Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?


Originally Published June 10, 2014

If we are honest with ourselves, we all have buttons . . . those things that might not seem like a big deal to other people, but which drive us crazy.  Maybe someone interrupting others in a conversation pushes your buttons, or people who focus on the negative even in the best of situations. For me, it’s people who are chronically late. I’m not talking about a one-time unique circumstance (after all, life happens), I’m talking about those people who consistently think a deadline is a guideline, or that the start time of a meeting is a general target. In my book, persistent tardiness is rude and, especially in a work setting, missed deadlines are unprofessional. Now I realize our culture has gotten much more lax about such things . . . so call me a rebel, I believe punctuality is important.

The funny thing is, we have a tendency to try to hide our buttons, rather that letting those who work with us know what they are in advance. I don’t know, maybe people have this illusion that by the time you get to position of leadership you should be “button free.” Reality check  — if there is someone out there who is immune to having buttons, I have yet to meet them. But buttons don’t need to be seen as a major character flaw to be hidden (provided you don’t have 47 of them, or they cause you to treat others badly), but rather as a part of your unique make-up just like your gifts and graces. In fact, trying to hide your buttons can have a negative impact for everyone involved. Think about it . . . you will likely get aggravated with those who have, perhaps unwittingly, repeatedly pushed your buttons, and they may be totally unaware they were doing something that bothered you.

How much better is it for those who work with me to know in advance that I’m a stickler for deadlines than to strain our relationship just because they don’t place the same value on timeliness that I do? Likewise, I will do things out of respect for my colleagues “quirks” not necessarily because those things are important to me, but because it makes working with them go much more smoothly.

Have you taken the time to learn the buttons of those you work with most closely? If not, you may be doing something that is silently driving them crazy. And while any single “button push” may not seem like a big deal, the cumulative affect can have a significant impact on your working relationship, and ultimately your organization’s success.

Being sensitive to people’s buttons may seem like a little thing that you don’t have time for, but the most effective leaders realize that it’s the little things that can have the greatest impact on undermining or energizing your efforts — buttons and all!

Absorptive, Adaptive and Wise


Much of the current literature about leadership is actually about supervisory leadership — how the leader interacts with those “in” the organization. Strategic leadership is a bit different in that it is about leadership “of” organizations — making decisions that create a viable future for the organization. Strategic decisions start with an outward-looking perspective and must be made in the midst of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) external environments. Sounds fun, huh?!?

Actually, it can be very energizing to interpret and make sense of the variables swirling around an organization, as long as a leader can approach the challenge with a perspective that is absorptive, adaptive and wise. What exactly do absorptive, adaptive and wise mean?

Absorptive capacity refers to a leader’s ability to identify new trends/information/data, assimilate that information with the organization’s current skills and knowledge, and then use that refined perspective to identify new opportunities. One might describe it as seeing things that others don’t see as a result of combining external variables with internal skills. This requires curiosity and a willingness to look at approaches and processes from outside your industry and extrapolating concepts that could be applied to your work in new ways.

Adaptive capacity is the ability to be flexible, nimble and willing to change. Virtually every leader likes to think that their organization is flexible, nimble and willing to change, however for many organizations those are aspirational traits rather than ones that can be demonstrated through action. Is your organization structured and pre-disposed to respond quickly to changing variables? As a general rule, the larger an organization or the more successful it is in a particular product or approach, the less adaptive it becomes. (The old, “Why change when what we are doing is working?” philosophy)

Managerial wisdom is about discernment and timing. It is the layering of knowledge with experience and context when considering decisions. It is taking a long-term view and knowing the critical moment to act. One might describe it as “gut instinct” or a leader’s ability to anticipate, both of which are influenced by both conscious and unconscious values, relationships, and experiences.

Some leaders are naturally wired to think and act strategically, and others must consciously develop these skills. The good news is, they can be developed. How? Read a magazine, listen to a podcast to talk to someone who works in an industry totally outside your own, and then consider how you can apply what you have learned to your work. Try doing things in new ways. Be willing to fail and then come up with a different solution. Make “little bet” decisions based on your gut instincts. Share your dilemma with someone who doesn’t work in your field and listen to their perspective on the challenge — which may be totally different than your own.

What step will you take today to strengthen your ability to be absorptive, adaptive and wise?



Want Maximum Impact? Trust Your People.


In last week’s blog, I talked about trusting the process. A related, but also distinctive part of maximizing your leadership impact is to trust your people.

If your immediate reaction to that statement was, “Well I do trust my people!” my follow-up questions are, “Do they know it and do you show it?” Here’s why those two things are important:

When your people know you trust them, they are more likely to offer their honest feedback rather than telling you what you want to hear so they can gain your favor. I’m not talking about your staff outright lying to you, but rather editing their comments or not bringing up ideas or concerns because they think they would not be well-received. You need your staff to have the hard conversations with you, to share their “crazy ideas”, to push back a bit where it is warranted. That only happens when it feels safe enough to take that risk. What makes it safe enough? When your staff know you trust them and that you have their back.

How do you show your staff you trust them? By letting them use their unique gifts and graces to contribute to your organization’s success. Are you holding onto the reins too tightly, insisting that all the decisions run through you?  You severely limit your potential impact if you have to have all the good ideas. Yes, it can be scary to let go when you are the one being held accountable, and yet the only way to keep the best people is to trust them enough to bring their very best to the table, not simply to expect them to simply mimic your very best.

I’m not suggesting that trusting an employee means throwing them in over their head and setting them (and you) up for failure. I am suggesting that showing your employee you trust them may mean giving them enough leeway that you both feel a bit uncomfortable. Discomfort provides an opportunity for growth. Yes, they will stub their toes on occasion. Do you trust them enough to figure it out and suggest a different path?

And here is the best part about you as the leader showing your people that you trust them  . . . that trust then cascades throughout the organization. When you trust your lead team to bring their very best to the organization, they are more likely to offer that same trust to the people they work with, and so on, throughout the organization. And trust brings energy, and engagement, and commitment . . . all of those things that you need to maximize your impact as a leader.

Trust your people.

Trust the Process


That’s a phrase we use often in our organization — amongst ourselves, and as a source of encouragement for those with whom we work. What exactly do we mean when we say, “Trust the process?” Well, there are several important concepts rolled up in that one simple phrase.

  • Big important goals take time. Success rarely happens in a single leap or stroke of good luck (no matter what it might look like from the outside). Consistent focus on taking one step at a time — even when those steps don’t seem exciting or flashy — builds a solid foundation for future success. Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden started each year by focusing on how his players tied their shoes — which new players often scoffed at. The UCLA basketball team won 10 national championships in 12 years, and Coach Wooden was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Trust the process.
  • The middle of the process often feels like a hot mess. It is during this “muck in the middle” that a leader (and/or their team) can start to lose hope — when it appears that things have gone off the rails and are getting worse, not better. In the midst of this stage, the intended path forward appears futile and a leader may start to seriously question their best-laid plan. Ever hear the phrase “It is darkest before the dawn”? Trust the process.
  • It doesn’t get easier. One would think that once you have walked through the wilderness a few times, you would learn how to avoid the challenges of implementing a major change or new initiative. Not so much. Perhaps that is what separates the leaders committed to long-term success from the wannabes. You have to be willing to work through the discomfort . . . and trust the process.
  • But you can get wiser. Once you accept that the only way to get to the other side is to go endure a bit of fog and a few bumps along the way, you can predict — for yourself and others — what to expect. Being able to clearly articulate in advance, “yes, it always feels bad at this stage, but once we wade through it we will turn a corner, and the outcome will be worth the effort” gives you confidence, and then you in turn can help those you are leading feel more confident as well.

Knowledge is power, even if that knowledge is simply recognizing that the path ahead will include periods of uncertainty and discomfort. When you know that, you can recognize the uneasiness for the progress it is, and you can share that awareness and encouragement with those who are looking to you for guidance.

Trust the process.

The Effort and Uncertainty of Leadership Development


The professional development of your staff is one of a leader’s most important responsibilities. That’s easy to agree with in theory, but oh so much harder to live out in practice. Why? First of all, it can be hard to prioritize this responsibility among the urgent issues clamoring for your attention. The need for leadership development doesn’t have a deadline, and it is not screaming for attention (well, at least not until you are in a crisis situation . . . and then it is too late). It is more likely to be a persistent low buzz in the background, always there but easy to ignore.

Secondly — and in all likelihood the real reason we avoid leadership development — it takes real effort, and is rife with uncertainty. Not the “book learning” part of leadership development. That part is pretty easy, and frankly that is where far too many organizations stop. I’m talking about where the rubber meets the road. The point at which you give an emerging leader the chance to pursue their idea — even if it is different from the path that you would take, and even if you really need the project to succeed. Hmmm . . . suddenly that bold idea seems a bit more risky. Maybe they’re not ready . . . maybe this isn’t the right project . . . the budget is really tight, do we really want to experiment right now . . .?

If you think I am about to reveal the key to making leadership development quick and easy, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you are looking for long-term success, here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

  • They will stub their toe. (Didn’t you?) Expect it, and recognize that missteps are only “career limiting” if we don’t allow the emerging leader to learn from the experience and find a way around the challenge before them. Mistakes are how people grow, so don’t rescue your emerging leader too quickly. Let them sit with the challenge and identify possible solutions. (Note, this may be harder for you than it is for them!)
  • Don’t set them up to fail. Yes, let them stub their toe and learn from it, but also don’t turn them loose to sink or swim totally on their own. Where do you find that balance point? In questions. For maximum growth, don’t provide them with all the (your) answers — even if they ask for them. Rather, ask questions that will help them consider the critical variables that will impact their success.
  • The “right amount” of guidance is a moving target. How do you find the balance between imparting the wisdom that comes from your years of experience and supporting the emerging leader’s new ideas? Open and on-going “I” conversations are a good place to start — as in “I can share what I have experienced” rather than “this is what you should do.” Then listen, and recalibrate as needed.

Leadership development is not an exact science, but it is worth the effort. Of that, I am certain.

Minimizing Meltdowns, Reducing Conflict & Increasing Cooperation


I’m excited to share that yesterday was the national release of our new book, Raising the Challenging Child — How to Minimize Meltdowns, Reduce Conflict and Increase Cooperation. We believe the lessons in this book will be helpful to parents, teachers, or anyone who works with kids . . . because even the best kids have challenging moments! I’d be honored if you would check it out and consider purchasing a copy.

That’s all well and good, but why am I talking about a parenting book in a leadership blog (aside from the fact that I am really proud of this book)? You just might be surprised at how many similarities there are between what you encounter as a parent and the things you experience as a leader. Think about it . . . wouldn’t you like to minimize meltdowns, reduce conflict and increase cooperation among those you work with? If so, you might consider a few of the lessons from the book.

  • Invest in the relationship bank. Think of your interactions with your staff as a relationship bank. Are you making more deposits than withdrawals? Deposits are things like asking their option, praising their efforts, showing genuine interest in them as a person, not just a means to an end. Withdrawals happen when you shoot down their idea, ignore them, or don’t acknowledge their contribution to a project. There will be times when you have to make a withdrawal, but those are easier for a staff member to take in stride when you have lots of deposits to draw from.
  • Share power to get power. The fact that an employee does what you ask of them does not mean they respect you. Following a directive in the moment is not the same as being fully engaged and taking ownership for one’s actions. However, when a leader is willing to share power through listening to new ideas, willingness to compromise, or providing autonomy on how a project is completed, we not only make deposits in the relationship bank, we also increase the confidence, mastery and commitment of our staff members.
  • Change your steps in the dance. If you catch yourself thinking, “Bob always . . .” or “Sue never . . .” you have fallen into an ineffective pattern, or “dance” with this individual. Assuming you have taken steps to try to change their behavior to no avail, perhaps you need to consider changing your steps in the dance. If you are frustrated because Bob always shows up late to meetings, keeping everyone else waiting, change your behavior and don’t wait for him. Start the meeting on time and let him deal with the natural consequences of missing part of the meeting.

Did I mention the book includes 30 Lessons and has an audio version? What have you got to lose by checking it out . . . other than meltdowns, conflict and a lack of cooperation?

Getting the Game-Changing Win


We have a book that releases next week. I look forward to sharing more about the book in an upcoming blog (okay, probably several upcoming blogs …) but today, I want to focus on the choice to take this journey. Hindsight is 20/20. It is easy to clearly identify something as a good idea at the end of it — when the wisdom of your decision is evident, the project is a success and everyone is patting you on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately, “good ideas” rarely come labeled as such on the front end. In fact, those leadership decisions that end up being the biggest “game changers” often have the most skeptics at the outset.

So what does it take to turn that “crazy idea” that keeps tugging at you into a long-term, game-changing win for your organization?

  • Strategic clarity. This is what gives you the confidence to choose to pursue an initiative that others in your industry might advise against. Most people offer feedback based on where they are standing — their perspective — which may be entirely different from your strategic focus. The clearer you are on your organization’s destination, the more confidence you can have in decisions that might not make sense to someone who is pursuing a different or more well-trod path.
  • Adaptability. When you are really clear on and committed to the destination, you don’t let roadblocks stop you. You find a way to adapt. Our book evolved over the time we worked on it. Sure the topic and goals for the book are the same as when we started, but the format, the title, the specific chapters and look of the book unfolded a bit differently than we imagined at the start of the project — and the end result is better! I’ve yet to see a successful project that didn’t require, and benefit from, some adapting along the way.
  • Impatient patience. Patience has become a rare commodity in today’s instant everything, “quarterly bottom-line” world. We started the process of writing this book in 2015 . . . more than 4 ½ years before its actual release date! Most big ideas don’t bear fruit in a single year, much less a single quarter, and so you have to be realistic — with yourself and your stakeholders — about the long-term nature of the expected outcomes. At the same time, you have to have a sense of urgency to keep pressing forward, always asking, “What is the next step in the process?”

Making and implementing an “out-of-the-box” decision is not for the faint of heart. It takes strategic clarity, adaptability and impatient patience. As we start a new year, are you willing to take that journey?

Here’s to a game-changing win!