Friday, 27 January 2017

Your Sixth Sense

We have all been endowed with certain senses.  Sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing.  We use these to navigate through life.  We all have these senses to varying degrees and we all use them to make important choices.

What tastes good to one is different from another.  Beauty is ‘in the eye of the beholder’.  The sound of different music genres appeal to some but offend others.

When we are unsure of something new we encounter we often revert to the old saying ‘…if it quacks like a duck; if it waddles like a duck; and if it smells like a duck; chances are it probably is a duck…’

These are fundamental navigational tools that we depend upon.  But sometimes these senses lead us astray.  Tests have confirmed that senses often interact to create confusion in our analysis.  For example, individuals who are told that a certain smell comes from a visually attractive flower will generally rate the smell very positively.  Whereas the same smell that is identified as garbage elicits a negative response.

What’s this all got to do about leadership?  Simply this…don’t be deceived by appearances.  Learn to rely much more on your sixth sense, that is, common sense.

It is stunning to me how uncommon common sense has become.  We default to statistics as if they are gospel; we look at appearance as a predictor of success; our experiences cloud how we evaluate new opportunities; our prejudices define others before there is a chance for them to prove themselves.

Leaders must rise above the folly of decision making based on the emotions of the senses.  Remember how easily our brains get confused when conflicting senses cloud reality.  Every decision must pass the fundamental question of ‘does this make sense?’  When natural indicators derived from our five senses fly in the face of the overarching sixth sense, choose the latter.

In 1962 JFK convened a meeting in the White House after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.  A poll of those at the table recommended to Kennedy that the US should bomb Cuba.  Kennedy paused for a moment before declaring “the vote is 9 to 7 in favour of bombing.  Gentlemen, the 7’s have it”

His commitment to common sense was critical and may be remembered as one of his most important decisions.  You may argue, correctly, that his initial decision to support the invasion was wrong.  But he learned to trust his instincts over the emotions of the moment.  We are all better for it.

You are in a position of leadership because you have a demonstrated ability to exercise sound decisions based on common sense.  Don’t abandon your natural senses; they provide useful information.  But let common sense be the final arbiter and you will win far more often that you lose!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

If you only ask one question.

Every day leaders are required to make decisions.  Some are profound; others are sublime. Often times it is fair to question whether a decision really needs to be made or whether someone has simply abdicated their responsibilities.

Before a decision is rendered, you typically need to know some information to make an informed response.  In my opinion there is only one question that you need to ask.  That question is ‘…how...’

It may be followed by some clarification such as ‘how will this make a difference’ or ‘how will this be accomplished’.  In every instance the ‘how’ is a call to action.

‘How’ challenges the participants to be part of the solution.  ‘How’ implies that ‘why’ has already been considered because you do not seek solutions to that which is not required. 

‘How’ looks to the future while considering the past. 

‘How’ recognizes that ‘when’ is now.  ‘How’ demands a positive response.

‘How’ engages all parties up and down the decision-making chain and in so doing it answers the ‘who’.

And ‘how’ fulfils ‘what’ by defining the action to overcome inertia. 

When ‘how’ can be answered all the side issues become mute.  Your call to action; those included in the solution; the anticipated outcome; the timeframe all become defined in the process resulting from the answer to one simple question.

HOW?  Not why, not when, not who…just one simple question.  How?

As a leader you want to make sound decisions while developing your staff into intelligent, thoughtful team members.  When they know that your first question is ‘how’ you will have encouraged them to come to you with fewer questions and more solutions; seeking approvals not answers. 

Any organization that reaches this point is on the verge of greatness.  Just ask ‘how’!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Who do you work for?

Logic responds that we all work for our employer.  In a macro sense this is quite true.  After all, someone else is signing our cheque so that is who we work for.

Allow me to offer another option, one reserved for those in positions of leadership.  I submit that those who lead by inspiring their team members actually work for these same team members.   How so…?

As the leader you set the goals and objectives.  It may be an interpretation of the larger corporate goals, but there are specific team outcomes that you need to accomplish.  Once these are set, your job is to facilitate the team to allow individuals to maximize their efforts on a daily basis. 

You must ensure that they are properly trained, equipped and inspired.  You must ensure that the chemistry of the group is always in balance.  You must monitor progress.  You must anticipate obstacles and respond accordingly.

In all of these responsibilities you are serving your team members.  If effect, you are working for them and on their behalf to allow them the greatest likelihood of success.  If the team fails it is seldom the work of the members that will be found deficient.  Most likely the blame falls (quite rightly) to the leader.  He/she has failed in their primary duty, i.e., to make success possible.

I appreciate that at first blush it seems to be counter-intuitive.  But trust me on this!  The better job you do in enabling your staff to be successful the greater the likelihood that your goals will be accomplished as well. 

Service has it rewards.  And they are much more satisfying than being served.  I am not advocating spoon feeding your team members or doing their jobs for them.  Rather it is the act of supporting, uplifting, encouraging, enabling and inspiring the team, individually and collectively, in which you gain your rewards. 

Take another look at who you work for.  Maybe it’s time to focus on something other than the name on the cheque…