The Power Of Finding Your Genius

There’s a joke about a salesman who is driving along the highway and sees a sign, “Talking Dog for Sale.” He rings the bell and the owner tells him the dog is in the back yard. He goes into the back yard and sees a mutt sitting there.

“You talk?” he asks.

“Yep,” the mutt replies.

“So, what’s your story?”

The mutt looks up and says, “When I discovered this gift I was pretty young and wanted to help the government. So I told the CIA about my unique talent and in no time they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies eight years running.

“But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to settle down. So I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings there and was awarded a batch of medals. Had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”

The salesman is amazed and asks the farmer what he wants for the dog. The farmer says, “Ten dollars.”

The guy says he’ll buy him, but asks the owner, “This dog is amazing. He’s worth a fortune. Why on earth are you selling him for only $10?”

The owner replies, “Because he’s a liar.”

Everyone is talented, original, and has something to offer the workplace where they are employed. The problem is that most people treat themselves and their employees like this old farmer treats his talking dog. We are so focused on the weakness and fixated on fixing that weakness that we completely miss the talents and the strengths and wonder why our employee engagement scores are so low.

The poet William Blake said, “He who knows not his own genius has none.” Leadership is, in large part, helping people discover – and unleash – their genius. Fit people; don’t fix people.

Here are five ways to tap into the genius in yourself and others:

  1. Look for people’s strengths: What you focus on is what grows. Start asking three simple questions of every one of your employees. Start to have the conversations. Give some feedback. Listen.
  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you do better here than anyone else?
  • What is unique about you?
  1. Invest in a formal inventory to discover your strengths and help others discover theirs. The best inventory I have found is: gallupstrengthscenter.com‎
  2. Track your energy. What energizes you? What depletes you? What fills you up? What’s working for you? What’s not? Today, it’s not about time management; it’s about energy management. Your energy level is a great indicator of how aligned you are to your genius.
  3. Delegate your weakness – at least whenever possible. Chances are, there is somebody in your organization that is good at what you aren’t. Talk it up. Discuss where you can pass on your weakness to somebody who has it as a strength.
  4. Let go of perfection. It’s unrealistic to expect that a hundred percent of your job be in your area of genius. What’s important is that at least a percentage of what you do is what you are great at. This is where the inspiration and the engagement lie. Keep working toward increasing the circle of strength and the time your employees spend there, and watch how engagement and productivity start to substantially increase.

5 KEYS TO UNLEASH GREATNESS ON YOUR TEAM

I meet some amazing leaders in my work. People hire me to work with their organization and I end up a better person by spending time with them. One such leader who has become a good friend is John Liston. John was formally a regional director at Great West Life, and now is the principal of Liston Advisory Group. John lives what he leads. He’s a person of strong character. He’s passionate. He cares. He cares about his people. He cares about the work. He cares about his organization. And his approach to leadership produces results. When he was at Great West Life, his was the top region in Canada in 2010, 2011 and 2012. This spring we ran a customer service program together for a police department.

In a recent conversation with John about his coaching experience with his daughter’s Under 19 Ringette team, he explained how he coaches the same as he leads. Same philosophy. Same approach. Same leadership. Here are John’s five keys for unleashing greatness within a team:

1) Hire great people. You need to know the skills you need from your people and, more importantly, you need to know the kind of attitude you want from the people around you. You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Building a great team means knowing precisely the kind of person you want on your team. It means hiring s-l-o-w-l-y. Take your time. Ask questions and assess the right fit. If you study what most people do in business you find that they spend their time hiring for competence (resume, experience, etc.) and almost always fire for character. What John, and other great leaders do, is hire for character and train for competence.

2) Create an environment for people to be their best. When are you at your best? Typically it is when you are focused, but not worried about mistakes or failing. In John’s words, “When we win, we party; when we lose, we ponder.” This means it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. See the best in people. Fit people don’t fix people. Find their strengths and build on those strengths. Find a place where people can take their gifts, their passion, and their talents, and make a contribution. It takes coaching, mentoring, and, most importantly, time. When you create these environments, people “chose to” come to them; they don’t feel they “have to”.

3) Understand the why (the reason) before the what or the how. At the 1963 Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, Martin Luther King did not stand up with a “strategic plan.” Martin Luther King had a dream. He gave people a reason. What’s vital in building a team – as well as building a life – is to not confuse the means with the ends. John Liston understands this. He understands that people aren’t accountable if they aren’t motivated. If they aren’t accountable, it’s because they don’t have enough reason to be accountable. A vision is what gives people a reason to get on board. John uses the vehicle of sport to teach character. Character is the why. Character is the goal. Sport is the means to that goal. Some people get confused and think sport is about winning. Professional sport may be, but all others are about character. Winning is a by-product. It works the same in business.

4) Execute with precision. John is a master of accountability cultures. He understands that you have to inspire people, and then you have to link that inspiration to clearly defined outcomes and a precise way to get there. This is where John is tough. He models the values. While he cares about people, he has a precise, results driven process for creating an environment for people to hold themselves accountable – to themselves and to each other.

5) Celebrate success. In John’s words, “you have to know what success is, know how to get there, and know how to celebrate it when you’ve achieved it.” You have to know what constitutes success and shine a light on it. Tell the story. Acknowledge people. Catch people being successful. You have to care and you have to connect. Celebration can be big or it can be small, but most importantly it has to be meaningful.

John’s passionate, inspiring energy is contagious. It’s always been important to him to create an environment in which people have a chance to be their best, to realize their potential, and to be recognized for their achievements. John is the kind of leader people want to work for. He’s also the kind of friend people seek.

What kind of environment are you creating on your team?

SEVEN ROOTS OF EMPLOYEE ACCOUNTABILITY

Certain species of bamboo trees in Southeast Asia grow less than an inch in four years, but in their fifth year will grow over a hundred feet. A root system develops below the surface that enables the plant to support its enormous growth in that fifth year.

All systems, whether they are bamboo trees or employee accountability systems, require solid roots to be both enduring and regenerative. Far too many employee accountability and performance management programs don’t have a strong, established root system. Tasks are assigned to employees in a haphazard way, hoping that the worker will “figure it out” and deliver an adequate, even superior, performance. Alternatively, I observe rigid, bureaucratic performance review systems that are demeaning and disconnected from the needs of the human spirit. If either of these are your accountability process, you will soon realize that hope, rigidity, or bureaucracy are not very effective strategies for holding people accountable.

An effective, engaging, and enduring employee accountability process must grow from good roots. After helping organizations develop accountability for more than two decades, I have found seven key principles that form strong roots of accountability.

1) Clarity. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need pristine clarity about what is expected of them in terms of operational results and behaviors. Whenever possible, write down what you expect from each other. Visibility drives clarity. But the most important thing to be clear about is the results expected. If it’s in your area, function, or project, you are accountable. Accountability – the ability to be counted on – is about making a promise to deliver results.

2) Provide Meaning. Accountability without passion is drudgery. Employees nowadays rightfully expect that work will be invigorating and meaningful. It’s much easier to hold someone accountable when you have helped them identify the vision of the organization, how their contribution helps realize that vision, and how their passion and role is critical. Unleashing the potential of your organization and your employees is far more important than some bureaucratic emphasis on ‘keeping people accountable.’ Accountability is a means to a higher end. If you can’t clarify what that end is, you’ll get compliance at best, and, at worst, burn people out. Accountability has to be authentic and meaningful.

3) Agreements. A request is not an agreement. Clear expectations must be followed up with a mutually decided upon agreement. Every request needs a question, “Can I count on you to meet my expectation?” Be sure the person you are holding accountable has the resources, the capability, and the willingness to come through. And… before you say ‘yes’ to a request, be sure that you have the resources, capability, and the willingness to honor your agreement. Don’t ever make a promise you aren’t prepared to keep.

4) Support. Accountability without support is destructive pressure. To be sustainable, every agreement must come with support requirements. Whenever you expect something from someone, it is vital to ask how you can support them. Support requirements make the accountability agreement mutual and respectful. Accountability must shift from a parental relationship to a partnering relationship.

5) Connection. Accountability without connection is compliance. In the age of the internet, everybody is communicating, but few are actually connecting. You can’t hold employees accountable by emailing them your expectations. You have to get out of the office, get in front them, and make the connection. Connection is about listening, supporting, and being genuinely interested. You’ll have a hard time holding anyone accountable for long if they don’t believe you care – not just about the results they produce, but also about who they are as a person.

6) Consequences. Accountability without consequences is meaningless. But consequences are not the same as punishment. Consequences are the result of delivering – or not delivering – on your agreements. If you do what you say you are going to do, there are positive consequences. If you fail to do what you agreed to, there are negative consequences. It’s important to negotiate and clarify consequences as early as possible in the agreement process. Consequences are the key motivators to accountability. Be sure to explore both the internal and external consequences of honoring your agreements.

7) Follow up. What is the required follow up? How often – and when – do you need to meet to ensure the accountabilities to each other are met? These are vital questions in the accountability process.

You might have noticed that the fundamental principles that form the roots of an effective accountability process with others are also the principles that underlie accountability agreements with yourself. When keeping agreements with others or yourself, or holding others to account, be sure to take the time to ensure good roots.

OPTIMAL HEALTH Maximizing Organizational Capacity Through A Well Functioning Aerobic System

As a former competitive distance runner, I learned that there is a difference between health and fitness. Health is when all the systems in your body are functioning optimally, especially the aerobic system (your bodies capacity to use oxygen). Indicators of health are energy, endurance, and calmness. Fitness, on the other hand, is the ability to perform a particular athletic activity. Fitness is about speed and strength: a well-functioning anaerobic system.

Many times during my running career, in an effort to get fit, I compromised my health. My ambition was stronger than my capacity. Injuries, low energy, and a decreased immune system were some of the outcomes of this imbalance. As I matured as an athlete, I discovered that in order for the body to work effectively, health and fitness must both be present and in balance.

Unhealthy people fall mostly into two categories: those who are inactive and over-rested, and those who are over-trained and under-rested. Studies are now showing that both inactive people and over-trained athletes exhibit essentially the same symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Chronic fatigue
  • A depressed immune system
  • Circulatory problems
  • Susceptibility to injuries
  • Hormonal and insulin imbalance

The only difference between the two groups is that inactive people tend to have an excess storage of fat, while over-trained athletes have an insufficient storage of fat.

I use this metaphor when helping leaders improve organizational effectiveness and achieve regenerative success. To succeed long-term, both health and fitness are necessary in organizations and in life. It can be said that leadership represents health, while management represents fitness. Thus, different indicators measure an organization’s fitness and it’s health:

Organizational Fitness                        Organizational Health

Strategy                                                          High Trust

Expediency                                                    Flexibility

Marketing                                                      High Energy

Performance                                                 Endurance

Operational Excellence                              High Morale

Profits                                                             Employee Engagement

Technology                                                    Low Turnover

Organizations focus on the fitness side of the equation when ambition exceeds capacity. Fitness is also easier to measure than health. Managers are reluctant to examine health because it’s hard to quantify and it can point to failings of leadership. An over-emphasis on organizational fitness and an under-emphasis on organizational health will result in imbalance. Indicators of organizational imbalance and ill-health include: exhaustion, disengagement, high turnover (or worse, people “quit and stay”), distrust, an over-reliance on employee engagement surveys and an under-reliance on conversations, lack of focus, inflexibility, and unclear priorities.

To gain some balance and improve your organization’s health try some of the following strategies:

  • Spend less time in front of your computer and more time in front of people.
  • Narrow your priorities. Bring more focus into your work.
  • Start talking about your espoused values, and, more importantly, how you can live them – in concrete behaviorial terms.
  • Whenever you take on more work, ensure you have the resources and the capacity to get it done.
  • Start taking people for coffee, and stop taking them for granted.
  • Catch people doing things right. Shine a light on success.
  • Talk with people, not to Listen more; talk less.
  • Tell more stories, especially when they focus on success.
  • Appreciate good people and good actions. Recognize. Acknowledge. Cherish.
  • Replace entitlement with gratitude.
  • Decide that all blame is a waste of time.
  • Bring a servant mind-set to everything you do.
  • Get more rest.

PEOPLE ARE WORTH IT – Connection As A Path To Leadership

Dad once looked down an assembly line of women employees and thought, “These are all like my own mom – they have kids, homes to take care of, people who need them.” It motivated him to work hard to give them a better life because he saw his mom in all of them. That’s how it all begins – with fundamental respect. – Bob Galvin, speaking of his father, founder of Motorola

Leadership is about connection. It’s not just a rational, analytic process. If you are going to influence people; if you are going to get past compliance to genuine engagement; and if you are committed to creating an environment that produces the results you need, you have to reach people’s heart. If you simply give your employee a job description or list of expectations that are required to do their work without a sincere interest in them as a person, you relegate your people to simple “task-doers,” rather than genuine contributors. In order to lead, people need to know you care. They need to know you have a vested interest in them as a person, a genuine commitment to their wellbeing that goes beyond what they do or what they achieve.

What this means is that in order to engage people, you not only have to know yourself and have a high level of engagement in your own work, you also have to be engaged with the people you are attempting to engage. The first condition of leadership is connection.

Making a connection with employees begins by asking and sincerely seeking to understand the fundamental engagement question: “What do each of your employees need to be motivated?” Because every person is unique, it’s most likely that each employee will have a different answer to this question. If you don’t know the answer, then you are just guessing. And the risk of being wrong is too great. It’s much better to simply ask the question and set out to discover the answer.

Before he hires people, a leader in a long-term care organization asks the engagement question this way, “What are you passionate about? What would excite you to come to work here?” In his world, answers deal with interests in areas such as end of life challenges, dementia, HR/labor relations, and health and safety. He then asks: “How can we, as an organization, help you develop that passion?”

After listening to their response, he concludes with: “If we can help you develop that passion within your role, do you mind being a resource, coach, mentor, etc. for others in this organization?” Over many years, he has yet to have anyone say no. He then sets out to help them develop a plan that will grow their area of interest and contribute that talent to the organization. In this leader’s view of engagement, you have to give people a sense that they are needed and find a way to connect to their unique talents and passion. His motto to engage people (employees and residents alike) is to give them both a voice and a choice.

Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, ask three fundamental leadership questions in relation to anyone you serve (customers, clients, external stakeholders):

  • What are you doing to get to people’s heart?
  • What are you doing to make a connection to your employees, those you serve?
  • What are you doing to uncover your employees’ passion and talents?

In her book, “Kids Are Worth It,” Barbara Coloroso, the world-renowned parenting expert, says parents need to create a home environment that provides six critical life messages:

  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you.
  • I know you can handle life situations.
  • You are listened to.
  • You are cared for.
  • You are important to me.

It’s no different for employees. To be engaged, we all need to work – and live – in environments that support these fundamental messages.

What’s your way of connecting? What worked or did not work for you?

The 80% Principle Of Leadership – Managing By Making Room

An astute executive once wisely told me, “The problem with leaders today is that they expect 100% from their good people, and not enough from their poor performers.” I was initially puzzled, but after his explanation, I was inspired.

Let me illustrate the principle with an example. Not long ago I asked my sales manager to work three hours overtime to participate in a webinar on social media then give me an assessment. I rarely ask Laurie to work overtime, but she jumped at the opportunity to go the extra mile.

When considering the 80% Principle, there are three potential scenarios when you ask an employee to go the extra mile. If you are stretching people to the max, expecting 100% from them all the time, pushing them to do more with less, thus demanding that they are on 100% of the time, and then ask them to take on an additional project that requires overtime, you have no room for the additional request. In this case they will probably do it for you, but likely with either resentment or stress or both.

And if you have been expecting your good people to give 120% and then ask them to work overtime on a project, they likely start looking elsewhere for a job (if they haven’t already).

The alternative is to give them some room on a day-to-day basis. Don’t stretch them to the maximum. Only expect 80% so there is some space, some room for creativity, innovation, engagement, fulfillment, or connection. You will also likely find that when you only expect 80% from your best people, you’re going to get 100% anyway. But that additional 20% comes from within them, not from you. This kind of relationship breeds commitment and loyalty from those you depend on. Laurie is a part of this third scenario. I expect 80%, she gives 100%, and is always willing to go to 120% when the need arises.

The second part of this formula has to do with underachievers, those who are succeeding, but at less than 80% of their capacity. It is important to get tougher with these people. Don’t ignore them. You get tougher through clearer expectations. Fit people; don’t fix people. Get people into the right roles and then get them to 80%, not 100%. But if, through coaching and support, this doesn’t work, then help them move on in their career.

Three actions:

  • Track your own energy level. Take a careful inventory of yourself: How stretched do you feel? How much room is in your work life (or personal life) to slow down, be creative, think, connect – with your staff, your colleagues, your customers? Have the courage to respectfully negotiate for some space in your work life to express what matters most. If you are stretched to the max, you will convey tension in all your relationships.
  • Have a conversation with your team members about how stretched they feel. Ask your direct reports or those you serve if there is any room in their work life. Negotiate respectfully for some space.
  • Take an inventory of your direct reports who are operating at less than 80% capacity, and have the courage to face them. Be sure you have done everything you can to offer support to those within your stewardship. Have the conversation. Bring clear accountability agreements into your relationships. They must have high standards, clear expectations and ways to measure results, support requirements, and consequences. People need two things from their boss. They need to know you care, and they need performance measures. Be tough on people, be clear with people, but do it with love. No one ever takes pride in doing something easy.