You would have to be an idiot not to take diversity and inclusion seriously.

Study after study shows the economic power of diversity.

A diverse, high-performing team is more productive, your leaders make better decisions, and you avoid the drama that makes for a toxic workplace.

The return on investment is such a no-brainer that companies spend millions each year on diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs.

The likelihood that these programs deliver diverse AND high-performing teams, though, is too limited.

A recent Wall Street Journal study shows that companies are doing well in hiring diverse talent, but not in promoting them.

The first management rung seems to be the hardest to climb.

What’s happening?

Systemic bigotry is part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that companies set their employees up for failure when they fail to align work with people’s natural inclinations.

When your hiring focuses mostly on diversity-that-you-can-see, you heighten the risk of putting the round peg in the square hole.

You know the results: heightened frustration, less productivity, and faster burnout.

People who report using their natural inclinations – their superpowers – each day are two-to-three times more productive than those who do not.

Using your superpowers each day means higher engagement, better performance, and less frustration and burnout.

Aligning work with natural inclinations is the best way to set up your employees for success so that you are more likely to retain and promote them.

We’ve developed a straightforward and free tool that you can use to promote diversity of natural strengths and make your leaders successful.

Servant leaders come in four broad archetypes: Pioneers (innovators), Reconcilers (team-builders), Operators (implementers), and Mavericks (game-changers).

Your subordinates are more likely to thrive when you put them in positions aligned with their superpowers.

You will be a better mentor when you help each person be the best version of themselves rather than sub-consciously encouraging them to copycat you.

You will also avoid what my mentor Michele Flournoy calls the mini-me syndrome – the tendency to surround yourself with people who think and act as you do.

The combination of physical and cognitive diversity will power your growth, limit expensive mistakes, and make your company a better place to work.

Do your most vulnerable employees feel that they can contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Get the tool here.

What’s your top leadership takeaway from this article?

Add a comment or email me at [email protected] 

Decide’s Latin origin means to kill off or to sever.

To make a decision thus means to kill off the alternatives.

Common decision-making errors result in you killing off the better alternatives – they are short cuts to expensive failure

Here are two doozies.

Confirmation bias happens when leaders place excessive weight on data that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and discounts contrary information.

We are living this problem right now. 

People on one side of the political spectrum highlight worst-case data on COVID-19. Their opponents emphasize opposite data. 

So many “expert” assessments and statements by political leaders are tainted by confirmation bias that ordinary people like you and me lose faith in their credibility.

It’s not just a political problem.

I fell into the confirmation bias trap myself. 

I wanted to take people on leadership trips to Normandy battlefields. I know the impact these experiences have on leaders and teams, and I’m very good at delivering them.

I wanted to do a lot of good for a lot of people, so I was eager to get going.

I believed that a good social media campaign could lead to mass interest.

A digital marketing agency I hired felt the same and suggested that Facebook ads would be a winner. They had had success with Facebook ads before, with a life-coach. They believed that they could replicate the outcomes. 

We made a series of (really cool) videos, created a complicated sales funnel, and crafted the ads carefully. 

We launched the ads. The videos were really popular and we saw superb engagement rates.

No prospects. 

We needed to create enough volume, we told ourselves, and the ads would pay off. Even if only .1 percent were interested, one million views should lead to 1000 prospects. 

We spent more.

We got nearly 2 million views and 300k “likes.” 

No prospects. No buyers.

I finally shut off the ads.

It turns out that we had tapped into an audience that loved military history, but they were not leaders or buyers.

Most entrepreneurs and leaders go to Facebook to keep up with friends and family, not for business advice.

That was an expensive lesson. 

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We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

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Status quo bias, on the other hand, increases resistance to change, even if your situation sucks and your plan is failing.

Leaders perceive that the status quo is safe. After all, the executive team signed up for the approach at one time.  

Board members or executives poke holes in alternatives, shoot-down proposals, and emphasize the risks of change.

Some resist change for fear of being “wrong” in adopting the current plan. 

Others do not have an apples-to-apples comparison of risk, so they place more confidence in managing the challenges of the failing plan they know than in a proposed alternative that they don’t. 

Solo-entrepreneurs and small business leaders with status quo bias make a decision one day and then talk themselves out of moving forward the next morning. 

You get trapped in the hamster wheel.

Here are two action steps to deal with these problems.

First, assess your assumptions. 

Ask “what must be true” for the plan to work. Those are your assumptions. 

Do a sanity check on the validity of the assumptions.

Do the same with alternate plans. 

This approach gives you an apples-to-apples comparison of the risks and opportunities.

It also helps you check your confirmation bias.

Second, use premortems.

A premortem is a story or two about how the plan failed so that you can identify the indicators and warnings. 

Make those indicators and warnings part of your risk assessment.

When the indicators and warnings light up in the wrong direction, you know it’s time to make a change.

Red-teams or designated critics can be helpful, too, but I prefer the pre-mortems. 

Leaders may rationalize away the former because they are supposed to point out problems. 

They go with the plan anyway and lose the benefit of the premortem’s indicators and warnings.

The premortem is something the decision-makers own, so they are more likely to take them seriously.

We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

Yes, it’s free and takes only ten seconds to sign-up. There are no sales, no gimmicks, just value for you.

Sign up now while this article is in front of you. You are one decision away from making even better decisions :0)

Get the peace of mind that you have decided to work ON your business

What is your top takeaway from this article? 

P.S. Do you want to nail your next 100 days? Of course, you do. Here’s the free training that will help you do exactly that. It’s perfect for solo-entrepreneurs, consultants, and micro-business owners.

You are one decision away from nailing your next 100 days.

The Pioneer versus The Reconciler. Which one is better for America?

Many of you have asked me for thoughts about the upcoming U.S. presidential election using our PROM leader archetypes: Pioneer, Reconciler, Operator, and Maverick. (Get your PROM servant leader archetype here)

My articles are never partisan, and this one won’t be either.

I’ll outline the healthy, average, and unhealthy versions of The Pioneer and The Reconciler and offer what they need to do to govern effectively.

I’ll let you decide which candidate is which archetype, and to figure out which one is most likely to become the best and healthiest version of themselves.

Key takeaway: When you are hiring people on your team, look for those who add to your cognitive diversity and who are becoming the best and healthiest versions of themselves.

Do you want to learn more about using PROM servant leader archetypes to strengthen your team and stop wasting your time refereeing disputes and prodding people to do their jobs? Schedule your breakthrough call with me.

Let’s take a look at the two archetypes in the upcoming election.

One candidate is a Pioneer. The other is a Reconciler.

A healthy Pioneer challenges the status quo and rallies people behind innovations and changes.

A healthy Pioneer recognizes the disruptive nature of change and seeks to address the downside effects on the most vulnerable.

A healthy Pioneer seeks Operators who can implement the changes to a high standard, Reconcilers who can build and maintain consensus, and Mavericks, who tether the innovations to the bigger picture of what American ought to be.

Average Pioneers are divisive and run-roughshod over the opposition. They pinball back and forth, lacking the discipline to set and maintain priorities.

Average Pioneers tend to surround themselves with people who think like and agree with them, so they do not benefit from cognitive diversity.

Frequent blindsides throw them off-track. They do not get things done to a high standard. Most of their innovations are half-baked, executed poorly, and often create resentment.

Unhealthy Pioneers turn into dangerous demagogues who surround themselves with a narrowing group of sycophants. When backed into a corner, they are likely to take considerable risks to reverse their fortunes.

To govern effectively, The Pioneer needs to build consensus across America’s many divisions, protect vulnerable populations, set clear priorities, and get things done to a high standard.

If The Pioneer can meet these challenges, he will make meaningful changes that take care of those left behind, heal divisions, and reset America’s place in the world to something more fair and sustainable.

If, however, The Pioneer emphasizes divisions, fails to build consensus, and lacks the discipline to get things done, America in the 2020s could make the 1960s look calm.

A healthy Reconciler, on the other hand, builds consensus toward a clear and compelling vision.

A healthy Reconciler recognizes the dangers of watered-down consensus and thus sets clear goals and expectations to achieve them.

Healthy Reconcilers embrace cognitive diversity. They need Mavericks to help them create the vision, Pioneers to identify the practical innovations necessary, and Operators to set the game plan and hold people accountable.

Average Reconcilers tend to surround themselves with people who think like and agree with them, so they do not benefit from cognitive diversity.

They seek consensus as a goal. They water-down their vision and agenda to something unobjectionable to everyone. The aggressive people around them use the opportunity to pursue personal agendas.

Average Reconcilers can have a hard time making decisions because they don’t want to upset anyone. Everyone leaves a meeting thinking they have the Reconcilers backing. In-fighting creates the perception of a power struggle.

Unhealthy Reconcilers exhaust themselves, trying to please everyone. They grow resentful that others are not as giving, while a feeding frenzy erupts around them as subordinates vie for control.

To govern effectively, The Reconciler needs to set forth a clear and compelling vision that can bridge America’s divisions, create a game-plan, and hold officials accountable.

If The Reconciler can meet these challenges, he will realize, perhaps for the first time in history, America’s e Pluribus Unum motto – out of many, one. An America that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Not some of the people. All of the people.

If The Reconciler fails to create a compelling vision that unites Americans and does not hold his team accountable, his ideological cabinet members will advance their private agendas.

The divisiveness and resentment they will create could make the 1960s look calm.

For me, the hiring decision is this: which candidate is most likely to rise to become the best and healthiest version of themselves?

Get your PROM servant leader archetype here.

What’s your top leadership takeaway from this article? Add a comment or email me at [email protected]

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Do you know what it’s like to live every day feeling like you’ve got a target on your back?

Can you understand what it’s like to feel that society has stacked the deck against you?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel that your co-workers and managers look down on you because you are different?

If you are like me, you cannot answer the first two from personal experience. You can read about it, talk to people who have lived it, and you can empathize.

But you cannot fully understand.

You can do your part to treat everyone with dignity and respect; to make a positive ripple in a lake of prejudice and injustice.

As a leader, you need to get question #3 and fix it. The buck stops with you.

There’s no excuse for ignorance, complacency, or self-deception.

Make your team a lake of dignity and respect that does not tolerate anyone who tries to put a toxic ripple in it.  

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s also smart.

I was bullied and sexually assaulted as a teenager. I couldn’t concentrate in school afterward or when I felt the predators were circling.

I’ve also, unintentionally, said and done stupid things that hurt other people.

I was fortunate to have had people who told me the truth – lessons I do not forget.

Employees who feel that they have to hide, live a lie, put up with disrespect, or look over their shoulders are less engaged and productive.

Wouldn’t you be?

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

If you were to use a 1-5 scale, with 5 being “Always,” anything less than 5 from every employee means you are wasting talent and money.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to find out.

1. Get some objective data. You can’t see the label when you are inside the jar. The combination of anonymous questionnaires, focus groups, and interviews provides you points of view you are not going to get by yourself.

2. Shop your Culture. You shop your business to see how well your sales team performs, and if your processes are user-friendly, why don’t you do the same for your culture?

3. Look for the signals. What do people put in their workspace? How well do your employees care for your bathrooms and facilities? Do people cluster in like-groups or diverse groups?

Look at your workplace from a vulnerable employee’s point of view so you don’t walk past problems anymore.

Once you know the data, you can take action.

How well are these steps working for you?

Let me know: [email protected]

Accountability is a four-way intersection.

Accountability means being answerable to someone for something important.

When you lead with accountability, you keep your commitments to your vision and mission, your employees, your customers, and your partners.

Lack of accountability leads to neglect, poor performance, abuse, and backbiting.

When you uphold accountability fairly, you show that you are sincere, you set the example, and you don’t play favorites.

Accountability improves commitment to your vision, mission, goals, and values.

Accountability reduces your need to micromanage and spend energy on compliance.

Accountability is possible when you make your goals and expectations clear.

Accountability improves when you share your goals and expectations.

An accountability group accelerates your performance because you are sharing your goals with people who are committed to your success.

Accountability gives you the focus to work on your business.

Accountability strengthens your promise to sharpen yourself so you can lead to greater success.

Accountability puts you back in command.

There’s a direct line from accountability to success.

Only you can draw it.

Leadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to your team’s success (check out the free Leading Well masterclass) – accountability builds commitment so that people do what’s right even when no one is watching.

What’s your top takeaway from this article? Write me at [email protected]

From Fear to Trust

The human spirit is incredible. This COVID-19 crisis is testing the best of our humanity. Yet, we see amazing examples of humanness, innovation, unity, and sacrifice. We continue to take care of each other, educate, and engage people. Recall a question I asked in part one of this series. When we get beyond the peak, imagine that your leadership, your humanness is on trial. Will you be convicted?

When a colleague appears grumpy on a video call or sends you a sharp email, let compassion be your response habit. It is likely that what they are feeling has nothing to do with you but instead their personal stresses and fears. We all have different experiences shaping our ability to deal with these stresses. We all have coping skills, some more developed, some less. Many may be feeling overwhelmed. Let your high human skills of empathy, kindness, and trust be your guide as you lead through this crisis.

The chances are that by now, we all know someone who has been affected by COVID-19. It has created fear in people. That fear flows to families, communities, and workplaces. This crisis thrust leaders, middle managers, and employees into distributed work environments almost overnight. While adapting to our new circumstances, these fears grew to unusually large proportions. Whether in a crisis or not, fear creates a narrowing of the mental aperture and makes you feel like you are looking through a soda-straw as individuals and as an organization. This paralysis makes us forget our established priorities, our habits, our caring for one another. When a crisis sets in, fear is its friend. Fear short-circuits our healthy support systems of family, friends, and work. Trust is the counterbalance to fear and helps open our mental aperture, see opportunities, and be more collaborative. Trust creates psychological safety and can be an incredible inoculant when bad things happen to good people and good organizations.

Trust can make you feel in the most positive and profound ways. In our closest relationships, it creates confidence, happiness, and peace. Think about your work environment though. When you meet new employees, how does the trust conversation go? “Welcome to the team, be on time, work hard, and you will earn our trust,” or something along those lines? The prevailing idea for most is that people must earn trust, but why? Why is trust not automatically given based solely on mutual understanding and expectations?

My colleague John O’Grady, who spurred much of the thought for this article, creates an insightful trust paradox. Imagine that you must travel for a work assignment. The Uber driver arrives at your house, and you get in the car with your luggage. You arrive at the airport, drop your bags with a skycap, greet the flight attendant, and say hello to the pilot. You settle in for a flight, having granted trust to people you likely have never met—the driver, skycap, pilot. Do you know who did the maintenance checks on the plane? We trust these people with our lives and often those of our families, without a second thought. Yet, in our most important and intimate relationships, we withhold trust. With our work colleagues, those whom we inherently rely on for success, we say to them, “you must earn my trust.”

Why?

Perhaps the socialization of trust has been wrong. What if we granted the same level of trust to the people closest to us as we do to the drivers and pilots in our lives? Imagine having high trust relationships that start with “you have my trust, and it can only be eroded or lost,” rather than earned. The buy-in and responsibility felt by the newly trusted employee go through the roof! So, too, does their commitment to maintaining that trust.

Instead of only talking about trust at the beginning of a relationship and then again only if it is broken or lost, make trust part of your team’s everyday conversations. Use the space in between to talk about how employees are demonstrating behavior that aligns with your expectations. And when you think there may be a trust issue arising, approach it from a position of authentic curiosity instead of being accusatory. Find the underlying reasons and collaboratively address them. Maintain trust behaviors and a trusted environment before it becomes broken. Be proactive!

Cultivating a culture of trust is like any leader’s action; it is a choice. To create work environments where trust flourishes, we need to understand how it works, the ways it is given, built, maintained, and how it becomes lost or broken. We can then teach ourselves how to act and react in ways that help cultivate trust, even in the most challenging situations.

Talking at the Speed of Trust

When you are asked a question and are uncertain of the answer, frustrated, or with little time, how do you respond? We all have short-circuited answers that allow us to respond and move on. Or so we think.  These so-called default answers such as let’s talk; we’ll have an answer soon; don’t ask, just get it done along with many others can damage the trust between leaders and employees. While these defaults might allow the leader to get an answer out quickly, they can unintentionally send signals of uncertainty and mistrust to the receiver. Put yourself on the receiving end of these defaults and consider the feelings and anxiety they may create:

  1. Let’s talk – uncertainty; is this positive or negative? How should the employee prepare?
  2. We’ll have an answer soon – ambiguous, soon next week or soon in a month?
  3. Don’t ask, just get it done! – lack of confidence, trust, and value in the employee.

Provide context and drive meaning to motivate people. Experts say it takes 500 milliseconds, or half a second, for sensory information from the outside world to incorporate into conscious experience. So, we can still get an answer out quickly, but if we take a few extra seconds to be more transparent, we can change the meaning of these defaults and bring clarity, understanding, and commitment to our work. Consider how the three defaults from above, but now with context, change the feeling:

  • Let’s talk about this at 4 pm. I like your idea of involving the staff because it gives them ownership of the process.  You specify why you like the idea, you set the expectation for time, and the employee feels valued.
  • We have not decided yet but will by the end of the day, Wednesday.  You are honest about not having decided and set expectations; the employee likely will feel—okay, Wednesday, got it.
  • Here is what we thought when we made the decision…  The employee is going to understand why and will likely give their best work because they feel like they are part of the team, trusted, and valued.

Trust comes from words and actions, but it must be felt by others to resonate. Take the few extra seconds to be transparent, honest, and only promise what you can deliver. Think about the work environments this crisis has created with back to back virtual meetings, online overload, and how these conditions are impacting your organization. Monitor your people for the signs of fatigue. Do what you can to remove uncertainty. Invest those few seconds to help your people feel, help them FEEL THE TRUST as you lead them through this crisis. Stay well, healthy, and safe!

Also check out part 1, part 2 and part 4.

Overcommunicate is a terrible term, because it’s imprecise, confusing, and can lead to all sorts of goofy outcomes.

What, exactly, does overcommunicate mean: talk more, have more meetings, speculate out loud?

We have seen the outcomes of these kinds of practices. Some teams have tried cyber-micromanagement – keeping their people on an open video line all day.

Others have ramped up the frequency of meetings – many that have no clear agenda or outcomes.

We have seen the fear, anxiety, and confusion that comes from leaders speculating out loud, ruminating about internal deliberations, and providing fact-free timelines and promises.

Stop overcommunicating.

Start communicating clearly and building confidence that you’ve got the judgment to lead your team through the COVID crisis and into the recovery.

Here are some practical tips for doing that.

1. Set your cadence. Your rhythm of meetings and routines needs to be purposeful and predictable. These become your team’s handrails through the uncertainty as you cross the COVID-chasm below.

2.  Open channels. Make informal town-halls part of your cadence. Take questions from people during the session. Stick to the facts as you know them. Feel free to say, “I don’t know” and “We’re still discussing that and haven’t made a decision. I’m very interested in your ideas, too.” Make sure these are sessions where people feel safe to voice ideas, opinions, and concerns.

3. Get moving. Put together three-to-five simple scenario plans. What are the common elements? Once you identify those you can start moving forward. Identify the forks down the road and the information you need to know to decide which path to take.  

4. Keep everyone engaged. Let people know the what and the why as you get moving. Empower them to figure out how. This simple practice lowers the chaos, boosts confidence, and increases your command of the situation.

5. Watch, Listen and Learn. You’ve got two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Watch and listen at least four times more than you speak. Ask questions and get people thinking and solving problems.

You got it. Five tips to stop the babble and build confidence in success. Bam!

How well are these tips working for you?  Send me a message and let me know.

We do not know what the post-crisis new normal will look like, but we can reasonably guess that distributed workplaces will be more norm than exception.

A distributed workforce creates distinct dilemmas for leaders. 

Monitoring work is much easier when everyone is in one place. For some, the open-office was the ultimate micro-management tool. Even so, two-thirds of American employees report being unengaged at work (Gallup). 

Micro-management ensures physical presence but does not seem to help much with engagement and productivity.

As more employees work from distributed locations, micromanagement becomes harder. 

A discussant at a recent webinar told us about a manager who required his employees to work in front of a live web-conferencing camera, so he could see that they were working. Others report incessant check-ins in which people need to explain what they are doing each hour of the day.

Yes, that’s a ton of time lost in micromanaging.

Culture is another dilemma. There is a considerable risk that managers will treat distributed or telework employees as second-class citizens, which is terrible for morale. 

Employees will vote with their feet and computers to a team that values their productivity.

Employee disengagement and turnover are a silent killer; they are the highest costs most companies face.

Here are three ways you can strengthen your culture is a distributed workplace.

First, Hire and Promote for Common-Good Fit.

There are a lot of essential cautions about hiring for culture fit, including undermining diversity and inclusion. Even if done well, hiring for culture fit is too-narrow. 

Hire and promote people who demonstrate a commitment to your Common Good: Vision, Mission, Goals, Values, Standards & Expectations, and Strategy.

Second, Align Work with Strengths.

Leaders should design work to fit employee strengths, rather than treating everyone as interchangeable cogs.

People who report that they use their strengths each day at work are likely to be two-three-times more engaged and productive than those who don’t (Buckingham and Goodall, Nine Lies About Work). 

Leaders who do this well use two frames

Broad Framing. Use archetypes, such as SLA’s PROM™ Archetypes (Pioneers, Reconcilers, Operators, and Mavericks), so they have a clear mental picture of their team and how to put the right people in the right roles. 

Pioneers are innovators, Reconcilers are consensus builders, Operators implement your plans to a high standard, and Mavericks solve big, wicked problems. 

Narrow framing. Assign specific tasks based on particular strengths and inclinations. Programs like Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder can help leaders and employees identify the tight framing best for each person.

Third, Develop your Team Leaders.

Your workplace culture is not what’s written on the walls. It’s the total of what happens in the halls and on the zoom calls. 

Your team leaders, all the way down to your first-line managers, are the ones who create your workplace culture, one interaction at a time. 

You can strengthen your culture by improving the quality of one-on-one engagements. 

Each leader, from CEO to first-line manager, should engage with their direct reports at least once per week. If you cannot do that, you have probably exceeded your span of control. 

These one-on-ones are the most impact meetings in your organization because their quality directly correlates to levels of productivity and engagement. 

There are four great questions you can use as a foundation for these weekly one-on-ones. SLA has created this tool that guides you through these simple questions. Use it with each of your direct reports. 

Pro-Tip: Have your direct reports complete the worksheet and send it to you in advance of the meeting

The distributed workplace is probably here to stay. These three action steps will help you strengthen your culture and morale as you lead your team through this crisis and create the foundations to prosper in the post-crisis new-normal.

American resolve is on full display in this COVID-19 crisis. You are practicing physical distancing, you are more socially engaged than ever though virtual platforms, and your humanness is emerging quite nicely. In fact, humanness is emerging across communities, cities, and the country, if not the world. We are seeing innovative ways to care for others, educate, and engage people. We are seeing rays of hope and glimmers of unity, where what matters is taking care of each other.

Custodial staff, grocers, big box and general retailers, and delivery services are but a few of those we may have taken for granted previously. Now, along with first responders and medical professionals, they are part of the critical path to survival. As families and individuals, we are adapting to new routines. It is not easy, and sadly there have been tragedies along the way, but we are resilient people. We will survive this event. That is what Americans do—overcome adversity, adapt, and prosper.

This crisis is putting tremendous demands on leaders. Prioritizing tasks and time can be overwhelming. Add in the complexities of a distributed workforce and the uncertainty of when and how we will pivot to a new normal, and you might feel like you are always firefighting; do not. Leaders can get too focused on the fires when optimally, they should also be looking to identify the new normal and find opportunities for growth, akin to gardening. Have you spent time with your people cultivating trust, empathy, and purpose?

Ask yourself if you are working IN your business where you are likely serving customers, solving problems, making decisions, and perhaps experiencing online fatigue. Or are you working ON your business to build or refine a strategy, develop or strengthen your organizational culture, and emphasizing personal and team development? Engaging your middle management is a practical way to help you raise your gaze, spend time in the garden working on your business, and prepare for the new normal. And above all, take care of your people. They are looking TO you for guidance and AT you as an example now more than ever.

Strengthen Your Core – Engage Your Middle Management.

If you want to take the pulse of your business, ask the middle managers–the heart and soul, the CORE of your company. Many say middle management is the hardest job in business. They straddle the strategic and tactical levels of an organization, oscillate their thinking to focus up and down, manage a finite set of resources, and are responsible for day-to-day operations more than any other manager or leader. More importantly, they are the critical link to employee recruiting and retention, and ultimately, mission or project success. Ask yourself the following:

  • How are you taking care of your middle management, your CORE?
  • Are your CORE’s thoughts and ideas aligned to the success of your business?
  • How are you engaging your CORE to leverage their experience?
  • Have you provided the resources for your CORE to do their job?

Here is how a chief executive officer (CEO) engaged his CORE in a real-world example.

When COVID-19 shut down schools and workplaces, network demand skyrocketed. I listened to a telecommunications CEO trying to contend with increasing demand, service performance to existing customers, and network capacity. Several ideas on how to manage the increasing demand started floating amongst the staff. Senior leaders were also bouncing off ideas with their teams. They found a solution, or so they thought. The problem was more significant than expected, and while the first solution was helpful, it was a band-aid.

The CEO scheduled a virtual meeting with his CORE, where he described the challenge. He listened to the back and forth between the participants as they reframed the problem and tested solutions. Time was of the essence. In one instance, the CORE made the CEO aware of the risks and implications of a solution that he would not have known had he not engaged his CORE. Again, time was critical. The session ended with a clearly understood problem statement and a three-phased solution with buy-in across the senior and middle management levels. The CORE could now coach their teams on execution.

This engagement was not an all-hands event; it was an interaction. Participants asked open-ended questions, which is a great way to get connected and focus on the real problem (or problems). While the problem was a firefighting activity, its outcome was gardening. Aside from finding a solution, the best effect, and enduring quality out of this CORE engagement was humanness. The leader was open, vulnerable, empathetic, and honest. As the meeting continued, others followed his example of humanness, and the trust meter reached new heights. The CEO strengthened his organizational culture and is continuing these sessions to get through this crisis and beyond. As their new normal takes shape, he will be able to blend the intentions of top leaders with the knowledge and experiences of frontline employees.

Spend time in your garden nurturing habits, values, and the new normal with the CORE of your organization. Remember, your CORE has the most direct and recent experience, and with their involvement comes ownership that can lead to influence across your teams. Leverage the trust, connection, and collaboration you have generated, and then let your CORE coach their teams.

The best leaders recognize that the best ideas do not always come from the top. Carving out time and space for you to engage your middle management is a low cost and secure investment with a high payoff. Get them involved in your gardening. Stay well, healthy, and safe!

Also check out part 1, part 3 and part 4.

If you could change one thing about your team’s productivity, what would it be?

So, what’s holding you back from making that change?

The twin crises of COVID-19 and the economic shutdown are hurting a lot of us — me and our team at Strategic Leaders Academy included. Postponed work, canceled conferences and speaking events, experiential learning events on hold; the list goes on.

There’s also the pain of not being able to visit elderly loved ones for fear of passing along a virus you do not know you have.

It breaks my heart that I cannot safely visit my father, who is fighting cancer so bravely. A loved one in our extended family recently passed away. Her family cannot give her a proper funeral.

A friend has had to put work on hold as his wife has fought COVID-19. She has beaten the virus; I am delighted to say! He’s loved spending so much time with his children — who also got other illnesses — and yet he’s put everything else on hold. All of this comes at a cost.

Everyone I know is experiencing some version of this and more.

What to do?

There’s opportunity in crisis if we dare to look for it. It’s tough amidst all the challenges to look for the possibilities.

That’s precisely why we are putting together this series of webinars: RAMP – The Major Crisis LifeCycle.

If you missed our first webinar, you could register to watch it right here.

Check out our recent articles, too. RAMP: The Major Crisis Lifecycle.

These webinars help you put an eye on the future. When you know what to look for, you find it more easily.

We want to help you identify the opportunities you need and the tools to find them.

Our first webinar identified five shifts from conventional thinking that can help you put some structure around these ambiguous opportunities:

  1. From Firefighting to Gardening: how to focus on growth (working on your business rather than in your business).
  2. From Fear to Trust: how to strengthen workplace relationships even as we telework and practice physical distancing
  3. From Compliance to Commitment: how we can boost commitment to success and our culture. You’ve probably found that micromanaging is hard nowadays. You can expect people’s tolerance for being micromanaged to diminish after all this.
  4. From Single to Multiple Decision-Making Approaches: how to organize your decisions, so you make quick ones when the timing and conditions are right, gain the insights and support from your team, and empower and delegate to people’s strengths.
  5. From Crystal Ball and Blueprints to Intelligence and Agility: how to turn uncertainty into calculated risk, so you ask the right questions and execute quickly and precisely. The teams with the best intelligence and agility will prosper in the post-crisis new normal.

If you missed our first webinar, you could register to watch it right here.

For the next five weeks, our webinars are going to drill down into these themes.

This week builds on the Firefighting to Gardening shift. We are calling it Double your Productivity: Organizing your Time and Team for Sustainable Success. This webinar will help you:

 * Gain time for growth by using these practical delegation tips;

 * Boost your results by reducing hyperactivity and creating your organizational rhythm;

 * Slash wasted time and energy by letting your leadership emerge from the middle; 

 * Improve innovation with three techniques that promote your creativity and focus;

 * Reset your trajectory by seizing this opportunity reform nagging issues that have been holding your team back.

RAMP Webinar #2: Double your Productivity is live at 12:30 am Eastern time on April 2.