All Posts By

Laurie Maddalena

The Power of Today

Happy New Year!

Did you know that most leaders are only 30%-40% productive each day? Most people spend their days reacting to issues that come up and focus very little on the important key result areas. One of my professional goals last year was to work at 95% productivity every day. I didn’t succeed every day, but having that goal made me focus intensely on increasing my efficiency by blocking out time, planning, focusing on the most important tasks, and getting more done in half a day than most people get done in a week. The results were incredible–I had my most productive and successful year ever, worked less hours, felt less stress, and had more time to focus on some of my personal goals. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you take advantage of the power of each day.

The best book I read in 2012 was The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Although this concept is not new, I find it inspiring to be reminded that small daily changes lead to big results. There is power in TODAY. If you get clear on the top two things you need to accomplish today, and make that a practice EVERY day, where will you be this time next year? Your results will compound and you can literally make dramatic changes in your life. Whether it’s being more productive, improving your leadership skills, reading more books or eating healthier, small actions taken each day will yield great results by the end of the year.

One of the actions I took last year was to read at least 45 minutes a day, five days a week. I read over 25 books, got caught up on all my magazines, and read many professional articles and periodicals that contributed to my professional development.

Here are some questions to help you harness the power of TODAY:
• What big results do I want to accomplish by the end of the year?
• What small steps can I take each day that will compound dramatically over time?
• What are two steps I can take to work at maximum productivity each day?
• How will I measure my results and keep myself on track?
The key is to focus. Most people write a list of lofty goals, only to abandon them after a couple weeks because it is too much change at one time. If you focus on a couple habits at a time, you have a better chance of following through, building momentum, and succeeding.

Wishing you a productive, prosperous, and joyous year!

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Last week I almost burnt my kitchen down. In my quest to get all the important things done on my list, I decided to multi-task. I put my lunch on the stove, and then went into my office to answer a couple e-mails while simultaneously making an important phone call. I was so engrossed (and overloaded), that I completely forgot about my lunch. I totally charred the pan, and black smoke filled the house. It was not a pretty scene.

 Multi-tasking is overrated. You think you are getting a lot more done, but in fact, you are not. You just end up doing a few things poorly (i.e., burnt bacon and an interrupted phone call) than doing one thing really well. It’s a fact that quality suffers when we multi-task.

I often hear clients talk about multi-tasking like it’s the sought-after skill that will help them get more done in less time. I even see “ability to multi-task” in most job advertisements. We have become obsessed with trying to squeeze as much as possible into each minute of our day in the unrealistic quest of being perfectly efficient.

 The “skill” of multi-tasking has become a popular buzzword in organizations. But it’s killing our business. It’s killing our effectiveness. It actually has the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve. And that’s because our brains weren’t built to do more than one big thing at a time. Research has shown that workers waste an average of two hours a day on recovery time from interruptions and multi-tasking. It’s costing businesses about $650 billion a year; not to mention stress, loss of composure, and sloppy work.

Remember the days before iPhones, Facebook, and e-mail? When you left work, you actually left work at the office. Technology is meant to make our lives easier, but that’s not what happens for most professionals. We feel more stressed and over stimulated than ever. We can’t seem to pull ourselves away for a mental break.

Have you ever left your office at the end of the day and thought, “What did I get done today?” If you can’t pinpoint what you accomplished, you probably spent a lot of the day multi-tasking. One of the best things professionals can do to boost performance is to focus on one thing at a time.

Here are six strategies for improving your focus (and your performance!):

Concentrate on one task at a time. Block out a specific time in your schedule to focus on one project. Make it a habit of scheduling your entire work day in chunks of time meant for focusing on specific tasks and projects.

Check e-mail only a few times a day. Turn off your e-mail and message alerts so they won’t distract you when trying to focus. Schedule a few specific times in your day to check e-mail and messages and focus only on that task.

 Say no and simplify your life. You don’t have to volunteer for everything. Pick a couple things you really enjoy, and do them well. When you are asked to take on a responsibility, tell the person you will think about it and get back to them.

Change your scenery. Most professionals I know can’t get much done in their office because that’s where most of their distractions are. Find a quiet conference room or go to a local coffee shop to get away from distractions and you’ll improve your focus.

Focus on two or three accomplishments a day. Executives often make a list of ten or fifteen things to accomplish in one day. We become too overwhelmed because our expectations are unrealistic. Pick two or three important tasks for the day and focus on accomplishing them (and doing them well). If you finish early, then you can move on to another task.

Delegate tasks and projects others can handle. Most managers I’ve worked with don’t use their employee resources effectively. They either feel they don’t have the time to teach employees or that their staff will resent them for piling on more work. The truth is, most employees enjoy the challenge and want to help their boss. Keep only the major initiatives you must be involved in, and delegate other tasks.

I’ve seen huge improvements in my efficiency and quality of work when I focus on one thing at a time. Learning to banish it from your life is a work in progress, and will take some time. But with practice and focus, you will feel less stressed and more accomplished.


Where Many Executives Fail

I once worked for a leader who was very introverted and stoic, and often had trouble connecting with his employees. Morale was low in the office, and the executive had a hard time understanding why his staff didn’t enjoy their work environment. He viewed his role as setting the direction of the organization and delivering results. It didn’t cross his mind that the people side of business was the most important.

It is not uncommon for leaders to struggle in the area of engaging and connecting with employees. Many leaders worked their way up to the top by delivering excellent results; many times in spite of their interpersonal skills. Yet interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are important competencies for leaders to be successful. The ability to connect with employees on a personal level and engage them in the vision and goals of the organization will propel the company to success.

Employees want to know their leaders are human. They want to know you play with your kids on the weekends and go to soccer games. They want to know you can have a good time, relax and joke around. In short, employees want to work for people who they can relate to.

When I first start coaching some executives, they often don’t see the value in spending time and effort building relationships with employees. They see this as a waste of time; something that would be nice to do, but isn’t at the top of their list. Yet this is precisely where most leaders fail. Spending time cultivating organizational relationships will make it easier to get things done through people. Your employees will want to go above and beyond to help you achieve the goals. You will get better results by putting the people first.

This is not a “touchy-feely” subject. I have seen leaders derails their careers by not taking the people side of things seriously. In fact, I believe emotional intelligence is the biggest competency lacking in many leaders.

So take some time today to walk around the office and chat with your employees. Ask them about their weekend or their upcoming vacation. Ask about their kids and share some things you are doing with your kids. Tell them about a hobby outside of work. Recognize them for great performance. And be genuine. If you make this a habit, I guarantee you will see happier, more engaged employees.

How Mindset Affects Your Leadership

Have you ever come across a manager who didn’t feel he or she needed improvement?

Psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University has done research on mindset and how the mindset you choose significantly affects how you lead your life. Dweck’s extensive research has shown that a manager’s mindset can have a significant impact on your business as well. Dweck indentifies two mindsets: 

Fixed mindset: intelligence is a fixed trait

Growth mindset: intelligence is a flexible quality; intelligence can be developed

Fixed mindset leaders believe looking smart is most important. They perceive effort as negative since they believe their intelligence is fixed and effort undermines their natural abilities. Growth mindset leaders believe learning is more important than looking smart. They perceive effort as positive since the more effort you exert, the more you can develop and grow. One study revealed the common characteristics of managers for both mindsets:

 Fixed mindset managers:

  • Do not admit and correct their deficiencies
  • Do not notice improvement in their employees; first impressions last
  • Don’t have an accurate view of themselves (they try to block negative information)
  • Don’t mentor their employees as much
  • Can’t take criticism

 Growth mindset managers:

  •  Notice improvement and growth in their employees
  • Provide better quality coaching and development
  • Have an accurate view of themselves
  • Mentor employees rather than judge them
  • Understand a large part of their job is to nurture the skills and abilities of employees

 The good news is that we can change our mindset. A group of managers who went through a “growth mindset workshop” showed more openness to feedback, a greater willingness to mentor employees, and openness to employee change after they completed the workshop.

Understanding mindset and how it affects a manager’s impact is an important consideration in developing current and future leaders.

The Quality that Differentiates Top Performers

I recently watched a video featuring psychologist Carol Dweck called Mindset, Motivation and Leadership. Her research suggests that the view you adopt significantly affects how you lead your life.

People with a fixed mindset believe that individuals are born with the intelligence and skills they will have throughout life, and there is very little possibility of growth or development. They believe time and energy is best spent sharpening the natural skills we were born with. People who have a fixed mindset often feel they have to prove themselves over and over.

People with a growth mindset believe anything is possible, and individuals have the capability of developing new skills and talents. They believe your basic skills and qualities can be developed through effort. Dweck says a fixed mindset turns you away from learning and a growth mindset turns you to learning.

So how does this apply to leadership? Research has shown that what differentiates top leaders from everyone else is effort. These leaders don’t just capitalize on their strengths, but also address their weaknesses. They embrace learning and development, and strive to be better. Fixed mindset leaders often don’t put in the effort to develop because they believe any failure they encounter puts their intelligence into question. The fixed mindset leader is constantly trying to prove they are smart or talented.

I see this first hand in my work coaching leaders. Those who get the best results from coaching and leadership development programs are the leaders who work at mastering the material and the skills. They focus on continuous improvement, work at applying the concepts, and read more than the average leader. The good news is that we can choose our mindset. Mindsets are beliefs, and the first step to changing your belief is realizing you have a choice. Dweck suggests making a solid plan for growth as a first step in changing your mindset.

Are You Driving Away Great Employees?

I once worked for an organization that had a 20 page travel policy. This policy went into excruciating detail about the dos and don’ts of travel, including the limits of how much could be spent at each meal. This was just one example of a practice that set the tone of distrust and micromanagement throughout the organization. Whether the company intended to or not, the leadership team created an employer-centered culture that left little room for ownership and empowerment.

As a former human resources executive, I can appreciate protecting the organization by being explicit with boundaries and expectations. But I believe many organizations are taking it too far. We have become so extreme in our efforts to ensure employees don’t take advantage of the organization, that we take an offensive approach by creating policies and practices that nearly take the common sense out of working. The result is a culture where employees feel micromanaged, deflated and uninspired.

Many organizations focus on implementing engagement activities to retain employees, but often neglect to look at practices that might be driving away great employees. What sets the exceptional organization apart from the mediocre organization is a balanced approach to ensure all practices are cultivating an environment of engagement and ownership.

Below are three strategies to ensure you are not driving away great employees:

Shift from employer-centered to employee-centered. This is a leadership mindset that creates the overall culture of the organization. Take a look at all your policies, practices, handbooks, employee experiences, letters, and so on, and determine if they are employer-centered or employee-centered. Do they set a tone of trust and ownership, or of micromanagement and distrust? Employer-centered policies assume that people need everything spelled out for them and are highly specific and rigid.

Employee-centered policies provide guidelines, but treat employees as adults and assumes they will use common sense.

Create an exceptional onboarding experience. Put yourself in the shoes of a new employee when you look at your practices and ask yourself if this is an organization you would love to work for.

If you were a new employee reading over your company handbook, would you bristle, or feel welcomed? One of my clients starting sending an Edible Arrangement to new employees the week before they started work with the organization. The impact from this practice has been phenomenal. The CEO has received appreciate voicemails from new hires, and many have remarked that they felt very special and welcomed. What can you do to create an awesome experience for new hires that wins them over as soon as they join your team?

Become a purposeful leader. Most leaders take a reactive approach to management rather than a purposeful and meaningful approach. A purposeful leader is in touch with the departmental culture and focuses on cultivating an environment of development, coaching, and involvement. Two of the top reasons employees leave organizations is that they don’t receive quality feedback and that they don’t get the coaching they need to develop. Traditional managers are driving away great employees by only reacting when necessary and not designing a meaningful relationship with employees to provide feedback and coaching and involve them in decisions.




Forget the “Open Door Policy”

I was recently facilitating a leadership program, and one of the participants voiced a challenge she was having with her organization’s open door policy. The organizational leaders felt it was important to always be available for staff and that meant always having their doors open, ready for an employee who needed them at a moment’s notice. This manager was sharing that she was interrupted so much, that she couldn’t get anything done! I bet this challenge sounds quite familiar to you.

 It’s time for the “open door policy” to go. Let’s take it out of our handbooks, stop boasting about it to employees, and discontinue our lectures to managers on how they need to be available at all times to create a family-friendly environment. The open door policy is one of the most inefficient organizational practices in business today. It promotes overtaxed managers, needy employees and ineffective leadership.

 I believe that the original intent of the “open door policy” was to create an environment of communication and collaboration, not an environment where people are constantly interrupted and get nothing done. Yet that is exactly what type of environment  an open door policy perpetuates; inefficient work, scattered managers, micromanaged employees, and poor results. The open door policy is robbing leaders of the precious time they need to actually plan and get work done.

One of the worst places you can work is in your office. Most leaders are interrupted constantly all day; by the phone, employees, email, and other people just “stopping by”. What leaders really need is time and space to focus, plan, create, and think. And this might mean working in more “unconventional” ways like in a coffee shop, a conference room, or even at home. Heck, it may mean closing your office door sometimes!

Employees don’t need their leaders to be available 24/7. They don’t need their managers to be nearby in case they need something. In fact, an open door policy encourages employees to come to their manager for unnecessary issues. It creates more work  and more dependent employees.

What employees really want are managers who are approachable and supportive. They want managers who will set clear expectations, provide timely feedback, and get out of the way. They want leaders who spend planned and meaningful time with them to coach and develop them.

So, close your office door and get some things done. Better yet, close your email and put your phone on do not disturb. Take two or three hours to actually do meaningful work. At the end of the day, I bet you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and success like never before.

The Effective Executive

I recently conducted a survey of high level leaders and found that their number one challenge was managing time and increasing productivity. Have you ever left work at the end of the day and wondered what you actually accomplished? Operating in reactive mode is a very common challenge leaders face. 

 I recently wrote an article that was featured in Credit Union Management Magazine entitled “The Effective Executive: Strategies for Leading Your Team so You Can Focus on the Big Picture”. This article highlights five ways to increase productivity, engage your employees, and lead at a higher level.

 Below are the five strategies:

Define key result areas. These are the three to five functions only you can do in your job. Once you get clear on your key result areas, plan your month, week and day around these high-leverage activities.

Shift your focus: people first, then things. Your success as a leader depends on getting things done through other people. Spend most of your time developing and coaching your staff and less time on operational areas.

Design the relationship. Be purposeful in designing the relationship you have with each employee. Ask each employees questions to find out their individual needs and tailor your leadership style to each person so you can garner the best performance from each employee.

 Use the coach-approach. The cornerstone of coaching is to be more inquisitive rather than directive. Ask more questions and listen instead of telling your employees what to do. Challenge your employees to think critically and develop solutions on their own.

 Build in accountability. Set clear expectations and deadlines, and build accountability systems into your individual and team meetings to encourage accountability. Be explicit about who will do what and by when. Employees are more likely to naturally follow through when they know there is a system in place to check progress.