Be Aware of Your Values

Values. They are instilled in us from an early age. We watch our parents and observe what's most important to them. We watch how they treat others and we begin to learn what they believe about the world. As we grow, we tinker with these values and beliefs until they become part of the core of who we are. Holding to our values isn't always easy or always convenient. Sometimes, they are so part of who we are that we have lost an awareness of them. They run on auto-pilot and we don't think about them until they are tested. It is always important to take time to think about your values and to know them deeply.

When we join an organization we, either consciously or sub-consciously, choose to align ourselves with organizations that share our values. As we become leaders or even join teams, it's important to keep our values front and center. We need to remember how our own values fit with the organizations of which we're a part, how they can bring teams together, and how they will allow us to lead with greater clarity and conviction.

Deeply knowing your own values can help you navigate your career. Choosing new career paths shouldn't be random, but should be driven by our values so that we align ourselves with organizations that share those values and allow us to thrive. Even within the most aligned organizations tensions can run high on teams where team members are passionate about ideas and solutions. As leaders, we have to maintain our values so that we can lead clearly and decisively. Abandoning our values or the values of our organization can have tragic results. That uncomfortable feeling when one’s values are tested should be a signal that things need to change.

To be a good leader we need to not only understand our own values, but those of our teams. We can help our teams raise their own awareness and find their place in the organization. When we lead, we have an obligation to those who follow us. We’re obligated to help them find value alignment — with the organization, with the project at hand, and with their teammates. When values align, we find our passion. When we find our passion, we are unstoppable.

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Today Didn't Just Happen to You . . . You Designed It

I hear people often say, "I just don't understand why this is happening to me!" Heck, I've been guilty of it myself. In some ways, it's human nature to sometimes think that the universe is conspiring against us. But is it really? I would say that if you heighten your awareness, you'll be able to see that so much of what is going on in your immediate moment is the result of past choices. Every choice we make in the moment sends a reaction our way at some point.
Leaders are often in this same boat. "I just don't understand why my team isn't performing." What they fail to see is that their team is struggling because of decisions that were made early in the project. Things like meeting rhythm, work review times, and even one-on-one meetings can affect performance down the line. Especially troublesome are work packages that haven't been scoped correctly, adequately funded, or appropriately staffed. These early project decisions can wreak havoc on work efforts down the line and leave many wondering why the project has become so difficult, so behind, or even so expensive. At this point, people tend to search for blame.

This perspective isn't just limited to the work place. Individuals wrestle with it on a regular basis, too. Often we see this played out in the context of relationships, health, and even financial stability. Some partners go through life without being sensitive or aware of their partner's needs. They then wonder why their partner lashes out, is distant, or even angry. They get sick and lament that illness happens to them while not affecting others. Some wonder why they have such a low balance in their bank account and why they can never seem to get ahead. Sure, certain challenges in life are going to come up, but so many of these situations are created by decisions we made long before they ever came to light.

Life isn't just happening to you. Work isn't just happening to you. Yes, it's happening — but so much of it is playing out just the way you designed it. As you work to focus on your own awareness and become more and more conscious of the decisions that you make on a daily basis, you have to stop asking the question, "Why is this happening to me?" The better question to be asking is "What did I do that brought this about or allowed it to play out in this way?" In asking that question from a greater sense of awareness, we can begin to acknowledge that we had a hand in creating the situation in which we find ourselves. Once we acknowledge that, we can begin to design how we will have a hand in getting ourselves out of unwelcome situations. It's not about blame at all. It's about control. Control of your own life. Your own workspace. Control over making your life what you want it to be. It's time to consciously live, lead, and be more in touch with ourselves and the world around us.
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Urgency

Having a kindergartener has certainly changed mornings around this house. I'm up earlier than I used to be and I immediately jump into a routine of waking up little ones and preparing breakfast. As I do each task, I find myself looking at the clock. I know exactly how long each task takes and when we need to be out of the house so that we can make the arbitrary start time of 7:40 a.m. Experience has taught me that gentle prodding works much better than demanding or ordering. "Eat up so we can get going," "Brush your teeth, please." "Let's make it a good day!"

I've found myself often thinking, why is this start time so important and why does it create such an urgent chaos in my life? Who decided 7:40 was the best start time? Aside from obvious State laws related to attendance and tardiness, I'm not generally inclined to try to make that start time. But we're required, so we adapt. This whole scenario also got me to thinking about the things we make urgent in the workplace. We stir people up so that they're running around trying to meet deadlines that we've put on them that may not have been thought through. Sometimes, we inadvertently set people up for failure when a better thought process might allow us to create a recipe for success.

Don't get me wrong, deadlines are important. After all, especially in business, we need to keep things moving in order to please our customers and to ultimately make money. But, are we making the right things urgent? I coach many leaders who take time to reflect on how they are pushing their organizations to achieve and the deadlines they are setting for their teams. What they find after their reflections surprises them. They realize that they are often pushing an immediate and singular agenda that may be at odds with the organization's overall strategy. This results in confusion for their teams and certainly creates a disincentive for employees to meet these deadlines.

Take some time as you start the week to think through what is important and what is actually urgent. Let these ideas guide you as you go about your week. Take care that you aren't making the unimportant, or even the unrelated, urgent. Use your values as a guide first, then think about the organization's values. This can keep you from spinning in circles and stirring up dust and allow you to actually move the organization forward.
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You Can't Bully your Way into Leadership

We all knew them growing up. Bullies. Whether they were forcing their opinions on us in the classroom or they were telling us how to enjoy the playground, these people felt that they had somehow been divinely appointed as "in charge." They developed core belief structures that told them if they handled a situation heavy-handed enough, they would prevail. These same people carried these cognitive models into adulthood and use them daily at work. Some of you may be coping with them at this very moment. Just because they are louder, more opinionated, and sometimes down right mean, doesn't make these people leaders. A good leader doesn't have to beat you over the head with their title or their position. Good leaders are a combination of several things — talent and skill, context, and most of all opportunity. They can't just profess it and someone can't just bestow it upon them.

Leadership talent and skill are those qualities that so many people like to profess that they have. The talent to lead is innate. Some of us are just born with the ability to be what is needed in the moment (more about that later). The skill comes in developing that talent. Talented leaders develop a keen sense of awareness about themselves, how they affect those around them, and they develop a keen awareness of their environment. All of these things work to make them a good leader. This heightened awareness allows them to inspire, to motivate, and to serve those who need them.

Context is the circumstance in which leaders find themselves. There is a need for someone to lead. Even great leaders are sidelined when the context calls for autonomous groups and individual leadership is unnecessary. People need to want to be led because of some difficulty of situation. Perhaps a project is behind or over budget. There may be highly talented people who want someone to pull things together and help them find their best. There may even be those who can't see beyond the next few weeks and they need someone to give them a vision of what the future looks like beyond that horizon. All of these situations, and many others, are the context in which a good leader can develop.

Finally, good leaders know when the opportunity to lead presents itself. They are aware of the context, they are aware of what's needed, and they're ready to provide that. They seize the opportunity to share their vision for the future, to motivate others to find their greatest potential, and to inspire team members to work together to achieve a common goal. The term, "Leader," has become ubiquitous. People use that term to describe someone who's actually in charge of a process. If one is just ticking the boxes — one is just in charge and not necessarily leading. When we see talent and skill, context, and opportunity all come together, that's when we see great leaders arise.

So leadership is not something bestowed or even forced. It's when talented people answer the call of opportunity within the right context. It allows us all to be inspired to our personal best. Don't let the bullies get you down. Take a minute to know who's actually leading. It may not be about their title or their position, it may just be about how they treat others when given the opportunity to help. Great leaders will always know when the opportunity calls. Don't let anyone bully you into believing something else.
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Little Beginnings

There is a certain excitement in the air this week. It's back to school time! Even if you don't have children or your children are gown and have flown the nest, you can't help but see the flurry of activity around getting back to school — even if it's punctuated by brake lights on your way to work. There is so much anticipation built up around this time. Some little ones will be starting school for the very first time and others will be heading back to a familiar routine. New beginnings are a great time to take stock of how we plan to approach things. Perhaps the approach we used in the past stopped working for us and we're ready to try something new. Any time there is a stark demarkation in time, it's easier to let things go and pick up something new and fresh. But what if we didn't need grand beginnings? Perhaps it only takes a little beginning — a little shift — to make successful changes in our lives and the way we work. These little beginnings are delivered to us each and every morning.

Whether its over coffee, on your commute, or just in your favorite chair, use your morning time to acknowledge and accept these little beginnings and use them as a chance to change your perspective or to create an idea that is totally new. We can all be stuck in our favorite approaches to doing things. I would venture to say they even get more sticky as we get older. So many of us like things "just so." But sometimes "just so" doesn't really work anymore. Sometimes the approach you've taken time and time again fails and you're left wondering why it didn't work. On occasion you're even a bit bitter because you think it
should work. So you try and try again. The world may have shifted while you weren't looking and the rules of engagement have changed.

Little beginnings are a chance to let go of outmoded thinking. In our quiet time we can release those thoughts and habits that are no longer working for us and embrace something new. At times they may be too complex or too difficult to let go of alone, so a coach may be necessary to help us through. Nonetheless, the little beginnings are there every morning. Challenge yourself to see things differently. Change your perspective. Decide that you'll invite collaboration. Keep in mind that even new approaches may not always work. Sometimes residual thinking gets in the way. Just remember that tomorrow holds a new little beginning. Adapt. Embrace change so that you can engage life in the most positive of ways.

Every evening reminds us that the day is done. Our choices have been made. As we reflect on them and celebrate the choices that gave us joy, we should also take stock of the choices that didn't. We should take stock of those choices that brought us anxiety, disappointment, or even sadness. Those choices are ripe for a little beginning. With each sunrise we are delivered an amazing gift — to live and to lead differently than we did the day before.
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