Big Rocks

Transparent Jar With Different StonesMany of us have heard variations of the “Big Rocks” story . . . you know, the one where when you start by putting the little rocks in the container, the big rocks will never fit in, but if you start by placing the big rocks in the container, it is amazing how many little rocks will fit in and around the big rocks, and done this way the container will ultimately hold far more than you might have imagined.

Clearly, the container is our time, and the big rocks are our priorities, which far too often get pushed to the side because we have filled our day up with little rocks . . . those “urgent” matters that peck away at our best intentions until our day is full, and our big rocks sit outside the box. We know this, right?!? Unfortunately, knowing it and doing it are not the same thing. And proudly checking little rocks off our to-do list, while perhaps momentarily satisfying, does nothing to get our big rocks into the container.

What to do? I recently ran across a quote from Stephen Covey, which said, “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Really? Could it be that simple? Ahh, but as we’ve touched on in this blog before, simple and easy are not the same thing. Yes, it is simple . . . just block out time in your schedule for your priorities. Simple, but oh so hard . . .

After all, big rocks are so . . .well . . . big. They can be intimidating. And they’re important, so you want to make sure you do it right. Maybe you’d better think about it a bit longer . . . It’s an easy trap to fall into, and one that results with filling your container with little rocks.

If the key is to put the big rocks in first, then why not start each day by considering what you’re going to do that day related to your priorities? How can you move things forward, even a little bit, on those projects you have identified as most important? Then do that thing, regardless of what else does or doesn’t get done that day (although, as noted above, you’d be surprise what you can fit in when you take tasks in the right order). I’d be willing to bet when you start with your priorities, regardless of what else you accomplish in a day, you will feel far more productive than if you checked off 27 less meaningful items from your list.

Feel free to keep a copy of this blog next to your to-do list as a reminder of what should be at the top of the list . . . or, if that’s too easy to ignore, you could do what I do and literally keep a bowl of rocks on your desk — it may not be subtle, but you’d be amazed at what we accomplish around here!

The Key to Running Fast

Running Shoes“We run fast in this organization.” That is a phrase you hear fairly frequently at Chaddock, and I believe our track record would support that claim. So what enables us to “get off the dime” to move things forward in a timely manner? In a word, trust.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust ( This is the second time I have heard him speak, and I believe if more organizations would take his research and framework to heart, amazing things could happen. In 2011, I led a book study with all of our supervisors on The Speed of Trust. It was the first time we had done anything like this, and I believe our organization is still reaping the positive benefits from this effort. (Even though, at the time, I’m quite certain a few of our managers were thinking, “Seriously, Debbie . . . a book study? Is that really the best use of our time?!?)

Sometimes slowing down, to review the game plan and get everyone on the same page, is the best way to go fast. And what did reviewing The Speed of Trust “game plan” do for us? It gave us a common vocabulary. Phrases like “inheritance tax” and “trust dividends” became commonplace. People began to step back and think about someone’s intent, rather than viewing actions through a single perspective lens. And over time, silos began to break down and communication across departments began to improve. Is it perfect? Of course not. Communication and working collaboratively are always a work in progress, but if our employee surveys are any indication, we continue to move in the right direction.

In the book, Covey identifies the 13 behaviors of high trust leaders. While all are important, I believe six of these behaviors had the greatest impact in our organizational culture (I have numbered them according to where they fall on Covey’s list).

1. Talk Straight
3. Create Transparency
6. Deliver Results
8. Confront Reality
11. Listen First
13. Extend Trust

I absolutely believe in sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with staff. We measure lots of things, and summarize the results so everyone knows where we stand. We “name the elephant in the room” and try to provide numerous opportunities for staff input. After all, if we trust them with the children, we ought to be able to trust them with information. I have said that to staff for years, and really believe it, however Covey further reinforced that idea when he pointed out that those who extend trust to others are seen as more trustworthy themselves. What a concept . . . maybe the real key to running fast is to trust that you and your staff can.

Time to lace up those running shoes!

Look Out for that Bus!


If you get hit by a bus tomorrow . . .

I have started so many discussions with my Leadership Team this way that it has become a standing joke in our organization.  And while it may have resulted in a bit of bus phobia among the team, they all also recognize that part of their job expectations include grooming their successor.

Succession planning and building the bench-strength of your organization is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader — regardless of whether you or your senior staff plans to retire any time soon. Of course, that means giving up a bit of control, which admittedly is something many of us have a hard time with (yes, this is the pot talking to the kettle!)

Giving up control of the details, however, is a far cry from giving up responsibility for establishing a leadership culture within your organization. That one’s all yours. Leadership philosophies are a dime a dozen, and so it is your responsibility to set the tone for the leadership style that will be rewarded in your organization.  And guess what? You can’t just pick up the latest best-selling leadership book and find a perfect fit. To be effective, you have to do some of soul-searching, and a bit of trial and error, to find the style that is the best fit for you and your organization.

Right out of college, I tried to be a Debra. I really tried. Couldn’t pull it off. The only time Debra is really a fit for me is if I’m talking to my insurance company, or if I’m in trouble with my mother. Otherwise, I’m a Debbie. I am not an overly formal, rule-laden leader. I encourage my Leadership Team to challenge my thinking, and I believe in being as transparent as possible with my staff (if I trust them with the kids, I ought to be able to trust them with the numbers!) If you try to “wear” a leadership style that isn’t a fit for your authentic self — trying to fulfill some picture of what you thing leadership “should” look like — your staff will smell it a mile away and your credibility will suffer.

But back to the bus . . .

In my experience, the key to good succession planning is to deliberately develop a leadership culture within your organization. Impacting culture is not a one-shot deal. It takes a consistent layering of efforts to make the concepts part of the vocabulary of the organization. We have done it through multiple versions of an internal  “Leadership Academy” that has ranged anywhere from 9 – 18 months, through all-staff meetings and focus groups and intentional discussions, and most importantly through our actions. People who have demonstrated the leadership style we espouse have advanced in the organization, and those who don’t have either remained stagnant or are no longer with the organization.

Jim Collins has had a significant impact on our leadership culture, as have John Kotter and Max DePree, along with less traditional thinkers such as Chris Guillebeau, Dan Ward and Daniel Pink. We held supervisor discussions on books such as The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, which gave us a shared language with which to break down departmental silos.  And after a while, really cool things started to happen. People started talking more, and solving problems themselves, rather than “running them up the flag pole” for fear of what would happen if they made the wrong decision. Not every time, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.

Today, we are consciously making choices to prepare for staffing needs five years down the road. We actively work to align staff members’ “gifts and graces” with the needs of our organization. We encourage staff to take little risks  — that will either build their confidence or teach them that someone can stub their toe and survive. And we challenge our supervisors to find creative ways to maximize the unique skills of their staff, even if that means supporting them in moving to a different role in the organization.

And slowly but surely, we are overcoming our fear of buses. We have a clear plan, on paper, of who would step in if any of our directors were incapacitated. Would those “designees” have to stretch to fill the larger role? Of course they would, but they all also possess the core skills and experience necessary to keep us moving forward.

Sooner or later, there will be a bus coming your way. Are you prepared?