The art of Procrastivity

People talk about how bad procrastination is, but I think that there is a way to procrastinate productively. I dub this effort PROCRASTIVITY and it helps me to do #ALLTHETHINGS!

Yes, that is a made up word…mind you if we look at the way language evolves it might be a real word soon enough. I digress, but really it’s just the synergy of how my avoidance of particular tasks can actually match up with my goals and deliver more outcomes in less time than you might expect.

To be honest I have a lot of things on the go at any one time. Collaborative projects, writing commitments, grad school, work for clients, hobbies, etc. etc. I do a lot of things in my quest to be a polymath and when I procrastinate I have discovered that I often avoid one work effort by doing another.

What? I decide that I don’t want to do my expenses and say…uhm…spend the time instead of doing my expenses writing a blog or doing research for a client. I’m not unproductive, just producing differently. You might be familiar with the feeling of being struck by a powerful need to clean out your closet when you should be doing your homework, or maybe the urgent need to squeeze in that week of meal prep before you can contemplate going to the gym. If you use your desire to avoid a task as fuel to complete another you can be abundantly productive.

While I have to admit that sometimes I do avoid tasks with the help of my couch and Netflix (I’m human people!) when I am avoiding one thing I am primarily working on something else that adds value to one of my goals.

So often we hear about the downfalls of procrastination. We hear stories of how people struggle to accomplish their basic life tasks and rarely hear positive stories. I’m here to tell you about how the act of deferring one task in favour of another can actually help people to deliver more than they thought possible.

Strategic diversity

In order to master procrastivity you need to make some choices about how you want to grow as a person. From making space to develop a creative skill, growing your career, or investing in a dream, your alternate projects need to deliver value to your life plan or personal goals. By doing this you will be assembling items that regardless of what you pick will be doing something good for you.

Think of it like a menu from your favourite restaurant, no matter what you select, it is sure to be tasty and fill your belly. BUT…… you also cannot and should not live exclusively on junk food anymore than you should limit your goals.

Implementing procrastivity

Make the initial list of everything you want to do and prioritise it. Include all the things that you want to do personally, with your loved ones, and professionally. Do not skip concepts like relaxation, fitness, and time with your family as they need to fit in just as much as getting that new certification or promotion might.

Note: The items on your list do not need to add instant value, but MUST add long term value to YOU (nobody else needs to get anything from your goals). Make sure that you are thinking thoughtfully about the things you are adding to your to-do list and how they might contribute to your overall quality of life and personal goals.

An example of this strategic diversity might be goals like learning a language, educating yourself about your professional field, training for your first marathon, doing your day job, and spending time with your family. While this might seem like a big roster of items you can easily slot them all in if you are aware about what items you can be flexible with and what items you need to stick to a schedule with.

Something like education in your professional field could have complete flexibility because you are reading/listening to content about the topic or maybe taking part in a MOOC. These items can be done in the time you wait in a queue for coffee or when you have a few moments free waiting for transit. Comparatively, things like our day jobs can’t be quite as flexible so you have to slot the other items around them.

Most items sit in the middle zone. Training for a marathon for example might require a certain commitment of hours on the road so you need to find a block of time a few days a week before or after work, while family/partner time might be very flexible about the when and not about the how much so you block most of your weeknights to dedicate to your goals and spend your weekend adventuring with your loved ones.

You also have to accept that the priority must correlate to how much time you can invest in each item right now. Maybe that means that something is not going to get as much attention in the short term because of current demands, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t continue to progress as time allows and may become more focused when something else reduces in volume or effort.

Opportunity for connections

So often when we are in the middle of something specific we develop tunnel vision. We forget about other perspectives or options. It’s not our fault, it just happens.

Procrastivity allows us to see new links between seemingly disparate topics through reflection and new knowledge creation. Personal reflection is often powered by walking away from a task and provides us with chances to let our subconscious brain problem solve as it places the new knowledge into slots in our brains. More often than not something that I have been working on for one thing can serve to inform another when I least expect it.

Learn new things

I know this is a bit overly simplified, but doing more than one thing intentionally helps you to learn and grow as a person. We can never know how a passion to learn to play the guitar might result in finding your dream job because of a connection you make or a place you go. Creating a plan to extend your comfort zone will be sure to drive you forward in more ways than the single skill you are acquiring or developing in that moment.

So, now that you have realised that procrastivity is the way forward what are you going to do about it?

new-piktochart_block_2
#Procrastivity for the WIN!

There are also some great to-do lists that can help you to master procrastivity. I really like this one from That’s what she said.

Dear Sarcasm…..

Ah Sarcasm,

We have had a good run you and I. There have been some fun times, but it’s just not working anymore.

Love Erin

Dear Sarcasm

I read somewhere that sarcasm is the lowest form of discourse (literature scholars please offer a source for this truth). I had always thought that sarcasm was a gift. I didn’t realise that it was one of those gifts that might be best left behind for another to use.

For a long-time I took pride in my fast responses and enjoyed the impact of a well placed disdainful comment. I didn’t fully value the impact that these remarks might have on perceptions.

As a professional I do my best to keep my terminology crisp and clear as so much can be lost in the space between words read quickly on a screen. This has come from some tough lessons of items that have been misconstrued due to language or context being undeclared in the content.

Sarcasm can be a great tool in the right circumstance. When combined with wit or humour a sarcastic retort can be impactful. It can make a story land in a way that makes a listener remember it. Over time I have learned that unlike sarcasm both wit and humour can be used to great impact on their own. Sarcasm can too, but without humour or wit to soften the blow it tends to just sound bitchy.

You will notice in great literature sarcasm is a tool for the supporting characters. Rarely is it used by the hero of the story. Heroes are known to put the villains back in their places without the need for this crutch. So why does this matter?

If you want to be the hero instead of the sidekick, you better get some more effective weapons for your arsenal.

Not too long ago I submitted some writing that I had done for a grad school assignment. One of the items had what I considered a cheeky dig at the opponent’s approach. While my work received a great grade, the point received a negative comment from my professor. At the time I thought that she was attacking my point which was well researched and valid. I was offended that she didn’t get me.

This weekend I went for a hike in the woods and was struck with an epiphany that she wasn’t actually attacking me. She was warning me that I might lose my argument because of the sarcastic delivery.

My work might not win the debate even though I had the better argument because my sarcasm would serve to make the reader stop listening.

People don’t hear your message when you attack them before you share it.

Persuasive arguments are fought on good data and sound logic. Sometimes they may include a witty or funny analogy in order to make the reader engage on a deeper level, but they have no need for bitchy digs.

It’s because of this realisation that over the next few months I am weaning myself off sarcastic comments. I work hard to build credible connections between different data points and should not serve to reduce their impact or risk losing the game by throwing foul balls at the batter.

I realise that it can be hard to change something that I used to take pride in. While I may mourn for the retorts never getting a chance to hit their mark, I will celebrate my ability to articulate an argument and win the debate as the hero of my story.

Resting Boss Face

Over the last few years we have been inundated with the phrase resting bitch face. This is often the label placed on any woman who isn’t smiling or crying. It is the face of them just being. Most of our lives happen in the middle. We can’t be up or down all the time or we will become a caricature of what humanity is supposed to be.

Images of men with a non-smiling face may be described as stern or stoic. These images are the definition of pensive and thoughtful and when our male leaders show this face we associate it with trust and respect.Erin Burrell

They become statues of gods and greatness, while women everywhere are a negative representation of a female dog?

What The? Fuck?

It is funny how words can impact how we feel about ourselves.

Throughout my career I have been encouraged to smile more so that I can be viewed as nice and endearing. The truth is, I have never really wanted to be defined as nice. I would prefer to be defined as effective or motivational, thank you very much.

When dealing with trying circumstances and situations I have been reminded that my face is impacting the feelings of those around me. They’ve told me that my team will know that we are facing something serious if I can’t manage to crack a smile. Good. Maybe they should be aware that we aren’t meeting goals and it is time to dig in because we are at war. Maybe just a tidbit of seriousness on the face of their leadership will remind them that we have a job to do.

I’ve had a pretty great career so far. I’ve accomplished some great things personally and more importantly I have mentored people who will continue to pay forward my lessons by continuing to be awesome.

On many occasions while these people were learning and growing they had to deal with my cold visage. It was likely the result of getting all the shit done in the first place since, as we know the business community isn’t exactly all puppies and freaking rainbows. Over time the people who found me scary and intimidating have come to see smiles and cheers as they pushed through their goals too. Life is about balance.

I’ve made tough calls. I’ve had to let good people go due to circumstances I couldn’t control, and I have had to manage people who weren’t delivering. This is the way of the business world, but the reality is that I couldn’t always smile through it.

More than once I have had to make hard decisions, many of them alone. When the only person you can tell about these terrible circumstances is your pet, sometimes the weight of your decisions shows on your face. I do my best not to place any of the pressure and responsibility on another person and that has a price.

Before you ask…No, I don’t cry at work. You won’t find me at my desk lamenting how hard things are. You will likely find me problem solving. In order to do that I need to use my brain to do stuff and there isn’t always room for a genuine smile.

A little while ago a photo was taken of me that I liked very much. I was not smiling, not frowning, not crying, I just was. What was special was the fact that I liked how I looked. As you do with a photo you feel good about I posted it on social media and the comments were mostly about how I should smile more. I am so much prettier when I smile they said. More than a few made Resting Bitch Face remarks.

This image of me that I had liked had actually served to make me feel lousy about myself. (Thank-you social media)

That was until someone I have been mentoring posted two words on the stream.

#BossLady

That single comment changed my mind. Today I like to call it my Resting Boss Face. I am a developer of awesome, and in order to do that I have to be serious most of the time. This habit of seriousness means that when I smile, I am really smiling. I am not going to fake joy to make you feel better because that would make my genuine emotions less impactful.

As of today I am now an enemy of every article telling me how “the struggle of resting bitch face is real”. My face is not a struggle and has very little to do with how I do a job.

Going forward I will celebrate my #RestingBossFace as the sign that I am getting shit done.

 

 

Redefine Average

It’s time to redefine our positions in life. If you want to be awesome, surround yourself with awesome people. If you want to be smarter, surround yourself with people who have more knowledge and experience than you do. If you want to stop being afraid of the risks find someone who knows the methods that will keep you safe.

Find a mentor, become a mentor, learn a new skill, volunteer some of your time, or take on any other thing that allows you to stretch your boundaries.

Each of these tasks does the same basic thing. It helps you to redefine what your perception of normal is.

Jim Rohn was once quoted as saying:

Jim Rohn Quote erinburrell.ca
“You are the average of the five people
you spend the most time with.”-Jim Rohn

You commonly find this type of scenario in sports. If you constantly train with a group of athletes that are more talented than you, the odds are high that your skills will improve until you begin to hold your own.

When you think about it, finding average is a bit of a math equation.

Sally and Steve are both incredibly thoughtful people, let’s call them each a 9/10, unfortunately, Joe is a 4/10 and your partner is a 2/10. Total group score 24/40.

If you follow Rohn’s thought process this group of people likely leave you somewhere around a 6/10. Want to be more thoughtful? Hang out with more people like Sally and Steve and the number will start to rise.

But how you ask can you possibly be capable of raising your averages. You can’t just go out and make new friends, this isn’t kindergarten.…..Or can you?

A few years ago I would have said that this was an impossible concept. I love my friends. I wouldn’t want to spend less time with any of them.

Then it happened.

Not intentionally, it was an accident. I started to spend time with some new friends because of a charity that I had gotten involved in. My old friends were no less important, but they did become less frequent entries in my social calendar and I found myself changing for what I consider the better.

I discovered that I was capable of more empathy because of friends who lived their lives caring for others. I was more able to handle stress and navigate challenges because the people around me were able to offer guidance and their gifts of hindsight. My ability to deal with conflict increased and I went from being an attacker to becoming the person who helps to resolve issues. I became more willing to learn from others by surrounding myself with people passionate about learning.

My averages had moved. I had become a reflection of those around me without meaning to change.

After all these years, my mom was right. You are who you associate with.

Is the prize worth the cost?

Have you ever been to a fair and tried to win the teddy bear? Often if you are not incredibly skilled you will spend much more than the teddy bear is worth trying to win a game. I can recall more than once standing in front of a game I knew I couldn’t win thinking that maybe I should just go to a store and buy myself the toy and save the trauma of losing again and again.

Careers and life choices sometimes follow the same path. Sometimes there is a cost to quality, ethics, standards, or personal values to get to that finish line.

You may get a prize but is it worth doing whatever it takes to get it?

I recently had a coaching session with a talented lady who was concerned that she hadn’t progressed her career as quickly as another person on her team. She expressed frustration at the fact that the other person was getting increased prestige and, of course, more money and here she was in the same desk.

I challenged her with the idea that this other person must have made different choices than she had in order to achieve the increase in their status. She nodded her head and went into a stream of activities that she wasn’t willing to compromise her values to do. My response was simple, clearly she needed to surround herself with people who wouldn’t ask her to pay such a toll for the same rewards. (Fast forward a few months and she is in a new role with an organisation that isn’t asking her to compromise values for promotions.)

Easier than it sounds

Jim Rohn’s point was simple. Being in the middle of a group of amazing people isn’t bad, but in order to get there you need to surround yourself with the greatness you aspire to.

Anyone is capable of shifting their scores by being humble enough to realise that. So go out and find a new average and don’t settle until your calculation adds up to awesome.

The value of mentors (and why you should become one)

Recently LinkedIn told me that I should be thanking my mentors. While I think gratitude is important and I am an advocate for saying thank you publicly, I feel that the best thank you comes through action. I see the need to pay forward my gratitude in physical ways whenever possible and I think this is the lesson many of my mentors would like to have seen me learn.

Many people credit their mentors for offering them the insights they need to succeed while others state that it was their mentor that taught them not to be hard on themselves while they were learning. I see both of these concepts as adding value, but feel that we should all be reminded that no matter what age or career level we may have achieved, we have something to offer to other people.

Becoming a mentor/advocate is the most meaningful role I have ever held. Today most of the wins I experience are not my own. Instead, they are the achievements of people I have been lucky enough to work with and contribute to the development of.

Mentoring involves hard and soft skills

Dealing with conflict at work or challenges with navigating business politics are common themes for mentors. It is our gift of hindsight that helps to inform the knowledge we share with our mentees. However, it is the ability to see what worked and didn’t in our past experiences that leads us to offer tools, models, and approaches that will support our mentee in their hard skill development.

If you read Harvard Business Review you will discover that most articles regarding leadership success or management involve being a mentor to those below you and learning from those above you. I started to look for a particular article that displays this brilliantly and discovered this one.

While it also talks of the evolution from manager to leader, I don’t see any of the concepts being less relevant for those at any level in their career. Including ideas such as seeing the micro and macro pictures and understanding when to fight and when to negotiate will help to grow every resource.

What’s in it for you?

Victory in business and personal efforts feel fantastic. When you add those of your team and direct reports that feeling is increased immensely. Ultimately it comes down to the reality that helping someone else feels good for you.

What always surprises me is how much I learn when I’m mentoring. From the reminder to be excited about challenges, the desire to face new tasks with reckless optimism (often hard for those of us with battle scars), to the ability to be humble and learn new skills, my mentees teach me every day.

When you win: you feel good. When they win: you feel good. How can you possibly lose with that approach?

My lesson for you

Before you merely thank your mentors, become one and learn why acting is more valuable than speaking.

A few of the lessons I take with me daily from great leaders I am proud to have my career crafted by:

Work with people you love and respect.

Work with people you want to spend time with. While the relationships weren’t always critical to business success, it was worth the exchange for enjoying work more. Sometimes this means you don’t get the cheapest deal or resource, but making less profit and loving your day will be more impactful over the long term. Jeff Rushton

Detail matters in everything you do.

Going back and reviewing your work or someone else’s won’t ever hurt your business. As he always said “circle the wagons” (to make sure your load is stable). Mario Policicchio

Silence is powerful.

People are afraid of silence. It makes them uncomfortable. They will rush to fill the space you leave empty and that is where you will learn what to do next. Be quiet, watch, and listen. Andreas Lorenzen

Dr Seuss Quote
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

Personal Reflection-increasing understanding by making space

The need to have time to reflect is critical to solidify learning theories for students and professionals alike. By acknowledging the space between what we read or hear and what we already know we are able to create links between the two. It is through these associations that new ideas and perspectives are born.

Making time

When I headed back to school to complete my MBA in 2012 I had an instructor (Kim Gunning-Mooney)  recommend we focus on taking the time to reflect. She explained what I think was some version of my description above (honestly I was mentally and physically exhausted for most of MBA so I can’t guarantee that I am totally accurate here, but she deserves credit), and rationalized that we would never imagine what this space could do for the development of our ideas.

Honestly, I thought it was crap. What would writing down my thoughts about what I had read, seen, or heard do for my ability to write an assignment or to do my job?

LOTS!

We often don’t realise how our brains create connections, but in many cases it is when we aren’t studying a topic that we begin to understand it. Have you ever had that moment in the shower or driving to work when everything suddenly makes sense?

That is the power of space to reflect.

Creating connections

I spend a lot of my professional time telling stories to clients and partners. Customising the story to each individual is critical to making it relevant to them and this is where I discovered how reflection helps us make connections.

Many of the early years of my career were spent in the home improvement industry. This causes me to tell a lot of stories about how computer software/employee engagement /management/ marketing/leadership is like the plumbing in your home.

Stay with me here….

You often don’t take the time to think about your plumbing or FILL IN THE BLANK business challenge until it is broken and find yourself in a hurry to get it fixed before you are covered in poop. In a really bad circumstance, it is being covered in poop that tells you the problem exists in the first place.

The importance of the analogy (or any analogy really) is the fact that people can suddenly see the connection between two ideas and just how urgent or serious the challenge they are facing has become.

Our ability as experts to connect the dots matters more than the dots themselves

By walking away from a challenge, literally or figuratively we are able to encourage our brains to connect these new concepts with the information that we have already internalised.

Build compelling arguments

I used to follow my gut on everything. Gut instinct is a powerful thing, to be sure, but honestly it is meaningless when you are pitching a multi-million dollar venture to the board for sign off. You need to have evidence (shown through the connections) in order to make a point.

You: “Hey board of experts I just know that this is a good idea so can I have some cash, please?”

Them: “Yeah, nah bro.”

But when we have some evidence (I consider all ideas evidence to create a compelling argument), and then we combine it with gut instinct and past experiences we are able to make connections that create a compelling and successful business case in many situations.

You: “Hi board of experts we have a challenge and it can be met by combining this times that. We believe it will work because of this idea X connection = result and this idea X connection = result.”

Them: “Well of course! Here are your millions of dollars”

Yes, this may be a bit of a simplified circumstance, but the likelihood of creating those connections is infinitely higher when take the time to reflect and internalise new information. A few steps that work for me are below, but feel free to reflect in whatever way you find effective.

  1. Write down what the content told you in your own words:
    1. Create a summary of what you read so that a fifth grader can understand it.
    2. Journal about the items you are reading. When you start telling the story you connect items without thinking about it.
    3. If you can’t summarise it yet, that’s ok move to step 2
  2. Brainstorm around the topic:
    1. Use a mind map or fishbone diagram to list concepts and create connections between them. The lines are the part that matters most
    2. Use a word blurb to see what concepts repeat most in the article. Tools like Wordle are awesome for this.
    3. Use your favourite method of brainstorming, the method is not as important as taking the time to do it
  3. Walk away
    1. Go for a run, take your kids to the park, binge watch some OITNB, read a trashy novel, it doesn’t matter what it is just get away from the work for a few minutes/hours/days as your timeline allows and let your brain do its thing.

What’s in it for you?

This is the age-old question when we put a task in front of someone. Why would you give up something you value (time, space, money) in exchange for this thing?

Reflecting makes connections faster than reading or listening to lectures alone. It helps us to find ways to internalise the idea and merge it with our personal expertise to make it valid and relevant. AND even if you don’t get anything special from it at that moment, we are raising our likelihood for shower Ah ha! moments exponentially just by trying something new.

 

References:

Reflection is the most important part of the learning process

Mind Tools Brainstorming

Acting on your research: The business and humanities merger

Most of my career and definitely throughout my academic efforts, I have attempted to make immediate use of the knowledge I acquire. For me, application (or in some cases failed application) is in direct correlation with my ability to understand concepts clearly. What I didn’t realise was that despite being traditionally business-focused, many models of planning and research are pretty much the same, just with fancier pictures and acronyms in some cases.

In business we have models, and in the humanities we have models, while most people are loyal to one side very little keeps them apart. The main difference between the two seems to be a bit of editing and marketing jargon. Business, as we know is overwhelmed with buzz-words and visual tools to support memory and application. The humanities seems to be equally filled with people using big words to tell the story a picture could effectively convey.

One of these is just like the other

While neither approach is right or wrong, the more we understand the similarities, the more the two disciplines can merge for more effective implementation.

Action Research

The goal of action research is to learn from current and past experiences (through data analysis, interviews, literature reviews, etc.) and arrive at new approaches to problem-solving.

Following seven basic steps action research allows the researcher to make informed decisions about what is working or not working and arrive at conclusions that allow them to put their learning into practice to improve the life of the participants.

  1. Select focus: Identify the problem area
  2. Clarify theories: Perform preliminary research around the topic to ensure a clear understanding of challenges currently valid
  3. Identify research question: narrowing the field of purview to a single question
  4. Collect data: Through first person study or literature review
  5. Analyse data: with the research question in mind
  6. Report results: share with those involved
  7. Take informed action: based on what you know

Sounds simple right?

What I didn’t see at the beginning of the exercise was that this model is just the same as one that I have been using for years. I wasn’t calling it action research I was calling it lean management.

Lean Management-PDCA

The goal of lean management and the PDCA model is to focus on continuous improvement and the elimination of muda (waste). Muda is described by Kaizen World with 9 types of waste including wasted time, effort, and motion. This description is broader that the seven types traditionally listed, but is relevant for today’s environment.

Elimination of muda can focus on items like efficiency in production, reducing wait times, inventory maximisation (human or physical), ultimately resulting in process improvement.

Contrary to many opinions, lean management application is not limited to the traditional environment of manufacturing where it was born at Toyota. Lean methodologies are being used to create better human workflows and more effective automation in categories like marketing and health care.

  1. Plan: Identify the challenge and what you want to change
  2. Do: Carry out the test in a small (hopefully low risk) environment or pilot project
  3. Check: Identify what worked and what didn’t
  4. Act/Adjust: Place new knowledge into application

Sure, lean does in four steps what action does in seven, but what is really different? Nothing. The same concepts hold true for both. The more work you do planning and analysing, the more capable you will be of making change that is significant and valuable to participants.

So, what does this teach me? It reminds me that business and humanities are closer than I think. It also tells me that as my knowledge builds the ability to translate concepts from one to the other will be empowering.

Resources

Wikipedia PDCA

What is Action Research?

Kaizen for Dummies

Kaizen World

The importance of teams

Being a part of a high performing team is a pretty rewarding thing. What few people realise is that it rarely happens overnight, and is incredibly special when it does.

Pulling the weight

I’ll admit it, I never used to like working on teams. A team always meant pulling someone else’s weight and dealing with last minute scrambles to do work that someone else committed to delivering and didn’t. I’ve talked about how everyone wins when everyone contributes here, but sadly this is not always the case.

Over years of working in ineffective teams, it became easier to promise only what I could deliver and so I became an advocate for independent projects. Truth be told, even when I started to manage people I was selective about how I continued to work within the team I was leading. This is a bad habit to get into and only serves to create large groups of people doing tasks in a similar space.

Nothing changes without new inputs

In order to create a new output something has to change or be introduced. Yes, as an individual I was able to get things done. I was able to consistently deliver at a reasonable level, but nothing was pushing me forward.

Working independently doesn’t offer as many chances to grow a skill base or challenge ideas. By working with others, you are able to collaborate and create great ideas and output from what would otherwise be good enough, but not spectacular.

Some people would argue that they are pushed by reading and engaging with new content through independent development efforts and while this is partially true, we cannot always see past a single idea or concept limiting the scope of our ability to grow. A second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes, experiences, and ideas offers us that new perspective to help us develop.

Making things great

Great teams challenge one another through dialogue, brainstorming and more. By introducing new variables, (such as alternate skill-sets and backgrounds), we are able to develop hybrids of our approaches that meet the needs in new ways.

Sometimes this leads to creating something that is entirely new. This magic cannot happen without a collaborative approach to delivery.

With good comes bad

Challenging a person’s ideas is a place for potential growth and has the high potential to create conflict. Having lived through some pretty tense team environments, I can say that this is something that should be addressed early on.

Setting expectations for engagement and conflict resolution early in the effort cam serve to avoid or limit the scope of these issues. I understand that one bad experience can create a bit of fear when it comes to team delivery, I have to say that when it all comes down to the end it is all worth the drama.

My discovery: great teams are strange polygamous relationships.

Each person finds their way to contribute and cares for the team dynamic differently. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people I might never have met because of team assignments and I am better for them all.

In order to create high functioning teams, tools like charters, communication plans, and expectation management are critical.

There are lots of resources out there that can help, but Lane Sherman, a former team coach of mine recently wrote a book that really steps you through everything you need. You can buy it here. I was lucky enough to help provide feedback on it, and he has done a great job taking some of the mystery out of developing (or fixing) teams.

 

 

Developing tomorrows women leaders

Are we creating great leaders or are we holding people back from leading because we see sex as changing the skills a leader needs?

I recently scrolled through the tops posts in two groups I belong to on LinkedIn. In the leadership group, I saw articles on growing your team, dealing with challenging employees, and moderating the needs of clients with your corporate culture. These articles talked about both hard and soft skills a strong leader needs and how to develop them. Pretty standard leadership stuff I thought.

However, from the women in leadership group, I saw very different topics. The most popular subjects included appropriate clothing /jewellery choices and an article posted and written by men asking if women entrepreneurs could make it in a man’s world. Add this to the fact that some of the most popular threads on social media are discussing Hillary Clinton’s favourite designers instead of her policies and I find myself wondering who is to blame for challenges getting women into leadership positions.

So this tells me that women leaders need to know about fashion and failure rates and men need to know about gaining hard and soft skills that help them develop as people managers and executives. Hmm, one of these is not like the other.

When we as managers see someone with work ethic and ambition should we be treating them differently because of their sex?

My answer is no. I see my role as a people manager dedicated to helping grow those that report to me in whatever way they want to develop. If that means grooming them for dealing with challenging situations and teaching them the hard skills that they need I see that as my job.

If I am mentoring either sex I focus on their abilities and opportunities and none of the topics we cover has to do with what necklace or watch they might be wearing.

So how do we develop more women leaders? We start treating all high potential candidates the same way regardless of which washroom they use.

Everyone wins when everyone pulls-Cycling Lessons on Leadership

A few years ago I made a commitment to ride my bike across Canada with the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation as a method to raise funds and awareness for paediatric cancer. I expected emotional and physical challenges as we crossed the vast landscape, but what I never thought was that I would learn lessons on leadership at the same time.
Organised sports have long been cited as being the foundation for adults and youth alike to take on challenges as a team and work to achieve them. However, in the more traditional team environment the role of leader is traditionally filled through a coach or manager who comes with more experience. This often limits the opportunity to have those not comfortable with leadership roles to step up and try them on.

Everyone Pulls

What road cycling taught me was that in a great team EVERYONE holds a leadership position. Certainly there are those that are naturally stronger and are able to carry more of the weight, but a great peloton (cycling formation) is formed with a balanced approach.

When each person takes a turn in the front of the group (referred to as pulling), the rest of the team can take a moment to recover their strength at the back so they are ready for their next turn. This small reprieve from the wind or weather provides each individual a chance to rest and reset.

Short Turns

Now, not everyone is ready to pull for hundreds of kiliometres, but even just a short stint at the front can help to build confidence and skill for those with less experience. It also provides those with knowledge and talent to pull beside the less accomplished rider and help them to improve as individuals.

Is it the journey or the destination?

These short stints as group leader might not be as fast or as smooth a ride as those led by one of the more talented riders in the group, but in the end the whole team can arrive at their destination just the same. Each time I was empowered to pull despite being the least skilled rider, I felt more connected to my team and was able to push my own boundaries further. As a result of pushing outside my comfort zone I improved and became a better contributor to the team as a whole.

In business we often default to doing things with the same people “pulling” because it is what we know. This leaves the bulk of the team hiding from the weather and wind and coasting along behind without a chance to learn and grow. It also often causes a rift between those at the front and those at the back because they never get the time to bond and share skills if they don’t switch positions and see the view from another persons saddle.

Maybe it takes a few more minutes to arrive so everyone can contribute, or maybe it means getting rained on, but each person got to grow through the process. This results in making the whole team more capable of meeting the next challenge.

In the end if the entire team meets its goal, does it make any difference how you got there?