why?
  4. Have you helped others succeed?
  5. What has been the organizational response to your contributions?
  6. Is that response within your control?
  7. Where do you see yourself in a year; two years; five years?
  8. Does your current trajectory help you in reaching those goals?
  9. Is there anyone in your professional like who knows about those goals and who wants to help you to succeed in accomplishing them?
  10. Are there people above you that you trust to tell you the truth – who are secure and honest about how you are perceived… and about the role that others may play in your success?

At first glance, you’re probably thinking…

…these questions are all about “The Hype”!

I understand… but keep reading and you’ll grasp my point.

The hype that I’m describing is the noise that keeps you where you are. The hype is what immobilizes you and causes you to settle for less than “your” desired outcome. Remember… Everyone has an agenda – a plan for your presence. What’s yours? Are you operating based on your agenda or are you easily swayed by the hype?

The hype is a distraction that keeps you from stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping into something new and relevant; requiring forward motion. Hype can be conversations that takes place internally as well as externally.

Whatever form the hype takes – its’ goal is to lull you into complacency so that you press PAUSE on your agenda… remaining stagnant long enough to forfeit your desire, drive and energy to press PLAY. In the analogy of the hire wire act, the hype is what’s happening below you. The response from the crowd which tends to drown out the calm you experience when you are in the middle of your purpose.

So, if you have a goal – don’t wait to ask yourself the questions I mentioned… and don’t wait to decide whether where you are will facilitate you getting to where you’d like to go. If you have a goal – don’t wait to decide if preparation is a worthy endeavor. Oftentimes the worth and validity of the goal is revealed in the preparation.

Take a chance on yourself. Don’t look down at the crowd or the rocks below, or around at the desires and dreams and agendas of others.  FOCUS. Look ahead – beyond the finish line. Beyond the hype is where you find your definition of success and fulfillment.

Thanks for reading! One opinion or experience never reveals a situation or circumstance in its entirety. There are always at least two sides to every story. If you’ve had different experiences or if you’d like to share encouragement with my readers, I invite you to participate in the conversation. Let’s talk.

TRUST Bubbles

There’s so much information and advice surrounding the development of healthy workplace culture and environment… and even more conversation pointing out the consequences of not doing so. Before I proceed, I think it only fair to define my position; especially since there may be some among us who consider the golden arches version of the potato to be “a healthy vegetable” and carbonated water from a can, “a hydration miracle”.  As you’ve probably guessed, I am a fan of single ingredient foods and I find it difficult to tolerate substitutes. What does this have to do with workplace culture and environment?  Everything. The additives we introduce into our professional cultures (insecurities, selfishness, greed, intolerance, disrespect, etc.) contaminate the free flow of ideas, subvert authenticity and stifle creativity. This clutter will overshadow and ultimately destroy the transparency that a healthy environment requires to nurture and ensure the health of teams; causing them to thrive and produce.

Health in the workplace is indicative of the culture – which makes up the environment and a fundamental ingredient in creating a healthy environment is TRUST.

Without a basic level of trust, there is no hope of creating a culture that sustains a healthy environment.

Trust is vital to a healthy environment/culture, but establishing it is anything but easy. In general, trust is developed over time and is accompanied by consistency in transparency, integrity and fairness. Conversely, trust can also be destroyed by one event or circumstance. To be trustworthy is not an indication of perfection, nor does it mean that others will always agree.  In fact, trustworthiness is measured most accurately in our response to our own mistakes, as they affect those around us. In my opinion, the most accurate display of trustworthiness is to be consistent in character and action. This shows that even when mistakes are made, proven character exemplifies true intent.

Leading Edge: The first step to building trust within your organization is to step out onto your bubble (your platform – your sphere of influence) and experience the worlds of the bubble creators. This action may create vulnerability – but it can also be considered a sign of security and stability. Each team has a bubble of its own.

[Ideally, your strategic planning team members will represent each sphere, but it will be important that they are also able to step outside of their bubbles to help create new ones or to enhance the organizational ecosystem.]

As a leader, step outside of your world and into theirs. See what they see. Hear what they hear; listening to what they say and why they’re saying it. Take note of their successes, their failures and fears; their concerns and ideas… for a better product, a higher quality service, a more collaborative working environment and relevant work culture. Getting to know them in this way will increase your understanding of why they have chosen your organization and why they have chosen to support you. Giving your teams substantive reasons to support your leadership (supporting what you do) rather than expecting them to fall in line simply because of the role you occupy (supporting who you are) shows respect, which will go a long way in revealing your trustworthiness.

If you are new to your leadership role, this is a perfect time to begin to build trust. If you are a seasoned leader – start where you are. Commit to the process of growth and personal development by allowing your team access.

Be present and genuinely interested – not just for the sake of the bottom line, but for organizational health and well-being. Show them, not only that they matter; but that they matter to you. Make it happen.

Here’s to… healthy cultures, thriving environments, continued success… and more bubbles on which to stand!

Value Added

Our stories and our contributions are as diverse as we are. Society is filled with amazing individuals… some with the ability to do what they love… and others making the daily decision to love what they do. Is either group misguided in their approach to happiness, to contentment, to relationships, to vocational and professional choices, to life in general?

Viewing ourselves as inferior, we struggle to bridge the gap between our performance and that of the so-called “superstars” in our world. Like much of the entertainment media we expose ourselves to, we seem to have nothing better to do than to tear ourselves down at the altar of a select few… while the world watches.

Why are we so insistent upon comparing ourselves to one another? Why do we assume that there is only one way to be truly successful or to obtain genuine contentment? What is it within us that makes us think that everyone else’s path, their stories, are the only ones’ worthy of recognition – and that our path, our story, is somehow… invalid?  

Of the individuals I mentioned earlier (those with the ability to do what they love… and those making the daily decision to love what they do), I firmly believe that each is more valuable than they believe themselves to be. We find people in both groups rising and facing the wonders and the challenges of every day on purpose – both making a difference in their world and that of others – and both contributing to the endeavors of the other; much of the time without even being remotely aware of their profound impact on their world.

Unfortunately, our society rarely (if ever) rewards them equally. We tend to applaud the squeaky wheel or the loudest voice in the room. We ascribe accolades to the shiny objects or the most visible endeavors; relegating the support roles (what I call the “quite warriors”) to live in the shadows of the hype. Because our society only highlights or acknowledges the few, our perceptions of our individual contribution are malnourished, at best.

Everyone has a story – and every story is valuable. Our stories make us who we are, but their potency is a matter of perception. That’s why comparisons are literally a waste of valuable time, energy, effort and brain cells. Let’s stop comparing our stories, our journeys, our victories and our tragedies. Let’s bring what we have to the table with the intention of sharing and mixing with others, for the purpose of making something new – together.  

There is one, obvious, barrier – Attitude. Notwithstanding the narcissistic among us, when we begin to ascribe value to our own contributions, we are likely to more readily appreciate the stories and contributions of others.  

“The great thing about an attitude is that it’s yours and you can change it. – Joyce Meyer, Christian Author

Leading Edge:  We are not responsible to make others acknowledge or believe that they are valuable, but we can express our views toward them… giving them a glimpse of what we see and opening up the possibility that they are valuable. We should not be surprised to find ourselves in a position to engage in constructive critique and instruction while simultaneously acknowledging value… but as leaders, we can be a model to follow. If we can embrace the reality that we are all valuable contributors: to the process, to the organization, to each other and to our world – I dare say, we will accomplish so much more than we ever thought possible.

Live and Learn

There are so many events in history, in life and in business that we can… and should… learn from. Some of these we should commit never to repeat. But there’s a cycle in which we experience – acknowledge – forget – repeat. In other words, we experience something, recognize or acknowledge its’ detriment to ourselves or others, and then forget what we’ve learned; thus, condemning ourselves to repeat the unwanted experience. The pattern is so familiar that we literally fall into it without even thinking.

Patterns like this can only be broken on purpose. When we commit to learning from previous experience, we can put an end to the cycle of repetitious insanity and find ourselves on a path forward – in pursuit of meaningful and sustainable change.

“Don’t live the same day over and over again and call that a life. Life is about evolving mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.”  ― Germany Kent

So, what does this have to do with your organization, your leadership style or your teams’ working dynamic? Everything!

Moving past the utter relevance I find in the philosophy of Germany’s statement, experiences in businesses create a valuable database for process, procedure, culture, and dynamic. When teams experience success or failure, they do it together – but what they take away from each experience will be very personal. Wading through a myriad of activities that have provided insight that could only have been acquired through the experience, members learn about themselves, their teammates, their working environment (whether it’s collegial or combative), their natural and acquired resource potential, their leaders… They also learn about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats they face, both individually and collectively. For your team to learn from the experience, it should be treated as a team experience: win or lose.

Leading Edge: For a team to become healthy or to remain healthy, they must receive your insight (your view from the top and your guidance as the leader) in developing a fuller context for the event. If you are silent, leaving them to figure it out for themselves, they will develop their own separate perspectives which will vary by individual and may eventually cause cracks in an otherwise healthy cultural dynamic.

My advice: Don’t risk it!

Lessons learned should be discussed and documented. Weave these lessons into the fabric of the culture you are creating and protect them as valuable learning experience – available for the future; to be referenced by all. The more you emphasize the learning points discovered, the more secure your team will be as opportunities and challenges are presented. They will pull the new tools from the shed and use them in ways and at times they would never have considered before – and so will you.

Whether your teams experience wins or losses, the spoils and the consequences belong to you as well. You’re all in this together, so don’t abandon your team. Be secure in your leadership. Stand with them and learn alongside them.  Respect for one another will increase and your influence will grow. Use the experience as an opportunity to continue building upon the healthy culture you are creating. Dispel the finger pointing of some and the trophy toting of others. Make the experience something that everyone can, not only learn from – but grow from.

Rumor Has It…

Leading Edge: There is nothing that can destroy our efforts to build trust, nurture professional relationships or to create an atmosphere of transparent and productive communication faster than a rumor. There are theories as to the condition of the person or people who start them, but the rate at which rumors spread can mind boggling – especially if they aren’t true. 

“A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way.” John Tudor (Author Unconfirmed)

Sometimes, they are so insidious that it is difficult for leaders and managers to discern the truth once the web is spun. Trying to dispel a rumor has been compared with attempting to un-ring a bell. So, what is a leader to do when unsolicited information creeps into the organization and threatens to minimize or even destroy the progress you have spent quality time and energy building?

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Resist the temptation to find out who started the rumor or why. Knowing the origin of the misinformation or disinformation is not relevant once the bell has been rung. People can’t unhear it and they will likely not forget it. Focus on managing the climate and not the information.
  2. If the information is irrelevant to the workplace (personal in nature), take a stand against its legitimacy in the professional environment and remind those who have been taken by it that their responsibility is to protect the privacy of others. Ask them what they would want others to do if the rumor were about them.
  3. If the information is relevant to the organization, find out as a leader what the truth of the matter is and share as much of that truth as you can without undermining organizational policies, processes or procedures. The information should be shared in a group setting (openly) so that questions and answers can be fielded if necessary.

You may be thinking… That’s a lot of work… We are dealing with adults and besides, it’s not even true. I should just ignore it. You may be right; and if you have more mature team members, you may not even have these types of issues. Lucky You!

But, take a second look at each suggestion. They all have something in common. Separately or together, they will to rob the rumor of its power – like releasing air from a balloon. The rumor may flail and flutter, but it will come down because it is powerless to defend itself against lack of interest, an unselfish perspective or the truth. When the matter has been put into perspective, there is nothing left to talk about. What’s more exciting is that you have used something that would come to destroy your team to build your team! As a team we have decided to take the higher ground – regardless of the origin of the information.

Creating an environment of trust, transparency, respect and caring for each other takes time and effort. My advice: Spend the extra time and effort to protect your investment and watch how well it works for you. Don’t let the rumor have it.

A Passion for Translation

Good managers are crucial to any organization large enough to contain leadership and front-line personnel. Why? Because good managers understand how to work within, what I call, the “Both-And Theory of Effective Management”. My theory asserts that to accomplish a high-level organizational goal, clear and steady purpose must be communicated, and passionate translation of that purpose must take place in the form of detailed strategic planning, process, procedure and training. In other words, the manager must first know, understand and embrace the larger vision and then dissect it and turn it into useful information; communicating corresponding processes for each area of the organization. These elements of responsibility share equal importance. Without one, the other will suffer and ultimately cease to exist. Instead of erring on one side of the equation (either/or), both adaptability and efficiency should be sought after strengths of good manager.

“The crew’s attachment to procedure instead of purpose offers a clear example of the dangers of prizing efficiency over adaptability.”

– Stanley McChrystal, US Army General, Retired Author: “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”

Executive leadership is responsible for communicating mission, vision and purpose to managers within the organization.  Managers then have a responsibility to turn that valuable yet sometimes abstract information into strategy; designed to implement concrete processes and procedures and champion the cause by communicating that strategy effectively and purposefully.   

Strategic planning takes time. It requires creative thought, collaboration, questioning of current processes and procedures, and engagement with those who will be performing the tasks required. Sometimes, team agility is not as robust as one would expect. This is where a manager’s role is critical. Having the ability to translate purpose into action is no small task. It takes dedication to and understanding of both vantage points in order to bring them together and experience productive outcomes.

Managers – you can’t share something you don’t have. Without having a solid grasp on the desired outcomes and a plan to bring those outcomes into reality, the manager will not be able to create the buy-in needed to move forward. If you find yourself in a position where you don’t have the depth of understanding you need to adequately address your teams and build a plan to move forward – Ask questions until you have what you need! This period of translation often takes more time and effort than executive leadership is comfortable with – but clarification improves efficiencies. In other words, you “do it right so you don’t have to do it twice”.  Therefore, it is time well spent. Your fully informed perspective is a critical to the organization’s success.

Leading Edge: If executive leadership believes that because they’ve given the mandate – everything else should be easy, they should be kept informed of the progress being made during this crucial translation period. There are so many articles being written to encourage executive leaders to stay in the room and participate in the planning process. Even as an observer – listen for the levels of detail and expertise your teams bring to the table. I promise you will hear things you never thought about that directly affect your plan. Granted, you may not hear all of the “real issues” which they must face as they take on associated tasks, but you will get a glimpse of the magnitude and depth of attention the project your decision requires.

As an executive leader, details may not be “your thing”, and that’s ok. Try to engage long enough to appreciate the insight and the collaboration necessary from your team members to make your dream their reality. Once strategy is formulated, it is passed along to the front-line personnel who take appropriate action toward accomplishing the goals laid out in the strategy; thus, fulfilling the purposes for which the organization exists. The manager is your translator; interpreting the purpose (vision or mission) into actionable items, leading to the desired outcomes.

Cheers… to purpose, understanding, a passion for translation and success!

Protecting the Potency of TIME

Leading Edge: Leaders who have competent and confident teams of managers around them are extremely fortunate. These managers are engaged and can articulate how decisions made at higher levels will affect their personnel, processes and productivity. These individuals are integral as they feed valuable, data sourced information up through the ranks, supporting the decision-making process and keeping the organization on track with the goals and objectives in place to support the overall vision or mission.

But what do these valuable individuals need to stay sharp and engaged? What’s their “secret weapon“? I’d like to suggest that for managers to stay ahead of the fray (most of the time) and to consistently add value to their leadership teams, they must have access to the following:

  1. Time to develop and train their support personnel
  2. Time to evaluate team leads and/or team members, processes and progress  
  3. Time to manage relationships and gather insight from front-line perspectives
  4. Time to analyze reliable data for financial, operational and personnel improvement and increased efficiency
  5. Time to formulate opinions and ideas for team and organizational growth
  6. Time to create and formalize proposals for strategic planning, development
  7. Time to consult and build relationships with managerial peers an internal customers
  8. Time for individual professional development (thru mentor opportunities, seminars and/or conferences)
  9. Time to manage their emotional and physical health without scrutiny or repercussion  
  10. Time to manage other areas of their lives and relationships without scrutiny or repercussion  

The key ingredient = TIME

In his 1748 essay titled “Advice to a Young Tradesman”, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “…TIME is money”; and for the sake of this article, I would add that… “spending it wisely now will protect its potency (or value) later”

British Author, Philosopher and Statesman, Sir Francis Bacon agrees in his statement…  

“To choose TIME is to save TIME.”

I think we can all reasonably agree that time is a finite resource.  Setting aside the unhealthy consequences of turning back the sun or arresting the moon, what else can leaders do to enhance this finite resource for the managers on whom they depend?

I’m so glad you asked! Here are a some suggestions:

  1. Get to know them. Find out what makes them tick and why.
  2. Engage in transparent and meaningful communication by set goals and expectations collaboratively
  3. Advocate for your managers (in all circles and at levels)
  4. Optimize the meetings they are required to attend (use meeting time productively)
  5. Be present when you’re present
  6. Don’t micromanage them – give them space to create a sustainable team environment  
  7. Listen to their suggestions or concerns regarding staffing and process
  8. Ensure they have access to consistent and reliable resources and data streams – budgets and financial/operational data to assist in personnel and process decisions
  9. Show genuine and sustained interest in their professional development; providing guidance toward that end
  10. Be for them what you want to see in them. In other words… Lead by example.

This may be a tall order… and I could write several articles on each of these areas – but as a leader, please remember that you won’t be able to measure up to all of these attributes all of the time and that disclaimers are generally welcomed. In fact, they prove that you are both secure and human… not a bad combination.

Here’s an example: If you’re distracted or in a hurry while meeting with your managers, say so and let them know why (if you can). They will respect your transparency and forgive the inattentiveness or brevity – because they have basis to understand your position and demeanor.

As we’ve discussed, we all have the same number of hours in a day. We also know that nothing can replace the rest and refreshment (downtime) needed to fuel the attributes of maximum engagement, efficiency, accuracy and sustainable. But this list of suggested items which ARE within the leader’s control can help to protect the potency of the time available – creating a mutually beneficial atmosphere for sustainable productivity and success.

I propose that the “secret weapon” for these extraordinary managers lies with the extraordinary leaders they support. These are the secure women and men who are willing to extend themselves through influence and availability – facilitating success by protecting the potency of their TIME.