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Nobody Asked Me

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An agency was encountering some internal communication challenges they felt only an outside firm could address. Some were process issues, some were performance issues, and some were structural issues. They brought us in to focus on the process issues. We performed assessments with focus groups and with one-on-one interviews. Over the course of two days, we met with the entire staff of about 50 people.

On the last day of our interviews, we met with a young woman, Tanya. In advance of meeting her, we learned she was very sharp but a bit reserved. As we talked to her and got her perspective, she began talking about the issues. She narrowed in on the training component. It was ineffective and it was inconsistent. People were not receiving the same training. Some people received formal training while others learned via on-the-job (OTJ) experiences.

As a result, team members pursued what they thought best. Some people took shortcuts getting the job done, which unfortunately left some gaps. Some people followed the recommended processes, which resulted in them taking more time to complete.

As we talked to Tanya, we soon realized she really, really understood what the problem was. She recommended we bring everyone together for the same training session. This would ensure everyone was on the same page, focused on the same goals in mind, and worked with the same processes.

Everything she told us fell within the solution criteria the agency was seeking. It fell within the budget scope. It fell within the planned timetable. And it fell within the resources available. In fact, it wasn’t anything super difficult to achieve. A little surprised the solution was right here, we asked Tanya, “This all makes a lot of sense. Why didn’t you share your ideas before?” She paused for a long moment and said, “I’ll be honest. No one has ever asked me.”

Tanya’s answer taught us a very important lesson. Here we had a person close to the problem, who fully understood the scope of the problem and how it was impacting individual and team performance. Most importantly, she had a solution on the tip of her tongue. The challenge for leaders and teams is to create an environment where everyone is engaged and is willing and able to give their best to help organizations achieve their mission.

If you are a leader….Are you engaging the right people? Do your people feel significant? Valued? Do they believe that their ideas are heard? That their opinions matter? If not you are missing important opportunities. If you want better conversations and better solutions, its important to ask better questions to the right people. The solutions you are seeking are there for you, you just have to ask for them.

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Beware the Ides of March

It was a crucial moment in Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Julius Caesar, when a soothsayer alerted Caesar, the Roman Leader, that his life was in imminent danger. “Beware the Ides of March!!!” he shouted in warning to Caesar as he passed him on a busy street. But Caesar not heeding the warning, continued on his path and was eventually killed by his colleagues in a heinous act of conspiracy. His death was a turning point in Roman history and today, the date of March 15th remains a significant date on the Roman calendar and the Ides of March serves as an annual symbol of caution.

As the first quarter of 2018 comes to an end, allow me to share with the you same words of advice that Julius Caesar received that day –  “Beware the Ides of March”.

Many of us raced into the new year with a list of new goals we planned to achieve this year. We took our time. Thought them out. And even mapped out our #GoalDiggerAlerts! Although our plans to execute were sincere, many people (self-included) find ourselves already off schedule.

I realized this a few weeks ago as I was leading one of my goal setting workshops. While helping a young lady refine her goals for 2018, I realized I wasn’t even on track to reach my own. Later that evening, I looked at my vision map and discovered that of the five goals I established for myself for 2018, I’ve only made progress on a few. Of course, I have “good reasons” why I’m off-track, but the bottom line is that I’m off track. No need to sugar coat it. I have to hold myself accountable.

At that moment, I realized that like Caesar’s life, my 2018 goals were in imminent danger. But, since I know about Caesar’s tragic ending, I’m going to take proactive action to make sure my goals stay alive.

So, here’s what I did. Anytime I find myself off schedule or missing milestones, I use this process to help me figure out how to get back on track:

Pause-Reflect-Choose.

  • Pause – Slow down. Life happens fast. Most of the time we are moving so fast and are inundated with so much data that we don’t take time to process. Take a moment. Catch your breath. Relax. Clear your mind. Give yourself an opportunity to think. To breath. Let your mind be still. This is one of the many reasons I enjoy exercise, meditation, prayer, and yoga because if I don’t intentionally take time to slow down. I probably won’t. My mind is always moving.
  • Reflect – After you’ve slowed yourself down, go back and revisit your goals. Think about your why. Why you set them. Were they important? Why are they worth your time? Do you really own the goals or did they just sound good in the moment when you created them? When you created your goals, did you factor in resources? Do you need to adjust your timelines? What options do you have to get back on track? Be honest with yourself.
  • Choose – Once you have paused to slow down. Reflected on your options. Now, it’s time to TAKE ACTION. Make a choice.  Do something. Be thoughtful about what you do, but be intentional about doing it. Dive in. You will never learn to swim by sitting at the edge of the pool.

Time is moving fast. March 15th is here. Some of our goals are in danger. Now is the time for a progress check. The days are getting longer and the seasons are changing. Soon it will be summer. Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner.  Don’t go into 2019 without making any progress on your 2018 goals. The time is now. Be proactive.

What you do for the next 30 days is critical. If you are off track on your goals it’s not too late to change course. Not too late to refocus. Not late to make a change. Now is the time for an honest conversation. Take the time you need. Get the clarity you need.  Take the action you need. Pause, reflect, and choose. Beware… the Ides of March. The warning has been given, the next move is yours.

The Dream is Free, But The Hustle Is Sold Separately

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Don’t get it confused! Being an entrepreneur is not all that its cracked up to be. Sure some days you will find yourself taking flights to beautiful cities, staying in nice hotels, and wining and dining clients at fancy restaurants. But there are plenty of days when you will be tired, grumpy, and frustrated. You have do things you don’t want to do and go places you don’t want to go. One week you’re at the bank cashing checks, the next week you have to find a coinstar as you wait for the checks come in. As an entrepreneur you have to kill what you eat. You sacrifice. You miss time with families, events and parties with friends. You lose sleep. Miss opportunities. And constantly ask yourself “am I doing the right thing?”. You will stumble, you will fall but make sure you get back up. If you believe in yourself, your vision, your plan and surround yourself with people who support you. You can reach your goals. And realize your dreams.

The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately. So hang in there. Keep hustling. And when it gets tough – remember your why. Why you do it. Why you sacrifice. Why you grind. Why you struggle. Why you hustle. Remember that a calm sea never made a skilled captain. And success doesn’t happen overnight. The process may be long, slow, and painful but you have to trust it. It will be all be worth it.

Whatever you are working for, whatever your hustle is – business, school, sports, careers or anything else. Don’t stop until you find success. Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Keep believing in yourself and in your dreams. But MOST importantly keep a stash of coins somewhere just in case you need them.

You can do it. I believe in you! I’ll meet you in the winner’s circle.

MP

 

A Powerful Lunchtime Reminder

Quick Story: This afternoon I was having lunch with my cousin at one of my favorite local restaurants. As we talked our waiter approached and asked to take our order. I remembered the waiter from many of my previous visits, but hadn’t seen him for some time so when I greeted him I joked about his absence. He replied that he was doing well but only recently beginning to recover from some serious health issues.

He shared that shortly before Christmas he had a sore throat. It lasted for a few weeks but instead of going to a doctor he self-diagnosed his ailment as strep-throat. To cure it he began taking a variety of “holistic” remedies. He drank a lot of juice, tea, hot-toddy. He sucked on lemons, added ginseng to his drinks and made a couple of the concoctions he’d read about on-line.

Having not gotten any better and not wanting to get his co-workers or customers sick he finally decided to go to the doctor. After running different tests the doctor informed him that the sore throat that he was experiencing wasn’t from strep at all but he was actually suffering from an early onset of diabetes.

The doctor also explained the remedies he thought he was taking to improve his condition had caused his blood sugar level to spike so high that he could’ve had a stroke or died.         (Note – he was trying to help his situation by doing something, but ended up only making things worse. That feels familiar.)

After a brief stay in the hospital he was released on Christmas Eve and is now on the road to getting healthy and learning to improve his diet and exercise regimen.

Moral of the Story: There is power in asking for help! No matter how smart we think we are or how hard we try,  we can’t do it all on our own. Let me let you in own a little secret – it’s ok to ask for help. It isn’t a sign of weakness rather it’s a sign of strength. Don’t let your pride or ego get in your way. And don’t the allure of appearing ok stop you from actually being ok.

Life may look great on social media, but the reality is we’re all trying to make it. And we can’t always do it alone. There are plenty of people in our lives, our network, and in our circle who are willing to help us. Don’t let fear or embarrassment of asking for help stop you from getting what you need.

Success is waiting for you so make sure you have people around you who can help you go get it! Just don’t be afraid to ask.

I’ll see you in the winner’s circle. Keep pushing.

Mike

How to Maximize Your Relationships in 2017

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As an entrepreneur, creating and maintaining good relationships is essential to my success.  Certainly, my ability to deliver high quality products and content is vital. Writing winning proposals is crucial. And thinking critically in order to solve complex problems is a necessity. But, what I’ve learned over the years is it has been my relationships with key people that has often led to opportunities for me to accomplish many of these things.

As I reflect on the past 12 months, the experiences I’ve shared, the opportunities I’ve had and my plans for the upcoming year,  I’m reminded of a conversation I recently had with a good friend.  He agreed that building new relationships is important for professional growth; however, he cautioned me not to “confuse your network with your personal circle, because a person’s network should always be bigger than their circle”. His words still resonate with me as I’m discovering that the key to feeling satisfied and fulfilled in life is effectively maintaining both your circle and your network.

Our network is an ecosystem of people  we are connected to either directly or through mutual relationships. Our network can be very valuable both personally and professionally by helping us to secure resources, get information, gain access or accomplish goals. But, not everyone in our network should be in our inner circle.

Our inner circle is tight-knit and reserved for the people closest to us. The people we love and trust. The ones we go to for advice and support. The ones who we share our special experiences, our precious possessions, and who we can rely on during our most vulnerable moments.  As we grow our circle may decrease in size but it should increase in value.

As the New Year approaches, I encourage you to add expanding your network and strengthening your circle to the list of goals you have for yourself. I’ve found doing so has resulted in opportunities and experiences that have been nothing short of life changing. Since relationships continue to be a key to success here are a few ways to get the most out of yours:

  • Be Curious – One of my favorite sayings is “if you want to have better conversations, ask better questions”. Be curious. Learn more about the people you meet, what makes them tick, what feel-good moments give them pleasure, and what challenges cause them pain. Learn about their background, their journey, and how they arrived at this place/event/situation or moment in time. It may feel weird at first, but you will get used to it. The more you know about someone, the easier it becomes to figure out how you can help them and how they may in turn help you.
  • Make Yourself Useful – Find ways to add value. Don’t be pushy or overbearing, but if you notice an opportunity to help somebody reach their goals, politely offer to help. By sharing your knowledge, experiences, ideas or resources that can assist with moving people closer to success you create good vibes that make people want to be a part of your network.
  • Be True to Your Word – If you say your going to do something, or say you can do something DO it. Period. There is no faster way to fall out of good graces than by being unreliable.
  • Be Consistent –The devil is in the details, but the fortune is in the follow-up. Following up is key! Don’t just initiate contact when you need something. Check-in with people. See how they are doing, ask about their progress, give them an update on yours. In a time when social media and technology is the default mode of communication, a good ol’ fashioned phone call or face-to-face meet up can go a long way.
  • Keep Your Circle Sharp –Our inner circle contains our most important relationships; therefore, it is important to help the people in our inner circle stay sharp. Iron sharpens iron, so while you’re out trying to save or take over the world, don’t forget to help the people who are closest to you. If you believe that like a chain your circle is only as strong as its weakest link, you will likely benefit from helping to strengthen the other links of your circle.

Remember, your network should always be bigger than your circle. I challenge you to expand the people in  your network and work to sharpen the people your circle. Doing so may pose more risks, but it will likely garner bigger rewards. A proverb  says “if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  If you want to go farther this year than you did in last year make sure relationships are a part of your journey. Make sure your network is working and expanding. And make sure you help your circle stay strong.

Cheers to the New Year. I’ll see you in the winner’s circle. Keep pushing.

MP

Communication, Delegation, and Teamwork Pt. 2

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In my previous post I described a training exercise that I led for a client yesterday. In the post I showed a picture that captured a team in the initial phases of becoming disengaged as the team got stuck trying to solve a problem.

This picture shows the final stages of that disengagement. At this point the ‘staff’ on the front line had almost completely checked out. We explain that this happens when leaders don’t fully engage their people. Don’t give them pertinent information. Don’t provide context or meaning about assignments, processes, roles, and responsibilities.  People get confused, they get frustrated, they bicker and ultimately become unproductive. Because they were unable to communicate verbally during this exercise they were to supposed to write notes to each other to help solve the problem. Unfortunately leaders weren’t engaging the staff, managers weren’t engaging the staff, so instead of problem solving their communication devolved into something a bit less useful.

While this was only an exercise this is what we see happening routinely in our clients’ organizations. Our goal is help leaders become more effective by helping them understand how to create an environment where people feel valued, are engaged and appreciated for doing good work. When people feel good about the work they are performing, good about the environment they are performing it in, and good about the people they are performing with, they usually perform better.

Because it is ultimately the staff who will be charged with transforming a leader’s vision into reality, it is in a leader’s best interest to help their people do good work. Deming once said the “the opportunity to do good work is a birth right”. If this is true then leaders responsibility is not only operational but also divine. If you are a leader and you aren’t helping your people do good work you are not only doing them a disservice, you are doing yourself a one as well. So lead, follow, or get out the way!

Communication, Delegation and Teamwork Pt.1

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Yesterday I delivered training for a group of managers and directors at a small government agency. During the training I facilitated a learning exercise that forced team members to work as a #team, communicate in writing, and use their leadership and delegation skills to solve a problem.

This isn’t a very difficult activity but it amazes me how quickly people begin to check out when they don’t reach a solution. The set-up is designed to mirror an organizational hierarchy. The senior leader is sitting at the top  and holds ALL of the information necessary to solve the problem. A manager is seated in the middle and holds some of the information needed to solve the problem. The back row is filled by ‘staff’ who have very little information, don’t know what to do with the information they have and have no way of knowing the goal of the activity or what success looks like.

As this activity unfolds it is interesting to notice the dynamics that play out among the team members. Information stops flowing, the middle managers gets overwhelmed, staff gets frustrated and the senior leader is out of the loop.

Employee engagement is a big buzz word in many organizations these days, and leaders have to create an environment where staff feels engaged, connected, and people are willing to give their best in order to help the team or organization reach its goals.

In part two of this post I’ll show how the “staff” on the front line of this exercise was impacted as their team worked hard to solve a problem but didn’t work together to solve it!

 

 

Peyton vs. Cam One Style Does Not Fit All

With just a few more hours left until the NFL kicks off a new season with a rematch of Super Bowl 50, let’s take a look back on what happened the last time these two teams met and two of the League’s best Quarterbacks and leaders squared off!

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With the buzz surrounding Cam’s post-game interview, Beyoncé’s halftime performance, and the best and worst commercials finally over, reviewing Super Bowl 50 from a different perspective provides a few good lessons on leadership. Observing the performance of Peyton Manning and Cam Newton I was reminded of the wide range of leadership styles that can influence a team’s success. I was also reminded that the best teams have leaders who are able to adjust their styles to adapt to their environment and their teams’ needs at the time.

Reflecting on the game I can’t remember a Super Bowl between two opposing quarterbacks who contrasted more in both substance and style than Cam Newton and Peyton Manning. At one end of the field was Cam Newton, a charismatic leader who had been a lightning rod for controversy all season. Scrutinized for his attitude, his dancing (dab on ’em!), his choices of clothing and his off-the field relationships Cam garnered an enormous amount of attention each week. Although his athletic, play-making abilities were obvious, his leadership abilities were decried by most analysts and critics across the sport.

At the other end was Peyton Manning a 5-time NFL MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, and a 14-time Pro Bowl selection. Hailed as one of greatest quarterbacks of all time Manning was a celebrated leader. He was a proven winner. For many Manning was a model of how a quarterback should carry himself both on and off the field. Even his demanding style of leadership which earned him the nickname ‘The Sheriff’- was praised by many.

The 2015-2016 season was memorable for both quarterbacks. Hampered by multiple injuries Manning suffered through the worst statistical season of his career. He played in only 9 games and many questioned whether he should be the starting quarterback as his team advanced into the playoffs. While Manning struggled, Newton delivered his best season ever. The eventual league MVP, he combined his physical talent with his charismatic leadership style to orchestrate one of greatest seasons for a team and a quarterback in NFL history.

Two quarterbacks two different styles of leadership. Both leading their teams in the Super Bowl. That’s why I love sports! Regardless of the environment, the type of competition or the industry here are some lessons about leadership we can take from Peyton and Cam that can help each of us during our leadership journey.

  • Be aware of your preferred style – Like Cam and Peyton each of us of has a “default” style. That is the style of leadership that we have relied on in the past, one that we are comfortable with and that has worked for us previously. While this style may have worked in the past, not every situation is the same. In different ways throughout the season Peyton and Cam had to adjust. Adjusting your style is part of what makes a good leader. It is important that your style is appropriate for the people around you and the situation. Remember the saying “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. Analyze the situation and adjust your leadership appropriately.
  •  Get feedback on your leadership – Being in the public eye on a national stage the two quarterbacks never had to search too long or hard to get feedback. Feedback is critical to your leadership effectiveness. While you may not agree with what you hear or read, at least be open to it. The people around you have a perspective that you do not have and it may helpful to increase your awareness by hearing from them and deciding if you need to adjust.
  • Surround yourself with the right people – The success of your leadership depends on people around you who complement your style and help you execute your vision. Both Peyton and Cam were surrounded by teammates, coaches, assistants, and managers who were available to help improve the performance of the individuals and the team. Make sure that your leadership style leaves enough space for people to support you and challenge you. While you may not like or agree with everyone make sure that they feel comfortable giving input and sharing their points of view. Remember the goal is to win so find people who can help you!

Leadership will always be a challenge. Relying on a style that has made you successful in the past may not be enough to create success in the future. Take stock of your leadership style. Decide whether it is helping or hurting our ability to reach your goals. Recognize that leadership intent does not equal leadership impact. Take time to understand the stand difference.

Looking at the leadership of Cam Newton and Peyton Manning reminds us that leaders have a wide range of styles that can lead to success. If you are willing to take an honest assessment of your style, your impact and your environment to you may discover new opportunities for improvement. And improvement is what leads to success. Try to improve your leadership every day. Although incremental improvements might not be enough get you to the Super Bowl, at least they can help you get to the playoffs. And that’s not a bad place to start. Let the games begin!!!

Cheers,
MP

 

Dealing with The In-Between Stages of Change

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a hot Saturday afternoon in southern Virginia, my sophomore year of college was just kicking off and I was sitting in my car staring at the rearview mirror in disbelief. I’d just left the barbershop and much to my dismay the barber had completely butchered my haircut. My lines were uneven, my fade was too high, and I didn’t look or feel good about walking on campus later that day. At that moment I decided it was time for a change.  It was 1997, Allen Iverson and Latrell Sprewell were ripping up the NBA, and a couple guys from Atlanta taught me that it was kind of cool to be an Outkast.  I made up my mind. I was going to grow my hair out and get cornrows.

It was a curious decision. I’d never grown my hair out  long before, and I was pretty sure that when I returned home for Christmas break my parents would be less than thrilled about my new look. I was certain I’d have to deal with some stern lectures,  but at least I wouldn’t have to deal with any more bad haircuts!

Two months into the semester I felt good about my decision. My hair was growing. I was saving money as I didn’t have to pay to get a cut every week, but most importantly some of my “co-ed” classmates had begun to notice my curls that were growing. After about 3 months I began to get to frustrated. My hair was becoming long and unmanageable. It was too long to try to brush or style, but not long enough to put into cornrows. After talking to a few friends I discovered that I’d reached the dreaded “in-between” stage.

Anybody who has ever attempted to grow their hair is familiar with the in-between stage. That is the point when your hair is most difficult. During this stage it is the hardest to manage, and it may be the most “unattractive” to look at. A lot of times the in-between stage is when people give up on the new look they were seeking to achieve.

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot people and groups of people who are frustrated with the in-between stages of change in this country.  Current events have created an intense desire for change. The energy to do something different to make a difference is strong. And now more than time in my life I’ve seen people all across the country willing to invest their time, energy and other resources in order to make a positive change in their communities. Economically. Legally. Politically. Socially. But many of us are frustrated because we feel like change isn’t happening fast enough.

I can appreciate the frustration. When I want change and its taking too long I get upset. I get tired. I get fed up. I want it now! Not soon. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, or next year. I want it NOW! Unfortunately most change doesn’t happen overnight. We have to deal with the in-between stage. The stage where we don’t look good. We don’t feel good. Nothing seems to work, and giving up feels easier then pushing through. But those are the times when it is MOST important for us to persevere.  If we are ever going to achieve the goals that we desire we have to stick with it. We have to get through the in-between stage.

Giving up is easy. Pushing through is the hard part. But pushing through is where the magic happens. Pushing through is what makes us stronger. There is strength in the struggle. There is joy during the journey. The planning is more important than the plan.

A good friend recently reminded me of the struggle that people of Montgomery Alabama endured during the 1950’s Bus Boycotts. It took 381 days to achieve change. It took a lot of people, with tired feet, and legs. It took a lot of talking, a lot of thinking, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of sweat, a lot of disappointments, and a lot of hard work – until one day something happened. And laws were changed. But it didn’t happen overnight.

So remember, if you are change agent – in your home, your community, your city, your job or wherever else you spend your time don’t give up at the in-between stage. Keep pushing. It takes two to tango, but only one to start the music. It’s easy to start to music, but much harder to keep it going. Take on the challenge to make sure the music of change never stops! Never stop singing. Never stop dancing. Never stop growing. Have faith in and trust the process because it will all be worth it. Never let anyone or anything stop you from putting in the work to achieve your goals. Not even a bad barber or a bad haircut. Keep pushing.

Public Workshop: Mapping Your Goals to Realities

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If you haven’t taken the opportunity to participate in a vision mapping & planning session with me – here’s your chance. I’ll be doing a FREE session on Wednesday, June 1st in Washington, DC with Knowledge Commons DC. <—- Click here for more details.

Remember the vision mapping and planning process helps you lay a strong foundation for achieving your goals, and can provide the momentum you need to create change. If you prefer a one-on-one session feel free to contact me directly,  if not I look forward to seeing you next month!

http://knowledgecommonsdc.org/classes/mapping-your-goals-realities/

Cheers!

-MP