Instilling Accountability in Your Team

I believe most employees want to do a good job. They want clarity on how to be successful and what is expected so they can deliver results. Yet many leaders don’t communicate in a way that brings out the best performance in their employees. There are often little things we do and don’t do as leaders that get in the way of effective communication and results.

In many organizations, accountability has a negative connotation. Many leaders look outside themselves for the problem, and focus on blaming when things go wrong. These managers talk about “holding people accountable” and implement disciplinary action to force improvements. This approach often fails because it leaves the employee feeling disengaged and unmotivated.

Accountability is really about taking responsibility for your actions. You can’t control someone else. But you can control your choices and behaviors.

This is my favorite definition of accountability, from Roger Conners and Tom Smith:

“A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary
for achieving desired results – to see it, own it, solve it, and do it.”

Accountability is an attitude. It is one of the most important characteristics of success. It is a very powerful tool that can create more success in life and work.

One of the most important ways we can instill accountability on our teams is to model it ourselves.

People don’t follow what you say, they follow what you do.

The small things we do every day can either create trust and strengthen relationships, or chip away at trust and damage relationships. The trust you build can strengthen your integrity and credibility, or lack of trust can damage your integrity and credibility.

Accountability looks like…

  • Follow through
  • Doing what you say you are going to do
  • Showing up on time
  • Asking for help
  • Doing something even if it’s not your job
  • Asking for Clarity

Every interaction you have with another person impacts the relationship in either a positive or negative way. When you have positive experiences (do what you say, show up on time, follow through), you create a positive connection. When you have negative experiences (don’t follow through, show up late), you create a negative connection. These interactions impact the relationship, as well as the team.

Another way leaders can instill accountability is to create clarity for employees. This means using language that is specific and clear rather than vague and confusing.

In organizations, we use vague and weak language every day. Words and phrases like “ASAP”, “soon”, “right away”, and “should” get in the way of clarity and results. To get better results in life and in your work, you need to use positive and specific language.

When communicating specific tasks or projects, make sure you are communicating all the information necessary for employees to be successful. Most leaders focus on what needs to be done and neglect to communicate why it needs to be done and by when it needs to be done.

Why    →     What     →     When
Why you need it
What you need
When you need it by

 

If you want your team to produce better results, reflect on how you are communicating. Shifting to clear and specific language, and modeling ownership and accountability yourself will promote a positive sense of ownership and accountability in your team.

Are You a Modern Leader?

Forty years ago, there was little talk in business about engaging employees, coaching and developing direct reports, or cultivating the company culture.  Many people stayed at the same organization for most of their career. Traditional managers, who were task-oriented and provided a lot of direction but very little inspiration, were tolerated. The command and control style of leadership prevailed.

The landscape of the work environment has changed. Employees have more choices, and will leave an organization where they don’t feel valued or appreciated. Traditional leaders won’t survive in the best organizations; there is only room for modern leaders.

We all have heard horror stories of ineffective, bad bosses. But in my experience, most traditional leaders are not narcissistic and power-hungry. They are mediocre managers (and executives) who lack the necessary leadership skills to be successful. They aren’t naturally inclusive, approachable, and engaging, and their leadership style reflects that.

To succeed in leadership today, managers need to be modern leaders. A modern leader is approachable, engaging and focused. The modern leader promotes an environment of productivity and positivity. A modern leader has emotional intelligence and understands the importance of cultivating relationships in the workplace. A culture is created by the people in the organizational system. If you want to elevate your culture, you need to elevate your leadership.

You may be a traditional leader and not know it. But trust me, your employees do. They are talking about it behind your back, and your high-performing employees are looking for a quick exit (if they are still there). Read below for what distinguishes a traditional leader from a modern leader:

Traditional leader:

  • command and control
  • doesn’t provide feedback
  • focuses on finding mistakes and reprimanding; holds people accountable through fear
  • very little engagement with employees
  • no coaching or development
  • believes the paycheck is the reward for work
  • thinks he/she should know all the answers
  • more task-oriented and in the weeds
  • thinks he/she worked hard to advance and deserves leadership

Modern leader:

  • encouraging and inviting
  • provides timely, constructive, consistent feedback
  • focuses on learning from mistakes; holds people accountable in a positive, principled way
  • finds ways to consistently engage with employees
  • sees coaching and developing as a top priority
  • actively thanks employees and shows appreciation
  • solicits ideas and suggestions from employees; encourages employee involvement
  • more proactive, strategic, and visionary
  • sees leadership as a privilege and enjoys serving his/her employees

The first step to transitioning from a traditional leader to a modern leader is awareness. Take time to reflect on your leadership and determine in what areas you need to develop.

It’s never been more challenging to be a leader than it is today. The best organizations only hire and keep modern leaders. If you want to improve your leadership, start by asking for feedback from those around you. The following questions can help to open the dialogue with employees so that you can gain relevant feedback to improve as a leader:

  • What is one thing you would like for me to continue doing?
  • What’s one thing you would like to see me do more of?
  • What is one thing that I should stop doing?
  • What are the qualities you appreciated most from the best leader you ever worked for?
  • How can I support you better?

If you suspect your employees won’t be honest with you, then perhaps a formal or informal 360-degree assessment can give you the anonymous feedback you need to continue to grow and develop as a leader.

The One Question Netflix Uses to Ensure an Exceptional Culture

You may know Netflix as a top media entertainment provider with shows like, Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things, but behind this media giant is a high-performance company culture that seeks to attract and retain “stunning colleagues.”

Netflix believes in people over process, and promotes freedom, independence, and collaboration. Like many organizations, they have company values that sound great, but the difference is, they actually live by them.

Almost a decade ago, some of the secrets of the company’s exceptional culture were revealed in a document that was shared frequently on the Internet. The slide deck, entitled, Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility not only detailed the company values, but also their philosophy on pay, benefits, and what actually makes a great company culture (hint: it’s not free espresso, sushi lunches, and great offices).

And it’s anything but traditional.

What stood out to me when I first read this document was a structure that managers use called, “The Keeper Test.”

Here is the Keeper Test that Netflix managers ask themselves regularly:

“Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving, for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep at Netflix?”

And here’s what they do if someone isn’t on that list:

“The other people should get a generous severance now, so we can open a slot to try to find a star for that role.”

Many organizations talk about great workplace cultures, cohesive teams, and cross-departmental collaboration. But few companies instill practices that align with this strategy. Few companies take action when someone isn’t measuring up. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. Talking about great cultures but not taking the necessary actions to create an exceptional culture only breeds mediocrity. Creating an exceptional place to work with stunning colleagues takes courage and consistency.

As a leader in your organization, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is not measuring up to the standards we have in place?
  • Who do I need to give constructive feedback to (that maybe I’ve been avoiding)?
  • Knowing what I know now, who would I not hire again?
  • Knowing what I know now, who should not be in a leadership role?
  • What I am doing as a leader to get in the way of creating an exceptional culture with stunning colleagues (examples include: not giving feedback, not coaching, not giving clear expectations, holding on to an underperforming employee, not modeling the values and attributes that create an exceptional culture)

If you want a high performing company, you have to do things differently than most organizations. Mediocre managers and executives breed mediocre cultures. You need bold and courageous leaders who are willing to make the tough decisions for the sake of creating an exceptional culture where stunning colleagues want to work.

How to Know When to Fire Someone

How to Know When to Fire Someone

I once worked for a credit union where employees dreaded calling the accounting department. There was an accounting specialist who was not friendly and often snapped at you if she felt you should know the answer to a question. She had been working there for over 20 years and had a reputation of not working well with people. But nothing was ever done about it. When she decided to retire, it was like the organization breathed a collective sigh of relief. The negative impact she had on the organization was gone, and it instantly elevated the working environment.

Holding on to a negative employee has many consequences—it can be destructive to the team, frustrate other employees, and create a negative working environment. Sometimes the best course of action is to terminate.

Deciding to terminate an employee can be a challenging and emotional decision. In my experience, most leaders avoid the decision and hang on to poor performers entirely too long, hoping the situation will get better. Instead, the situation usually escalates and causes more damage than if we had taken action earlier.

When we keep underperforming employees, we undermine a healthy culture. I believe keeping low performers contributes to the leadership crisis we have in our organizations today. By not effectively dealing with performance issues, we create a cycle of mediocrity that ultimately damages exceptional cultures. You simply cannot create an exceptional culture if you tolerate low performance and negative people.

Netflix is an example of a company that has created an engaged workplace built around excellence. In fact, one of their practices is, “adequate performance gets a generous severance package”. They believe a great workplace is “stunning colleagues”. Not mediocre, average, or solid colleagues. Stunning colleagues. This is a bold leadership approach that most leaders and organizations are not willing to take a stand for. Yet to create exceptional cultures, you need exceptional people.

It is a disservice to your top performers to keep underperforming employees. Yet leaders often rationalize why to keep low performers. There are typically two reasons: tenure or results.

Tenure—the employee has been with the organization a long time, which makes it hard to take action. The leader may have a personal relationship or friendship with this employee, which contributes to the challenge. So, the organization works around the employee, thereby lowering the standards.

Results—the employee performs the technical aspects of the job extremely well. They deliver on the goals, but don’t get along with people. Perhaps they are negative or aggressive, but we overlook it since they achieve tangible results in other areas.

To create a healthy, high performing organization, you need to have standards in place that take into consideration not only superior results, but also superior interpersonal skills. In exceptional cultures, you need to have the whole package. It is not enough to deliver on goals; employees must also have the qualities and attributes that contribute to a healthy culture—the ability to get along with people, foster positive relationships, and collaborate.

So how do you know when it’s time to terminate an employee?

As leaders, we have a responsibility to do all we can to bring out the best performance in each of our employees. And the employee also has a responsibility to live up to the values and expectations established by the organization. I believe most people want to do a good job. And once in a while, you will have someone who may exceed the technical job requirements but is a negative influence in the organization. Negativity, complaining, and blaming have no place in a healthy culture. They can quickly become a virus that is hard to bounce back from. These are people to take swift action on and move out of your organization—pronto.
How to Know When to Fire Someone
For all other performance issues, there are things a manager should consider before terminating an employee (I’m not talking about legal issues to consider in this article—you should always consult an employment attorney if you are concerned about terminating). As a leader, you should determine if you have done your best to help the employee succeed.

Four things a manager should do before terminating an employee:

 

Determine the root issue.

Is the performance issue related to aptitude (knowledge and skills), attitude (confidence, focus, enthusiasm) or resources (equipment, time)? Understanding the underlying issue that is contributing to low performance can help you determine how best to work with the employee. You may decide that a training class may be necessary, or a higher-level intervention like working with a leadership or executive coach.

Establish clear expectations.

Does the employee understand what is expected? Beyond the technical aspects of the job, have you been clear about the qualities and attributes that are required to be successful (collaboration, positivity, ownership, etc.)?

Provide meaningful feedback.

Have you met with the employee to give honest and clear feedback on what is not working? Have you provided guidelines about what needs to improve to meet expectations? It is our responsibility as leaders to give employees information about their performance.

Schedule regular coaching sessions.

Beyond providing feedback, schedule time to coach the employee around the performance issues. While each situation is unique, this typically involves the manager working with the employee over a period of time to provide resources, suggestions, and instructions. Sometimes asking the right questions can lead the employee to discover the necessary steps to better performance.

Once you have taken the steps above and done everything you can as a leader, it is up to the employee to take initiative to improve performance. If your efforts fail, it may be time to part ways. In my experience, most leaders don’t take action quickly enough. Poor performers undermine your culture, and keeping someone who does not meet expectations is doing a disservice to them and to the organization. Exceptional cultures are made up of exceptional people. If you want to elevate the culture in your organization, don’t delay action on performance issues. Your top performers will thank you.

What the Most Profitable Companies Do Differently

Firms of engagement - engaged team

A couple of years ago, I read the book, Firms of Endearment where the authors share how world-class companies profit from passion and purpose. We’ve all heard that having engaged employees is important if you want a high performing organization. Yet in my experience, few organizations make engagement a priority. Many leaders think it’s difficult to measure engagement, so it isn’t a strategic focus. And most leaders think that engagement is about having happy employees. Engagement is much deeper than just having happy employees—it’s about productive employees, and productivity impacts the bottom line. In fact, a high performer can deliver 400% more productivity than an average performer!

What are Firms of Endearment?

  • Companies that strive through their words and actions to endear themselves to all their primary stakeholders.
  • They build a business on love and care: they build superior value and have close relationships with all their stakeholders.
  • They profit from passion and purpose—beyond making money

The firms of endearment subscribe to the philosophy that investing in all your primary stakeholders—including your employees—leads to superior value and profitability. Examples of firms of endearment include Southwest Airlines, USAA, Starbucks, Patagonia, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and Ikea.

Below are the principles of the firms of endearment. Notice that they invest significantly more in engagement factors than most companies—training, benefits, and salaries.

  • Subscribe to a purpose that goes beyond making money
  • Executive salaries are relatively modest
  • Any level employee has access to the executive level leaders
  • Their employee compensation and benefits are significantly greater than the standard for the company’s category.
  • They devote considerably more time than their competitors to employee training.
  • Their employee turnover is far lower than the industry average.
  • They make a conscious effort to hire people who are passionate about the company and its products. They hire for character, not just expertise.

Most executives would still not be convinced that it’s worth focusing on engagement. They would see the above principles and zero in on the significant expense of employee training and paying higher salaries and benefits. But this is where the book gets really interesting.

The authors compare the cumulative performance of the firms of endearment to eleven Good to Great companies in Jim Collins’s popular book. At the five-year mark, the cumulative performance of the firms of endearment and good to great companies are on par with each other, with both outperforming the S&P 500. But at the 10-year mark, the U.S.  firms of endearment deliver a cumulative performance of 410% compared to 176% of the good to great companies. And at the 15-year mark, the U.S firms of endearment deliver a cumulative performance of 1,681% compared to 263% of the good to great companies!  (http://www.firmsofendearment.com/)

The authors of Firms of Endearment disagree with Jim Collins on what defines a company as “great.” Collins described companies going from “good” to “great” by virtue of their having delivered superior returns to investors over an extended period of time (each delivered cumulative returns at least three times greater than the market over a 15-year period). The authors of Firms of Endearment believe a great company is one that spreads joy and fulfillment and makes the world a better place because it exists, not just because it outperforms the market over a certain period of time. And that distinction clearly makes a big difference in the profitability of the company.

I find this research to be extraordinary. If creating cultures based on joy, fulfillment, and engagement lead to significantly more profitable companies, than why aren’t more organizations investing in their cultures? Why do most executives still see salaries, benefits, and training as expenses? Because most organizations are still operating in a traditional model of leadership that focuses on tangible organizational functions like finance, lending, and marketing. These are functions that are easy to measure, and therefore a strategic priority.

Of course, finance, lending, and marketing are important. But if you want to build a long-term profitable business, you better start investing in your people. The people are your culture. And organizational culture is what separates merely good–and maybe even great–companies from exceptional organizations.

How to build your confidence as a leader

How to build your confidence as a leader

I’ve heard about the benefits of meditation for years, and about seven years ago, I bought a book on how to meditate. It sat on my bookshelf for several more years as I accumulated additional books on meditation and mindfulness. Eventually, I started reading a few of these books, becoming more knowledgeable on meditation techniques and practices. But I still wasn’t meditating! It wasn’t until two years ago that I finally took action and enrolled in a meditation course. Once I started actually doing meditation, I started to experience the benefits and now I meditate (almost) daily. All those years of learning, studying, and contemplating meditation didn’t bring results; it was taking action that was important.

One of the most important characteristics of successful people is that they have a bias for action. What holds many professionals back from success is spending too much time planning, preparing, thinking, organizing, analyzing and procrastinating, and not taking action. Action is required for success. This doesn’t mean that successful people don’t plan and organize, but once they have a plan in place, they don’t wait for things to be perfect to move into action.

Leadership is an action. Leadership is not a title or a position. It’s not a hat you put on every day when you come into the office. True, exceptional leadership requires you to do something. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone and making your vision and goals a reality.

What does leadership in action look like?

  • Providing meaningful feedback to your employees—both positive and constructive.
  • Coaching your employees to bring out their best performance.
  • Challenging that employee who tries to upward delegate a task to you, instead of doing the task yourself.
  • Walking around and connecting with each individual.
  • Building relationships with your colleagues.
  • Modeling the behaviors and actions you expect of others.
  • Communicating clarity about goals and sharing what the success factors are.
  • Following up and following through—doing what you say you will do.
  • Being accountable and taking ownership.
  • Mentoring and sharing knowledge to develop your staff.
  • Being approachable and supportive.
  • Prioritizing people—scheduling coaching sessions and check-ins with your staff.

Leadership is not sitting in an office and creating a strategy and business plan. While that’s an important first step, it is not what brings results. A great vision on paper does nothing. A great vision communicated clearly and repeatedly through multiple channels inspires collaboration and results. Great leadership requires action.

I am often asked by participants in my leadership programs how you can build confidence. Whether you are new in a management position, or a seasoned executive, the best way to build your confidence is to take action. To succeed at anything in life, you have to first do something. If you stand on the sidelines and play it safe, you will not learn anything. In order to get feedback and learn from mistakes, you must make mistakes. You can read hundreds of books on leadership and attend classes on how to be a good manager. But if you don’t put that knowledge into action, you will not see the results. Leadership requires effort.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jim Rohn, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do. That is the difference between success and failure.”

It’s not hard to schedule coaching sessions, model great behaviors, take ownership, and connect with your employees. But it’s easy to not do these things. Successful people don’t have more time in the day than anyone else. They understand that an essential skill for success is to prioritize and take action on what is important. That is how you build your knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, and ultimately your confidence.

Instead of reading this blog and closing your browser, take two minutes right now to take action on an important task that will lead you to the results you want. You will be one step closer to success.

The Leadership Detox

yoga-The Leadership Detox

I love this time of year—warm weather is (almost) here, the flowers are starting to bloom (unless you’re in the Northeast!) and Cadbury Cream Eggs are available in stores. I have a weakness for those chocolaty eggs, and my family and friends know it. On the way home from the gym last week, I stopped at the store to buy (and quickly eat) two Cadbury Cream Eggs. When I arrived home, my husband had left me a gift—a box of four cream eggs. I indulged some more.

With Easter over, my husband and I are now on a health detox to get back on track. A detox helps to rid your body of toxic or unhealthy substances. A detox cleanses your body to reset your metabolism and feel more energized and healthy.

As leaders, most of us tend to slip into negative habits that don’t serve us. These habits keep us from operating at an exceptional level.

Much like a health detox leaves you feeling more refreshed, focused, and more energized, by identifying our unhealthy leadership habits, we can detox old or negative leadership habits, so we can work at our peak and feel more focused, energized, and successful.

Although there are many negative habits that can hold leaders back from success, there are three common ones that keep leaders from working at their peak and making a positive difference with their employees and in their credit union:

  1. Lack of focus: most leaders struggle to prioritize their many projects and tasks, and feel overwhelmed.
  2. Lack of delegation: many leaders struggle to operate at a strategic level. We often think the value we bring to the organization is our technical expertise, but often that expertise is what holds us back. To be an exceptional leader, we need to focus on leading and influencing our team towards results—through coaching, developing, and giving meaningful feedback. As a leader, you are a facilitator, not a fixer. Meaning, a leader should focus on facilitating peak performance from the team, rather than getting in the weeds and fixing technical issues.
  3. Lack of team engagement: Most leaders are so busy, that the people side of business—coaching, feedback, development conversations—gets put on the back burner while they deal with operational issues. Or perhaps that struggling employee is taking up most of your time and resources. Many managers take their best employees for granted and don’t invest time coaching or developing them.

To begin your detox, read through the sections below to eliminate your negative leadership habits and replace them with positive habits that will support your leadership success.

Gaining Clarity

The ability to focus is the most important skill for leadership today. To be able to focus, you need clarity. If you don’t have clarity around the strategic, departmental, or daily goals, you will spin your wheels, spend your days putting out fires, and not get anything of value accomplished. Yet most leaders operate this way.

Most leaders are activity focused, not results focused.

If you don’t have clarity as a leader, this trickles down to your staff. They spin their wheels and struggle to know where to put their focus.

You can be the smartest, most strategic, highly emotional intelligent leader, but if you can’t get the right things accomplished, and you can’t focus your team to get results, you will never be successful.

What are some habits that contribute to lack of focus that you need to detox?

Common examples:

  • Not prioritizing your to-do list
  • Not taking the time to plan your day
  • Too many distractions
  • Email open all day
  • Not blocking time in your calendar to focus
  • Not scheduling priorities in your calendar

What are two positive habits you can implement to offset the negative habits?

Successful Delegation

The ability to delegate is one of the most important habits of successful leadership. In fact, lack of delegation is often the primary reason leaders aren’t successful. There are many reasons leaders don’t delegate, but one common reason is they get satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment by staying in the technical work.

Leading at a strategic level is necessary for effective leadership. Yet for many people, the strategic elements of leadership like coaching and developing employees, creating strategic plans and solutions, and engaging and leading a team feel less tangible. Staying in technical work feels more rewarding because we get the immediate satisfaction of checking things off a list.

When you delegate, you multiply your productivity, AND you develop others on your team.

What are some habits that contribute to lack of delegation that you need to detox?

Common examples:

  • Wanting to control the outcome
  • Not trusting your staff to do it well
  • Not taking the time to teach someone on your team
  • Operating in activity mode, not accomplishment mode

What are two positive habits you can implement to offset the negative habits?

Team Engagement

Because most leaders feel overloaded and overwhelmed, they aren’t purposeful in their leadership. They don’t prioritize coaching and developing employees, which often leads to lack of team engagement.

What defines engagement? When employees invest a lot of energy in their work: physical, mental and emotional energy. An engaged employee is a person who is fully committed to and enthusiastic about his or her work.

Many leaders think engagement is about happy employees. It’s not about just having happy employees, it’s about having more productive employees. You want engaged employees because engaged employees work hard.

A high performer can deliver 400% more productivity than the average performer. (HBR: https://hbr.org/2014/11/what-high-performers-want-at-work)

If you want engaged employees, you need to be an engaging leader.

What are some habits that contribute to lack of engagement that you need to detox?

Common examples:

  • Not getting to know your employees as individuals
  • Not providing meaningful feedback
  • Not meeting with employees regularly
  • Neglecting to coach and develop your employees
  • Focusing only on results and not on people

What are two positive habits you can implement to offset the negative habits?

Small habits are the foundation of success. Most people underestimate the power of small steps that compound each day. If you detox the negative leadership habits that don’t serve you and focus on creating positive habits in the three areas this year, you will elevate your leadership and your team, and set yourself up for exceptional results.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Strategies for Improved Focus by Envision Excellence

Last week I almost burned my kitchen down. In my quest to get all the important things done on my list, I was working on several things at once. Although I teach leadership effectiveness for a living, I sometimes get drawn into the busyness of life and slip into bad habits.

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. Mushroom kale soup bubbled over the stove, and onto the floor. As I was on the phone, I started to smell something burning from the kitchen. Sometimes I need a painful lesson to remind me of the importance of good leadership habits.

Despite what most leaders think, multi-tasking is overrated. We convince ourselves that we have so much to do that it’s the only way to get things done, but it has the opposite effect. Our attention is drawn in so many directions, that we end up doing a few things poorly (i.e., a soupy kitchen and an interrupted phone call) than doing one thing really well. Quality always suffers when we multi-task.

In fact, researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that multitasking caused a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night’s sleep! (https://www.forbes.com/sites/vanessaloder/2014/06/11/why-multi-tasking-is-worse-than-marijuana-for-your-iq/#266587857c11)

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 can lose up to 40% of productivity when multi-tasking (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/the-true-cost-multi-tasking).  It’s costing businesses about $450 billion a year in lost productivity; not to mention stress, loss of composure, and sloppy work (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/study-organizational-multitasking-costs-global-businesses-450-billion-each-year-221154011.html)

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 overwhelmed 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 eliminate multitasking 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.

The Importance of Boundaries in Leadership (and Life)

The Importance of Boundaries in Leadership

On a recent Wednesday night, I was attending a parent association meeting at my children’s school to talk about upcoming events. These meetings have historically run long; sometimes going until 9:30 p.m. or later. I go to bed at 9:30 on weeknights, so the day after these meetings, I always wake up feeling tired and sluggish. Before long, these meetings were negatively impacting my week. I realized I have a choice in this situation—I could continue staying until the meeting ends and feel tired and frustrated each time, or I could come up with a better solution that worked for me. So instead of feeling obligated to stay until the end of the meeting, I created a boundary: for weeknight meetings, I would leave by 8:30 p.m. No exceptions. I let the president of the parent association know ahead of time, and at the next meeting, I collected my things at 8:30, said goodbye, and headed home.

Boundaries are an essential part of leadership. Without boundaries, our days become a haze of activities without any focus. We end up feeling busy all day without accomplishing anything of value.

Are there any boundaries you need to create in your life?

I like to think of it this way:

Boundaries create structure
Structure creates freedom

Boundaries allow you to focus and work at your peak. The purpose of boundaries is to protect your time and energy so you can work at your best. So you can be your best.

Below are some examples of leadership boundaries that can help protect your time and energy:

  • Closing your door to work on an important project
  • Telling your employees you are not available for the next two hours so you can work on a project
  • Taking a lunch break every day to give your brain a rest
  • Not accepting a meeting request without an agenda
  • Protecting the first half hour of your workday to get focused and review your priorities for the day
  • Leaving the office no later than 6:00 each day
  • Not checking email on weekends
  • Not working at all on vacation (this is a boundary I am implementing in a couple weeks!)

When you don’t have boundaries, everyone else’s emergencies become your emergencies. You find yourself reacting to everyone else instead of focusing on what is important to you and your success.

Below are some of the personal and work boundaries I’ve put into place to protect my time and energy:

  • Prioritize my to do list and focus on two high priority activities a day
  • Schedule productivity sprints (blocks of time in my calendar) to focus on one thing at time (typically these sprints are between one and two hours each)
  • Close my email and put my phone out of sight when I am doing a productivity sprint
  • Go to bed by 9:30 p.m. on weeknights
  • No weeknight meetings after 8:30
  • No alcohol on weeknights
  • No work after 6:00 p.m.
  • Phone stays in the kitchen at night (not in the bedroom)
  • Maximum of one alcoholic beverage at a dinner or event (unless it’s a really long event like a wedding, where I allow myself two glasses)

You may be thinking; does she have any fun? Yes, I do. What these boundaries do is ensure that my energy is at its peak. I facilitate leadership programs and speak in front of people at least three times a week, and feeling rested, energized, and at the top of my game is vitally important for my business and the results my clients get. Having a glass of wine on a Tuesday night may not seem like a big deal, but it results in me not sleeping as well that night and feeling groggy in the morning, which undermines my performance. That boundary is a structure I use to keep myself at my peak.

Having structures also cuts down on the decisions you have to make, which frees up mental space and energy. As humans, we make thousands of decisions every day—everything from what to wear to who to hire. Having boundaries and structures in place keeps you from having to make simple decisions that drain your energy. Some CEOs create structures to simplify their lives as much as possible. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Don Tyson, former CEO of Tyson Foods, wear the same outfit every day, as did the late Steve Jobs. This is one less choice they need to make each day.

An important part of leadership is being able to keep yourself—and your team—focused. In today’s world, it’s challenging to keep your mind focused on what’s important. Without boundaries, you end up wasting your hours and ultimately your days. Developing boundaries creates the structures you need to keep your leadership—and your life—on track.

Leadership Detox: Re-energize and Elevate Your Leadership in 2018

My husband and I recently finished a two-week health detox that requires eating all healthy foods and eliminating caffeine and sugar. The first few days were tough (I love cappuccino’s and chocolate!), but about three days in, we felt better and healthier. The cravings started to disappear, and we felt more energized and in control of our eating.

Just like many people slip into bad eating habits around the holidays, many leaders slip into bad habits as their days get busier and to do list gets longer. All of the daily meetings, projects, deadlines, and people challenges can feel like you are just trying to stay above water.

If you are feeling a bit off track (or a lot off track) with your leadership and your goals, perhaps it’s time for a leadership detox.

In February and March, I am facilitating a complimentary breakfast and workshop to help you rid any negative leadership habits and leave you feeling more energized and focused so you can lead your team to exceptional results in 2018.

Leadership Detox: Re-energize and Elevate Your Leadership in 2018
(All Industries)
February 28

Leadership Detox: Re-energize and Elevate Your Leadership in 2018
(Credit Unions)
March 15

I’d love to have you join me if you want to:

  • Reduce overwhelm and stress
  • Learn the two most important productivity habits for executives and managers
  • Learn the three worst (and most common) leadership habits that interfere with success, and how to overcome them
  • Learn an important formula for personal and professional success that can immediately improve results
  • Learn how to get the best from your team and stop upward delegation

Again, there are two opportunities to join me for this morning workshop:

February 28th in Baltimore, MD
9:00-11:00 am 

(open to ALL industries)
Register Now

March 15th  in Columbia, MD
9:00-11:00 am 
(open to credit unions)
Register Now

Join us for breakfast, networking, and this interactive session that will leave you feeling more clear about how to have a successful year.

Hope to see you there!