Days Like This

CalenderThere will be days like this.

Your schedule was booked to the brim with meetings . . . on top of the project that had to be completed by the end of the day . . . and that was before three other things popped up that required your attention. It feels like distractions are undermining your ability to do your job. Except, if you’re a leader, the distractions are your job. What is being undermined is your well- laid plan that tied all of your leadership goals into a nice neat package.

More often than not, leadership doesn’t happen in a predictable, orderly fashion. It happens in the mess of drive-by comments, unexpected challenges and surprising opportunities. Sure, the planned things still have to happen, but if your goal is to eliminate distractions from your schedule you are going to be one frustrated leader. Embrace the unpredictability. Allow yourself to find the joy and potential in the unexpected. If you are too busy stressing over the fact that your plans have been derailed, you might totally miss the chance to have a significant impact on an individual or situation.

On days like this, your attitude can make all the difference. Will you focus on what didn’t get done or the people you were able to help? Will you let the interruptions ruin your day or find a way for them to add to it? You have the choice. You’re the leader. What kind of example will you set for those who look to you for how to handle life’s unexpected twists and turns?

What if, on days like this, you made a conscious decision to look on each distraction as an opportunity . . . to view the unexpected occurrence through the lens of possibility? At the very least, it will make the day less frustrating, and at best it can lead to a path far beyond what you might have achieved had you stuck with your original plan.

You may not always get to choose how your day unfolds, but do you do get to choose your perspective. Sometimes the greatest leadership opportunities start out as days like this.

Stop the Insanity!

Afro American Businessman

Albert Einstein is widely credited with defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Upon hearing this, people often nod or smile, logically agreeing with that statement . . . and yet so often leaders fulfill Einstein’s definition. They want a change to take place, and yet do nothing to alter the systems or processes designed to make sure that change doesn’t happen. It is time to stop the insanity.

It’s not just leaders who struggle with this concept. Many of us have lots of information on good nutrition, the need for exercise and what causes weight gain, and yet if we don’t change our “systems” (fast food, sugary drinks, a sedentary lifestyle, etc.) knowledge alone is not going to give us a different outcome. In fact, knowing what we “should” do, but not figuring out a way to do it, only adds frustration/guilt/judgment/disappointment to the mix.

Apply that same concept to organizations. When we are faced with a challenge and need to consider a new way of doing things, some kind of training is often the answer — give the staff more knowledge, build their “capacity”. While this is an important part of the change process, training alone is not enough. Far too often, after the excitement of new information fades, those who received the training are frustrated because they run into roadblocks when they try to implement a new way of doing things. Likewise, those who commissioned the training are frustrated because they aren’t seeing the intended change.

What to do? Stop the insanity. How? Start by looking at your systems — those policies/procedures/ways of doing things designed to keep things running smoothly (and from a systems perspective, smoothly means consistently!) Systems are designed to preserve the status quo, treat every case the same, and deflect anything that doesn’t align with the set way of doing things. That is a good thing in many circumstances . . . unless you are trying to infuse new information and new ways of doing things based on changing variables. In those cases, engrained systems become a problem . . . even more so because they sometimes are almost invisible. They simply become how we do things, an almost unconscious barrier that can stop progress in its tracks. And adding new processes on top of old systems is not an option. Just pick your favorite bureaucracy and see how well that works.

We have to stop the insanity. And that often means exposing the hidden barriers. (Why do you think most diet plans have you write down everything you eat – people often don’t “see” the issue.) There are structured ways of doing this, such as lean problem-solving, or you can just ask your people. Those who have run up against your systemic barriers know where they are. Help them find a way around them.

That’s it. Pretty simple formula: new approach – systemic barriers = stopping the insanity. Einstein would be proud.

Leading with a Full Head of Hair

Have you ever had one of those weeks (or months) that made you want to pull your hair out? You know, those times when the aggravation of wrestling with a critical issue weighs you down like a wet blanket . . . when you think you’re doing all the right things and yet the solution remains just beyond your grasp. Yep, me too. It’s one of the shadow sides of leadership that rarely gets discussed, but — and here’s the good part — I think is actually an indication of a strong leader rather than an inept one.

For those of you wondering what exactly would lead me to make such a claim, let me offer a few examples.

  • The best leaders not only cast a clear vision, they are also committed to helping their people get there. Aligning a diverse mix of people to move collectively toward a common goal can at times feel a bit like herding cats. It’s never as quick or easy as it looks on paper. You might have to repeat the same thing fourteen times. You respond to what people heard, which is could be quite different from what you said. People may, consciously or not, behave in ways that undermine your efforts. And so you ask, you listen, you respond, you take a deep breath and repeat. The fact that there will be days your hair is at risk does not change the long-term positive impact of taking this approach.
  • The best leaders value diverse perspectives, and are open to looking at challenges from multiple angles. Vigorous, respectful discussion is often critical to arriving at the best decision. If a leader feels strongly about a direction/solution/project, it can be difficult to hear skepticism, or outright opposition, to that path (enter urge for hair-pulling). The willingness to hear such concerns, however, almost always results in greater buy-in from the team, and better results for the organization.
  • The best leaders understand the need to balance urgency and patience. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. Spending more time on the front end will often allow you to move more quickly on the back end. Understanding and respecting this concept, however, does not mean there won’t still be days where the scale tilts toward urgency and the leader finds her hand drifting toward her scalp.

No one ever said that leadership would be easy. And somehow, knowing that frustration is part of the process — rather than some failure or character flaw on the part of the leader — makes it easier to move through the tough parts to get to the solution on the other side, full head of hair still intact.