Give Thinking Its Space

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In an interview I watched a while back, Bill Gates talked about what he learned from Warren Buffett in regards to time management. When Gates was still learning the ropes of leading, he took pride in scheduling every single minute of his calendar. It was packed, and he carried his busy-ness like a badge of honor. Buffett, on the other hand, gave Gates a hard time about this because he was slow to learn the problems with this style. To prove their polar opposite habits, they opened up Buffett’s paper calendar during the interview. For that particular week, Buffett had only one appointment, and there were days and days left in the month with absolutely nothing scheduled in it, and it wasn’t vacation.

Buffet shared that when a CEO packs every minute of their calendar, they leave no room for the very thing they need to be doing: thinking. How is a leader suppose to strategize and solve problems successfully if they don’t give themselves space to think, to reflect, to plan? People wanting your time comes in endless supply, but you are in control of your time. Buffett emphasizes that while he has lots of money, he still cannot buy himself more time.

The next time your day is booked with meetings, calls, and emails, ask yourself if they were really worth attending to? Did you even talk to your team today to see how their work is doing, what problems need to be solved in the trenches? Were you able to discover differences between important and urgent tasks?

Or, perhaps, would it have been of better value to utilize that time strategizing, planning, and leading with 100% focus and commitment? There are no excuses, just choices.

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Do You Really Want to Know?

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“People won’t tell you how they feel until they believe you want to know.” – Sheila Heen

I am often reminded of this quote when people ask me questions. Any question that asks for my opinion or thought. These questions could fall under any category: general work, design, business, news, politics, books, media, life decisions, sports, whatever. Because many struggle to be vulnerable or live out their truly authentic values, it’s common to reply with an auto response to questions in order to brush them away. We may cover it by replying with a vague answer, a safe answer, or perhaps an answer you “think” the asker wants to hear. I am not perfect by any means and have done, and still do, this often.

Take for example the question “How are you?
Good.” —This is likely your typical response.

Or, “Where do you stand on [this] issue?
[The side that you’re on in order to block false judgements or retaliation back]” —This is an easier route to take.

Or, “Do you have ideas for [this]?”
Yes, I think it…“—But you’re interrupted by the asker and choose to just keep quiet instead. —Again, easier.

So, let’s go back and dissect Sheila Heen’s quote: “People won’t tell you how they feel until they believe you want to know.”

Until they believe“. Wow, that could take some time.

It’s a tough task to get someone to believe and trust you. Advertisers try to do this on a daily basis with the brands they are selling. But set aside advertisers, let’s look at you. Are you trustworthy? Believable?…to your employees, friends, family, colleagues? What are your true motives?

How do you get to be believable? Each scenario is different, and I don’t claim to have the answers to this, just the curiosity of exploring it. To start though, I think it comes down to having compassion, open-mindedness, and a listening ear to build this trust.

The next time someone asks you a question about your thoughts and opinions, ask yourself your own question first: Am I filtering my thoughts to plan the best answer outcome for the asker, or am I representing my true values?

How are you?

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Learn to See

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When I studied art, I always thought drawing in realistic was difficult because it required acute attention to shadows, light, and shapes as well as the stories they tell. I could exaggerate these truths with my preferred cartoon style. Ed Catmull, Co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, points out that “Art is about learning to see, not drawing.”

He goes on to explain that learning to see can be hard. Sometimes it involves failure, and failure can have emotional aspects to it. He stresses that leaders need to make sure it is safe to fail so your team can progress faster. Don’t punish or give embarrassment. To further progress their team, Pixar strives on learning new things. They take research trips to discover something they don’t know anything about, which fulfills knowledge. Then they also take silent retreats to take care of their souls and be better at being themselves, which fulfills emotional wellbeing. Both of these qualities contribute to Pixar’s creative success. Other leaders, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, follow this same soul-searching practice.

Encouraging curiosity and well-being: I think every organization can learn from this style of leadership and teamwork.

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Keep Score

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“There’s a difference between knowing a thing and knowing data.” – Chris McChesney

Chris McChesney shares an interesting view about how education trains leaders in strategy and planning but not execution. We tend to blame people for problems when in reality it is the system that is the problem, and leaders have to own this truth. To stay on track, McChesney shares four leadership disciplines.

  1. Focus on the Wildly Important Goal (WIG): What are the fewest battles to do to win the war? Stay focused on the goal and execute it with simplicity and transparency.
  2. Act on the lead measure: There’s a difference between knowing a thing and knowing data. For example, we may know a thing such as the need to diet and exercise in order to lose weight. But, few know the actual data such as the calorie count needed for our diet. Understand both the thing and the data behind it.
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard: People play differently when they keep score. Keep a simple scoreboard that is visible with the right measures available to your team. Everyone should know if we are winning or losing.
  4. Create a canvas of accountability: Have weekly commitment meetings—like standups—with your team, but never urgent. Urgency trumps importance, and this is why execution is hard. In these meetings, report on last week’s commitment, review and update the scoreboard, and make commitments for next week. Then break!

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There is No Know-It-All

Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art has recently become one of my favorite reads, and I regularly go back to it. If you’re an artist of any kind, or if you enjoy creating things, I highly recommend this book. It provides a good list of points to combat resistance that may be blocking your creativity.

In one section, Pressfield highlights the importance of understanding what you don’t know:

“She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect.”

Here, Pressfield is making a point that when you don’t know something, you should bring in an expert who does. Include this person as part of your team in order to stay focused on your own work at hand. Don’t try to be a “know-it-all”—these people don’t exist. If you think you know a know-it-all or believe you are one yourself, you have been fooled. Believing this will surely cause obstacles in the road.

Being vulnerable to look at what you don’t know can be difficult, but it’s honorable to be truthful in understanding this so that you can keep your work moving forward and not falsely push it backward to save your pride instead.

A true professional knows what they don’t know and when to call for assistance from other experts.

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You Can Say “No”

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“Great teams are defined by what they’ve said “no” to so they can pursue what they are called to truly be doing.” – Jim Collins

There have been many times where I’ve heard people say “well, it’s an opportunity so we need to take advantage of it.”—We need to attend that meeting or event, we need to enter that competition, we need to give that pitch, we need to do this task now, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there are some opportunities that are “once in a lifetime” or very special scenarios that require our immediate attention and you can’t pass up; however, most of them are not so pressing. If not careful, you can find yourself distracting yourself so much with “opportunities” and “must-do’s” that you’re spinning your wheels in actually getting your project done or your product shipped.

I talk about the difference between tasks that are urgent vs important, and it’s the same concept here. You need to stay site to your mission and goals and really think about what you’re actually saying “no” to when you’re saying “yes” to something else.

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Add Value to Your Followers

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Leaders need to add value to people, not just receive it.

John C. Maxwell emphasizes the humanization of leadership when he says that before you lead people, you must find them as a person. They need to want to get there. Maxwell explains that followers internally ask leaders three things:

  1. Do you like me? –This identifies if the leader has compassion.
  2. Can you help me? –This identifies if the leader is competent.
  3. Can I trust you? –This identifies if the leader has good character.

Adding Value is a Two-Way Street

It’s the leader’s job to add value to people, not just to receive it from them. Adding value goes both ways, so look for how you can add it back to your team. It really is common sense isn’t it–do you like being around just “takers”? No. So be diligent, and develop the self-awareness to give back, especially if you want your employees to stick around.

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Feedback is Crucial

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Don’t let ratings self-teach the receiver.

People struggle with feedback conversations, but they are crucial to keeping your team on track. Humans have a need to learn and grow, and they have a need to feel respected, appreciated, and valued for who they are. Both giving and receiving feedback is a skill. At the Global Leadership Summit, Sheila Heen pointed out that there are three types of feedback:

  1. Appreciate: I see you, and you matter.
  2. Coaching: Get better at something.
  3. Evaluation: Where do I stand?

The problem is that leaders tend to lump coaching and evaluation together. We see our rating numbers within our evaluations first and ignore the coaching part afterward. Don’t forget this step or let ratings self-teach the receiver. In addition, leaders need to receive feedback. Leaders need to be better receivers so they can be better givers.

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