WHY WAIT FOR PERMISSION? JUST GO!

traffic lightAre you waiting for someone to give you permission to lead, grow, or move in your organization? What if you already have all the permission you need?

I was recently invited to sit on a board and observed something there I’ve seen countless times in other settings. Some people around the table had no trouble making themselves heard, while others seemed hesitant, withdrawn, even sheepish. It was as if the quiet people were waiting for someone to give them permission to speak. But the truth is that their presence on the board was all the permission they needed.

The scene reminded me of a story I once read about a farmer who rented a donkey to take some produce to market. Along the way, a traveler joined the farmer and the donkey, and when they got tired the three stopped for a rest.

Unfortunately there were no trees around so the traveler reclined in the donkey’s shadow. The farmer protested that he’d only rented the donkey, not the donkey’s shadow. The traveler insisted that use of the donkey assumed use of the donkey’s shadow too. It wasn’t a perk, it was part of the deal.

It’s the same on a board or in a company. Unless you’ve been told only to observe, speak up! Act. Play your part. Whether it’s a seat on a board or a cube in the corner, the permission you need is assumed by your invitation. If it’s not, that’s a good sign you’re in the wrong organization.

It’s easy to retreat behind a kind of phony humility, as if not speaking were really a virtue. Some religious people might even twist a few Scripture verses to validate their sheepishness.

But not speaking up, not acting, not leading cheats everyone in at least three ways:

  1. It cheats your superiors. It’s a disappointment to the people who wanted you there to contribute. No one gets invited to suck up the room’s oxygen.
  2. It cheats the group. Important learning is on the line. If you speak up and your ideas are good, everyone benefits. If you speak up and you get corrected, there’s still a benefit for everyone. The truly humble are capable of serving the team regardless of the outcome.
  3. It cheats you. Holding back might feel like a benefit to you, but it’s a cheap win: The only thing you buy is your comfort. No personal improvement. No esteem in the eyes of your colleagues. No contribution to the organization.

I’ve been at this a long time, and so I’ve developed some confidence. But the only way to develop that confidence is to step out and speak up. Assume permission and go.

The traveler was right. If you’ve got the donkey, you’ve got permission to use his shadow. If an organization has entrusted you with a position, assume you have permission to use it. If you’ve been invited, that’s all the permission you need. Just go.

Have there been times you’ve held back in important meetings or events when your voice could have made the difference? 

HOW TO MAKE A BIG CHANGE WITHOUT BLOWING UP YOUR BUSINESS

mentor (2)Whenever an organization rolls out a major change, clarity and alignment are essential. Without those two things all the best intentions amount to little more than heartburn and headaches.

As a leader responsible for a medium company, I have experienced the difficulty of getting clarity and creating alignment with my team. In one instance, we shuttered more than a dozen division of our publishing operation and restructured the entire business. But I’ve also found myself on the other side of things – outside of the leadership seat and in the role of observer. Only in this case people were making decisions about my brand!

As an example, I remember when the National Speakers Association announced a significant change to their name (about 2 years ago). They announced that they would adopt the name ‟Platform”.

They noted that their members do a lot more than public speaking and their initials are far from popular right now. I sympathized. “NSA” was tarnished brand, regardless of what you think of the federal government’s operations. Within a ten days they’d reversed course and abandoned the name. As the whole situation played out, I was reminded of five key steps for any organization before rolling out a major initiative. Each of these steps is designed to achieve either clarity or alignment. Both are essential if an organization wants to avoid a backlash to its proposed changes.

These apply to the NSA, of course, but they also apply to all of us seeking to lead in the world of social media, where everyone has a microphone and everyone is connected to everyone else.

  1. Determine what you need to communicate. This is the single most important step. You need to get crystal clear on your message. Distill it down to one sentence. What’s the headline? That’s all most people will take away anyway. Part of this step requires answering the why question. You need to provide the rationale. This where NSA got it right and wrong. They did a great job of communicating why their brand needed an update, and I’m sure we could all agree. But they didn’t explain why taking platform was the right course for their organization.
  2. Commit your message to writing – in advance. My introduction to the NSA rebrand came through watching a video recording of a public address, so I’m not sure how this worked beforehand inside their shop. But I always start by writing a press release, talking points, and FAQ document. Not only does this step bring tremendous clarity to my own thinking, it also enables me to enlist others and keeps me from having to formulate communication in the midst of a public relations storm.
  3. Secure alignment with your leadership team. It’s crucial that you give your key team members information, time to process, and space to discuss. It’s hard to overemphasize this step, and the importance increases with the magnitude of the change. Individuals may express disagreement, but they can still get behind the change if they feel like they’ve been heard. If they feel ignored, however, they may well work against the new initiative.
  4. Contact key stakeholders – personally. You cannot afford to surprise your key constituents. This is another area where NSA might have stumbled. In the blowback of the initial decision, it seemed as if there were key people in the dark about the change. It’s essential to enroll your key stakeholders, determine who will contact whom, and then start making visits or calls – in advance of the public announcement. The information should quietly cascade within the organization. Then take it to select VIPs outside the company before the public revelation. You’re doing more than communicating about the change. You’re also conveying your respect by informing your VIPs before you go public. Then, once you go public, they are able to say, ‟Yes, I knew about that change. They contacted me in advance of the announcement.”
  5. Go public through all available media channels. Now take it to the world via press releases, blog posts, and social media. This ensures you control the narrative. Without a narrative, critics will create their own. And that’s when things begin to unwind. Part of going public is staying public. Keep the channels open for public dialogue. Interviews, blog conversations, Twitter exchanges – they’re all key for managing the public response. The NSA did this well. When the backlash came, the leadership owned the problem, solicited responses, and were quick to respond.

No change is easy, especially big organizational changes like a restructure or a rebrand. But clarity and alignment through good communication are critical components of initiating major change without blowing up your business.

I was eager to see what the NSA leadership was to develop for their new brand. I wanted them to succeed. Though they stumbled on this recent initiative, I think they had the opportunity to achieve even greater clarity and alignment within their organization. This would serve them well as they serve their members and the world at large.

What good and bad experiences have you had with major organizational change? 

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TEN MISTAKES LEADERS MAKE WITH EXECUTIVE ASSISTANTS

mentor (2)

I’ve worked with several executive assistants over the years, and I have found it is a make-or-break relationship when it comes to my success.

Think about it: None of us can do it all on our own. We need to bring others into our work to help us succeed in it. And the bigger the dream, the more help we usually need.

In my corporate days, I had some very effective executive assistants, and I couldn’t imagine doing the work without them. The same has been true since going on my own again in 2011, though at first I thought I could just operate as a one-man show. I was wrong. I couldn’t.

It wasn’t long before I was completely buried in email, speaking requests, travel details, calendar complications, expense reports, and more. I knew I needed help. Fortunately, I found a virtual executive assistant who enabled me to dig out of my pile, offload the stuff I hated, and get back to the essentials.

I now have two virtual executive assistants working on my team, and I can’t imagine it functioning without them. But that doesn’t mean an executive assistant is a silver bullet for all our big hairy problems. An executive assistant is only as good as the working relationship.

There are a lot of ways to blow it with your executive assistant, and I have identified the top-ten mistakes leaders make with their executive assistants, regardless of whether they’re virtual or sitting right outside your office. If we can avoid these, we can amplify our chances for success:

1b30– We undervalue our true worth. How valuable is your time? Most of us don’t know, which is why we keep wasting so much of it on activities that don’t really matter. Without a doubt this is the No. 1 mistake people make with their executive assistants.

Take your total compensation and divide it across your available work hours. Now ask yourself: Is mailing that package, scheduling that meeting, or processing those invoices really worth that much? I bet not. If we really understood how much we’re worth, we’d hand off far more to our executive assistants.

2- We undervalue our executive assistants’ true worth. Some of us don’t appreciate the competence, talents, and skills of our executive assistants. We don’t trust them enough to delegate the important but time-consuming tasks that take us off mission. It’s like we’re stuck in an old­-school “secretary” paradigm. The truth is that an executive assistant is really a full partner in achieving our goals.

3- We don’t communicate enough. Communication is key to working with an executive assistant, and yet I constantly see executive assistant relationships that suffer because leaders fail to provide necessary details about their work and even their private lives. If an executive assistant is a partner in achieving our goals, they will only be as effective as they are dialed into what’s happening. Keeping them in the dark only hurts our ability to succeed.

4- We don’t give the why behind the what. No. 4 is related to No. 3. A good executive assistants can fill ­in the blanks of tasks and projects if they know the rationale behind a task or project. When we don’t communicate adequate background and reasoning, we’re hampering our executive assistants’ ability to help us win.

5- We just don’t know how to delegate. If there’s a magic sauce to leadership, it’s delegation. Nothing will sink a leader faster than the inability to assign priorities and responsibilities.

But many of us don’t properly delegate to the one person working closest to us, our executive assistants. That’s a recipe for disaster. One executive assistant was straightforward about the problem: “If you don’t ask for something to be done and then explain how you’d like it accomplished, I’m no good to you!”

b256- We refuse to surrender our email and calendars. Some of us actually like managing our inboxes and schedules; others are just control freaks. Either way, it sucks up tons of time. Leaders who don’t delegate these two functions are killing their productivity.

7- We don’t open up. Some of us don’t share our lives enough with our executive assistants, but we could delegate so much more if we were more transparent about both our work and home life.

A good executive assistant will see where they can plug in and take things off our plates we’re not even aware of – but that only happens if we give them access. How many unnecessary tasks and low-payoff activities could you offload if you only gave your executive assistant permission?

8- We don’t play fair. Executive assistants get used to extraordinary requests; it’s sometimes part of the job. But if we are hypocritical about things, we can really undermine respect. For instance, to demand that your executive assistant be hyper responsive and then sit on a request ruins your credibility. We have to work toward the same standard we expect from our teammates.

9- We’re lousy about feedback. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind and miss opportunities to give our executive assistant insight into how they’re doing or what they could do to improve. Not only does this hurt our working relationship, but it’s also like shooting ourselves in the foot. Who benefits if our executive assistant improves? Who suffers if they don’t? Regular feedback is a must.

10- We expect too much access. As leaders, most of us are always on. We’re thinking about our business all the time – probably too much, actually. And we assume that everyone on the team should be on as well. The result is that we assume 24/7 service from our executive assistant is reasonable. It’s not. Especially if you’re working with a virtual executive assistant who is giving a set number of hours, going beyond that strains the working relationship. In the end, the executive assistant will be less effective, not more.businessman-in-boardroom1

Our work it too important to go it alone. It’s also too important to undermine the very people responsible for helping us reach our goals. Having an effective working relationship with your executive assistant will enable you to achieve your core objectives while minimizing the clutter and distractions that sets you back.

What goals could you accomplish if you could make the most of your relationship?

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE?

mentor (2)Ever since I began blogging, productivity has been one of my most popular topics. But I’m convinced we’re not always productive for the right reasons. Maybe this is why many people are productive but miserable.

Over my career I’ve been entrusted with a lot of responsibility. At one time, I was responsible for the well-being of over one hundred employees and a company legacy twenty years in the making.

I found unplugging difficult. I couldn’t rest because I was always on. If I didn’t perform well and efficiently, disaster loomed – lots of people would be hurt. At least, that’s how it felt. But that meant my focus was sometimes on the wrong thing.

Make It Happen, Faster

This mindset didn’t just happen. It is deeply rooted in the history of the productivity movement.

When industrialization ramped up in the twentieth century, factory owners hired experts to improve efficiency. Armed with stopwatches, these experts roamed factory floors trying to spot needless activity and waste. The faster someone fashioned one thing and assembled another, the more profitable the business could be. Henry Ford is the classic example of what greater productivity meant for a business.

It used to take workers half a day to assemble a car. After installing the first full automobile assembly line in his plant in 1913, he cut that down to two and half hours! The benefits were massive. His profits soared. But there was an unexpected trade off, too.

A Wrong Paradigmbusiness-meeting-1_91130032

Instead of work existing for people, people began to exist for the work. The most famous of the efficiency experts, Frederick Winslow Taylor, said it this way in 1911: “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.”

Can you see what’s underneath that statement? The person needs the system, but the system doesn’t always need the person. As a result, we accidentally created an anxiety machine where fear became the driving force of productivity. Corporate life became like running from the wolf. The faster you moved, the better your chances for survival.

By the time I entered business this mindset was well engrained. Its influence was pervasive. I adopted it unconsciously. Sadly, though my commitment to excellence usually drives my productivity, many times, I’ve found myself motivated by fear – when, for instance, my business failed; or when the Great Recession threatened my company.

Whenever I started thinking of the wolves, I saw more wolves. Pretty soon I was more consumed with running from them than running my business. Not the best paradigm, right? Fortunately, there is a better way.

Productivity Is About Stewardship

I believe Universe has entrusted us all with certain ideas, talents, and resources. We’re responsible to improve and increase what we’ve been given. If we shrink back from this in fear, seeing it only as an opportunity to fail, we’ve embraced the wrong paradigm. But if we embrace it with gratitude, seeing it as an opportunity to grow – to step into our abilities and exercise our gifts – then we’ve embraced the right paradigm.

It’s like trying to beat a personal best on the race track. Instead of running from the wolf, we’re running toward a goal. Anticipation, not anxiety, pushes us forward. To view productivity this way involves a conscious change of thinking – one from scarcity to abundance, from fear to hope. But it’s worth it.

Unplugging finally becomes possible. Rest, too. And the unexpected bonus is that this paradigm actually enables more productivity because it’s finally for the right reason.

5 Questions for Self-Evaluation

So how can we discover our primary motivation? As I think about increasing my productivity, I use these five questions. They work best when I can apply them to particular circumstances. See if they help you:

1- Do I feel proactive or reactive in this situation?

2- Do I feel that my self-worth is tied up in the outcome?

3- Do I dread the outcome, even if I win?

4- Do I feel like victory will be short-lived?

5- Do I feel energized or drained?

To be truly productive, we need to have the right focus. Productivity driven by anxiety is unsustainable. But seeing productivity as a chance to grow what you’ve been given can radically change what’s possible in your work.

So say: Did you start this week running toward the goal or away from the wolf?

FOUR STRATEGIES FOR CUTTING YOUR TO-DO LIST IN HALF

WEx2Quite often when I ask a friend how he is doing, he inevitably responds, “Busy. Crazy busy.” It seems like all of us have more to do that we can possibly get done.

One of the most helpful time management principles I’ve ever found is David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule. The basic concept is that you take immediate action on anything that can be done in two minutes or less. This is the key to becoming more productive.

To implement this, you should do these kinds of actions NOW. Why? Because it will take longer than two minutes to add the action to your to-do list, organize it, get back up to speed later, and complete the task. Instead of going through that whole rigmarole, you just do it and move on to the next task. It is a huge productivity booster. And it will keep your to-do lists much shorter.

In addition to the two-minute rule, here are four strategies for cutting your to-do list in half:

1- Understand the five basic decisions. With any given input (email message, physical inbox item, etc.), there are only five actions you can take:

-You can DO it by taking action now yourself.

-You can DELEGATE it to someone else who is better qualified or has the bandwidth.

-You can DEFER (or schedule) it to do later.

-You can FILE it for later reference.

-You can DELETE it and forget about it.

2- Make a decision and then act. This is the most important part—make a decision. Most of the decisions you and I make are not that consequential. You can afford to be wrong occasionally.

It is better to make a decision and move on than waste precious time trying to get it right. (Obviously, I am not talking about big decisions that require significant risk or investment.)

3- Don’t second-guess yourself. This is unproductive. You can spend an inordinate amount of time questioning your decisions. What is past is past. Let it go.

Don’t get bogged down in “the paralysis of analysis.” Learn what you can and keeping moving. Like someone once observed, “It is easier to steer a moving car than one that is parked.”

4- Set a time-limit. Parkinson’s Law states: “work expands to the time allotted for it.” For example, I may go online right before lunch, say 11:00 a.m. I then give myself 30 minutes to process the emails that have accumulated since I checked earlier that morning.

On average, I can go through 70 emails in this amount of time. The deadline helps me be more productive.

You will get better with practice. Consciously try to implement this principle. Nike got it right with their slogan: “Just do it!” This applies to task management as well. Ready, set, go!

How many items are currently on your to-do list? How many could you have eliminated if you had just taken the action when it first appeared?

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ARE YOUR BELIEFS KEEPING YOU STUCK?

limitesRSERSCLimiting Beliefs are like fences, invisible barriers. They only exist in our mind, but I treat them as though they were “out there”, part of the real world.

I immediately think of three kinds of limiting beliefs:

Beliefs about myself I have often been stuck in my life, not because I didn’t have the money, time, or contacts to make progress, but because of some deep-seated assumption. For example, early in my career, I thought I was too young to succeed. I sabotaged myself in subtle ways. Now I routinely meet people who think they are too old to succeed.

But what is the truth? The truth is that age has very little to do with our success. It’s often a story we use, whether we are young or old, to stay stuck.

Here are some other examples of limiting beliefs we might have about ourselves:

“I’m just not technologically-inclined.”

“I can’t help it, I’m just big-boned.”

“I’ve never been very good with money.”

“I guess I’m just not that creative.”

“I’m a quitter. I never finish what I start.”

Beliefs about others It’s not just the beliefs we have about ourselves that keep us stuck, sometimes it’s a belief we have about others.

I once worked for a man whom I thought was arrogant. Though he was brilliant, he kept his office door shut most of the time. When he did venture out, he barely spoke to anyone. If he passed you in the hallway, he would look away. As I got to know him, I discovered that he wasn’t arrogant at all. He just suffered from low self-esteem and, as a result, was extremely shy. As I got to know him he warmed up and became a mentor.

The truth about him was exactly the opposite of what I initially thought. My limiting belief almost cost me an important relationship.

Here are examples of limiting beliefs we might have about others:

“There’s no use asking. He’s too busy to meet with me.”

“He’s just a bean counter. What does he know?”

“Someone like her would never go out with a guy like me.”

“She’s too introverted to be a good leader.”

“He hasn’t responded. I guess he’s upset with me.”

Grand Canyon National ParkBeliefs about the world Sometimes the beliefs that keep us stuck are global. I saw this recently when I was talking to one of my friends in the book publishing industry.

I asked him how it was going. “It’s tough,” he admitted. “With the economic downturn, stores are continuing to close and book sales are down.” I don’t doubt things are tough for him. However, I do question whether the economy is as bad as he thinks. He may be suffering from selection bias.

Because I speak for organizations in a variety of industries, I see different perspectives on the economy. For some, the economy is booming. For others, we’re still in the Great Recession.

Here are examples of limiting beliefs we might have about the world:

“You know how women are. They are so emotional.”

“Everyone knows politicians will say anything to get elected.”

“I don’t trust management. They’re always trying to screw us.”

“Rich people don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

“You can’t be successful without compromising your integrity.”

Beliefs are not the culprit. They can be a good thing when they are rooted in reality. But we have to learn to distinguish between reality and excuses. For example, I used to think of myself as an introvert. It was the reason I didn’t mingle with people at parties or even introduce myself to audience members before I spoke in public. But it suddenly dawned on me one day that this was a limiting belief. It was keeping me from having the impact I really wanted. It wasn’t the way things were; it was an excuse that was keeping me from growing.

So I changed my belief. I decided that introversion was more of a preference rather than something innate. I could chose which behavior to exhibit (introversion or extroversion) based on what I wanted to achieve.

If you find yourself stuck in some area, ask yourself, “What beliefs do I have about this that are limiting my ability to move forward? Is this really true? Is there something else I need to believe that is more rooted in reality?”

What is a limiting belief you struggle with?

THREE TRUTHS ABOUT BUSINESS UPS AND DOWNS

baseball4When I was growing up, ABC’s Wide World of Sports had this tagline, “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” This has pretty much described my life as an entrepreneur.

I don’t mean I have experienced defeat in the distant past, but my life is filled with one victory after another (hardly). Quite often, I experience both of these in a single week, always with three steps forward and two backward.

Last Monday for example, I wrote a post about how to change your life with two words, something simple that I wanted to share with my followers. Honestly, I didn’t put a lot of effort into it, but it went semi-viral.

In a week, it garnered two thousand page views, almost one hundred Facebook shares, and seventy retweets. It obviously struck a nerve. By my standards, it was a home run. I was elated. Maybe I’ve cracked the code, I thought.

Not so much. Three days later, I published a new post on leadership and accessibility, sharing some lessons I had learned about saying “no” as a leader. I felt it was thoughtful and really important, but my audience? Crickets.

Typically, my posts hit about 900 on the day I publish them. This time, it didn’t even crack the the mark of 50. It made me want to ask: “Is this thing offline?”

Have you ever experienced these kinds of results? I’m sure you have. If so, you’re normal. It isn’t that unusual. I only achieve the semi-viral response – a home run – about once every 50 or so posts. This is also about how often I experience the cricket response – a strikeout.

In the early days, when I was just starting to build my online platform, my emotions pretty much tracked with my results. If I had a big hit, I was excited and motivated. If I struck out, I wanted to throw in the towel and quit. But over past 5 years, I’ve learned three important truths:

1-A post or episode does not a platform make. One post will not make you or break you. Sure, I enjoy the traffic, attention, and engagement when something really works. But I have also learned not to get too discouraged when something doesn’t.

2-Amateurs quit, but pros keep swinging. Professionals aren’t smarter than you. They probably don’t have secrets you don’t have – or can’t get. Instead, they are just persistent. When they whiff, they adjust their grip, straighten their shoulders, and take another swing. Because they stay at it, they eventually see results.

3-I have a better chance of winning if I stay in the game. So many people walk off the field before the clock runs out. They haven’t lost; they are just behind. But, the future is wide open. Anything is possible. The key is to keep stepping up to the plate. When I do this, good things happen – not always immediately, but eventually.

And the great thing about being a blogger, a podcaster, or any other kind of creative, is that nothing is wasted. Every setback becomes the raw material you need to create better, more nuanced art.

So next time you create something of value and don’t get the response you want, remember, even the pros only hit the ball 30 percent of the time they step up to bat. That’s just part of the game. Whether you win or lose, there’s always something to learn.

 What was your most recent victory or defeat? Tell us your experience.