Four Letter Words Banned by Leaders

Banned Words in My House

 

When my daughter first learned to speak, I started telling her that there are some words that we don’t use in our house.

And they are not the words you would think, though those are also banned.

They are words that limit.  Words that destroy dreams.

 

Can’t.

There is very little that you “can’t” do.  There are things you won’t do.  There are also things you choose not to do.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

 

Hate.

Be someone full of love and compassion.  Most “hate” is due to lack of understanding or perspective.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” -Abraham Lincoln

 

Suck.

Not too long ago, I was watching a high school tennis match. “I suck!” exclaimed this tennis player after each miss.  How does that help?  Instead, it reinforced negative thoughts.  Guess what?  What you say defines your future.

“What you say defines your future.” -Skip Prichard

 

Lose.

You don’t lose.  You’re not a loser.  Focus on the good plays and what you did well.  It will empower you and ready you for future competitions.

“A loss is a temporary setback on the way to a permanent victory.” -Skip Prichard

Are You Building a Bridge or Digging a Gulf?

Bridge Builders

Last year, I was at lunch with an extraordinary networker.  Almost everyone passing our table would stop and say hello.  I don’t think there was a single person in the restaurant who didn’t know her.  It wasn’t superficial either.  I watched with great respect for her ability to recall details of the person’s family.  She would ask questions about health issues, about family members, about friends.

It’s no wonder that people call her for connections. Her list of friends seems to have no end.

 

“Language designed to impress builds a gulf. Language to express builds a bridge.” -Jim Rohn

 

Fast forward to a different day, a different scene, and a different person.  This time I was observing a business meeting.  One of the men had an incredible ability to build rapport.  He was reaching people on an emotional level.  His ability to quickly build trust was amazing.  Two people would argue and he would synthesize the arguments and find common ground between them.

Both of these people are bridge builders. They are able to build connections with people. Because of that, they radiate positivity, success, and confidence.

 

Gulf Diggers

Contrast this with people who are divisive and negative.  They seem to repel people and not even know it.  Instead of building bridges, they create gulfs.  Many people say not to discuss politics or religion because the topics can be divisive.  I have never followed this advice and find it easy to discuss sensitive topics.  Why?  Because I am genuinely interested in people’s beliefs and opinions.  That’s how I learn. The key is to do it with respect and to borrow techniques from the world’s greatest bridge builders.

“Got it,” you think, “negative versus positive.” Not so fast.

 

Driving Others Away

Some people who build gulfs are actually unknowingly repelling people in a different way. 

New Leaders – Get Good Information and Build Relationships

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges

Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion; the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?

Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Open Communication

The techniques in these areas will establish the foundation to develop a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, accountability and action. I will discuss these attributes in a future post.

First Impressions

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

 

“What you do, not what you say, is what establishes culture.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on the following characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

To lay the groundwork for these cultural practices, you must first have good information, form relationships at all levels and communicate openly. The next two sections provide some techniques.

 

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Before a new leader is able to decide, initiate action or communicate intelligently, he/she needs good information quickly. It is vitally important to have information from different perspectives and different levels in an organization. Just getting information from one person/place can lead to narrow, sub-optimized decisions. Here are some mechanisms to obtain good information and simultaneously form relationships:

  • Skip-Level Meetings: Go to department staff meetings at all levels of the organization, starting with your direct reports, if you are a manager. This also works for project team leaders. You may simply listen during the meeting, but a simple round table discussion also works very well. Popular questions are: what is working; what is not working; what is frustrating; what should we stop doing; what decisions are holding up progress?

 

“It is vitally important for leaders to have information from different perspectives and levels.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

There are several benefits to skip-level meetings. Not only do you get good information from “the front line,” but it is also a good place to find things that people can be empowered to fix, thus setting the tone for delegation, action and decisiveness. Two fundamentals: 1) Always listen and question; 2) Be cautious not to manage around the team leader.

  • “State of the Union” Meetings: These are short one-on-one meetings for a person to give you a summary of the situation for a group, team, department or project. It does not have to be a polished presentation, just a discussion from an outline that covers: priorities, issues, decisions needed and what to start, stop or keep doing. Basically, let the person tell you what they are doing, what is going well and what needs attention. Again, look for opportunities for decision and action.

Are You Drowning Your Team?

Enough.

I was enjoying a quiet walk a few years ago.  As I approached one of my neighbors’ homes, I could hear a garden hose running.  Not wanting to get wet, I crossed the street.  Glancing to my right, I could see the hose running at full strength into a large planter.

The planter was overflowing and the water draining down the side and into the driveway.  A little stream was running right down the other street.  Crossing back across the street, I thought I would turn off the hose.  Clearly someone left it on by mistake.  Only a few steps later, I saw my neighbor.

 

“Sharing too much drowns a listener, destroying opportunities for growth.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Hi.  I thought I would turn off your hose,” I said.

“Oh, I’m watering everything a lot extra today,” before adding, “We’re going away for a few weeks so I wanted to water in advance.  It’s going to be really hot this week!”

“Not sure it works that way,” I said, smiling.  “I’m happy to water everything for you,” I offered.

After he declined my offer, I shook my head and continued my walk.

Why Journaling Makes Better Leaders

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

Why Journal?

There is much written about journaling, most of it on how to keep a journal, covering mechanics, tools and discipline.  It is more difficult to find information on the benefits of journaling from real-life experiences, especially pertaining to leaders.  Most of what is written on the benefits of journaling is about self-discovery, but I believe it can help make better leaders, too.

Many famous people kept journals or diaries.  These people came from all walks of life:  business (John D. Rockefeller); military (George Patton); inventors (Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison); presidents and prime ministers (John Adams, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill) and many authors (Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway).  These journals left a chronicle of thoughts, events and critical decisions as well as documenting their legacy.  But what about the rest of us?  Why write in a journal?

Years ago, I became interested in journaling.  At the time, I was very stressed and overloaded with responsibilities.  I needed something to help me stay focused.  I read several books, but one by Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, was the most helpful.  After reading her book, I began to journal and found it very beneficial.

Eventually, as I found myself in more prominent leadership positions, I found journaling helped improve my leadership in the following ways:

  • Better Organization
  • Improved Decision Making
  • Improved Demeanor, Attitude and Judgment
  • Enhanced Intention
  • Positive Reinforcement

Here is why writing in a journal makes better leaders.

 

Better Organization

One recommendation from The Right to Write is to write “Morning Pages” before the start of the workday.  I have found that to be the best time for maximum benefit.  Writing early in the morning gets the juices flowing before your mind has its normal defenses and filters in place.  There is something about writing early in the morning before engaging in the day’s activities that is very helpful — sort of like how your best ideas often occur in the shower.  Here are the main reasons:

  • Helps to reduce all the things in your head to key priorities
  • Allows you to ramble, then organize your thoughts for the day
  • Provides a way to better formulate tasks and frame issues
  • Gets mere ideas formed into concrete terms
  • Starts the day with a clear framework in mind
  • Improves the quality of your To-Do list

Writing in a journal in the morning will help you be more organized during the day.

“Write in a journal in the morning to be more organized during the day.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Improved Decision Making

Writing in a journal is a great way to facilitate problem solving and decision making.  Here is how:

  • Provides a private, non-judgmental forum to work through issues; no one is watching and pressure is off
  • Helps facilitate idea generation and new perspectives
  • Facilitates better problem definition to make sure you are working on the right issue
  • Helps to develop alternatives and examine their positive and negative implications, resulting in better choices
  • Gives you the chance to formulate tasks and frame issues properly before “real time” in meetings
  • Provides a way to examine causes rather than symptoms for issues and problems
  • Provides a forum to ask “So What?” about problems, issues and directions
  • Makes your decisions and explanations more crisp
  • Turns thoughts, decisions and ideas into actions

If you are skeptical, just try it on some decision that you are contemplating.  Write and refine the problem definition; quickly list alternatives; structure the list; examine implications of each alternative; choose an alternative and list the actions that need to happen.  I predict it will help.

Leadership Tip: try journaling to improve decision-making.

 

Improved Demeanor, Attitude and Judgment