But what do you “Want” to Do?

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It seemed like a simple question at first, but as I answered, it became clear that the answer is complicated if we have not spent the time to think about it.

So I spent some time thinking about it recently.

Assume for this exercise that the question is aimed higher than just answering that you want a job or title, like “I want to be a CIO.”  Think about it more in the spirit of answering what you are all about—the package an employer receives when they hire you.  Not the titles they are filling or a comparison between size of budgets and number of employees they have, and your experience levels within each of those those specific things.

Not so easy, is it?

In my case, many themes circled around my head as I contemplated the answer.  Here are some of them:

  • I want to lead in a collaborative, engaging, and inspiring way where everyone is proud of the work of the team
  • I want to make a meaningful difference in the lives (work and outside) of the people I work with
  • I want the impact my teams deliver to be significant, measurable, and not just “talk”
  • I want to help people and organizations change the way they work and lead to stay relevant
  • I want the team to win, and to know when we win, or what we need to do to win
  • I want my team and organization to have my back, and I to have theirs

The challenge becomes how to succinctly summarize what you want.  Forcing yourself to speak and write about it simply is never easy.  And because of that, we take the easy way out and just talk about the jobs and titles we want.

So here it goes…

I want the opportunity to make a difference by leading, engaging, and inspiring others to be proud of their work, feel valued and trusted, and deliver meaningful and measureable outcomes of value for the organization, the team, and themselves.

With pride and trust come outcomes, yet both are developed over time through challenging conversations, debates, and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones to listen to unique perspectives.  This can only come if we have the same shared and simplified goals.  I want those too.

That’s what I want to do.

So, what do you want to do?

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My Secret to Strategy Execution

At one point early in my career, a re-org put workers into two camps.  You were either in the “strategic” camp, or you were put into the “non-strategic” camp.  I remember feeling like kind of a loser when my name appeared on the non-strategic camp list.  Like the right-fielder of the workplace.

So the strategic camp (shortstops) talked about what we “should do”.  Here were our problems, and here’s where we need to go, they said.

That was cool, but as time went on, I found myself asking (from right field) “hey, are we winning the game?”  It was hard for me to actually know, because we didn’t have a way to measure if the strategy was actually working.

And then it hit me.  I had uncovered my own secret to strategy execution:

They are not separate camps–they are one and the same.

Let me explain.

Strategy does you no good if it is not executed.  When the strategy “setters” don’t actually play the roles of the strategy “executors”, it’s a recipe for, well, not getting a whole lot accomplished.

The biggest miss that I see is not having an effective measurement system or control plan for the execution of your strategy.  Without it, pure strategy setters are more comfortable, because we are not really held accountable to anything that can be measured.  But, it can drive strategy executors crazy because we don’t know what we need to do to win.

I want to win; therefore, I need to know what winning looks like (not just feels like).  In most other things, like sports, it’s a score.  So why not at work?  Why at work does one team think we are winning, while another can feel that we’re not?  The answer is that it is because you do not have a shared measurement system.

But with an effective measurement system, progress (good or bad) can be regularly monitored and because of that, course corrections can be made.  It’s even better if you can ground yourself around one be-all-end-all measure, to rally everyone around the “one thing” that will happen upon the successful execution of your strategy.  This can also help you filter out good ideas from mediocre ones by asking how implementing that idea would impact that main measure.  .  The simplicity of focus on one goal is liberating.  You feel energized along the way, dying to see the numbers and progress when you get into work on Monday morning.  People who doubted you along the way start to believe, and in the end you’ve executed your strategy.

Teams also get too enamored with what they should measure instead of what they can measure.  Too much time spent on speculating about what you should measure will prevent you from even starting to measure what you can measure.

Remember, a Strategy leads to an outcome.  An outcome requires a measurement system.  A measurement system helps you see if you are making the right kind of impact.  That’s the secret–they are all one in the same, not separate camps.  Then, rinse and repeat.

Toughness

Two major events intersected for me at the same time recently, causing me to think about both in context of each other.  The first was an anniversary of mine; the second was a large corporate layoff close to me.  Both required toughness.

Exactly 17 years ago, I had been a first time father for two months and found myself in a very scary medical situation.  I had experienced migraine-like symptoms for the first time in my life, and just to make sure it was nothing, I had a CT scan.  I knew immediately something was wrong when the Doctor came back after the test more quickly than I was expecting.

“You have an AVM on your brain,” he stated to me.

I inquired, “Will I be OK?”

“They tend to bleed,” he replied in a matter-of-fact way.  “We must take care of it immediately.”

I can still hear those words exactly as he said them.

A whirlwind of appointments and consults later, I found myself getting radiation treatment, called Stereotactic Radiosurgery.  A halo was screwed into my skull, and I went through with it.  The aftermath was more difficult than the actual procedure.  With brain swelling comes steroids and follow-up appointments.  About five years later, I was given the all clear.  It had worked.  I guess that’s toughness.

Recently, I wrote about A Second Chance.  We all have our unique stories, and I keep coming back to 2 themes: perspective and toughness.

We are reminded by large events in our lives on the anniversary of those events.  I’ve written that our current perspective is just one of many that we will have on a topic over time.

Last week, no less than a hundred people reached out wondering if I was part of a company layoff.  I was not.  It had been the 15th layoff in my career that I had survived.  1,700 people were let go.  Losing or keeping your job in the short-term will force you to have a perspective, and will require some toughness.

Two events coming together at the same time.

For those that lost their job, I felt bad.  But I wondered why I felt more peace leading up to the event than I’d had the 14 earlier times.

My only explanation of this feeling of peace is I can’t remember one person over my entire career that languished for years after being laid off.  In fact, the opposite is almost always true.  As time goes on, you generally hear about the success stories, how someone found something new, or actually had the time to pursue their passion that had been seemingly put on hold while they held their old job.  We can have things happen to us, or we can make things happen for us.  Whether it’s a second chance or not is in the eye of the beholder.   As Jay Bilas says in his book, Toughness, “There is nothing more powerful, motivating and inspiring than having people in your life truly believe in you.”  Those 100 people that checked on me believe in me—thank you for giving me that peace.

Blog: Have We Lost Our Ability to Wonder?

“Ohio,” my father said out loud in the middle of Sunday church.

Puzzled, I looked at him, and he just smiled back.  The biggest smile I’ve seen from him in a while.  I must admit, I wondered for a second if he was losing it.  I tilted my head, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on.

Later that day, he was hanging out with my family.  Someone had posed a question about what year an athlete had played on a local team.  One of my children, seemingly on auto-pilot, quickly looked up the answer on his device and blurted out the answer, like a robot reading from a script.

“Don’t kids have any sense of wonderment anymore?” my Dad asked.  “No, not really,” I responded matter-of-factly.

Dad’s right.  Whatever ability we’ve ever had to truly ponder and think about something, to rack our brains for the answer, seems gone today.  Vanished, like hand writing a letter to someone.  We’ve all been out with friends to have “that guy” in the group who is always on his phone looking up answers to questions that are posed.  Our ability to actually dialog on topics like this seems to be fading.

I suppose one could argue whether or not there are any unintended consequences for this, but I admit I worry that the value mental problem solving, and the sweat equity involved to do so, is missing from our youth today.  I remember thinking about work problems for days, only to solve them days later in a moment of silence.  I felt happiness from that, figuring out something on my own, giving it time, making by brain work for it.

Today, if kids don’t know the answer to something, they just look up the answer.  Done.  Move on to a new topic.  No debates, bets, or dialog.  Like it’s a waste of time to actually sit and think about something.

That night, I asked Dad why he said the word “Ohio” out loud during mass that morning.  He said that days before, his trivia calendar asked to name the three states that were four-letter words.  He immediately recalled Iowa and Utah, but couldn’t remember the third one.

Days later, it came to him: Ohio.  And, with it, a smile.  He had figured it out on his own, at his pace.  Thanks Dad!

A Second Chance

Four years ago today, January 15, 2011, I was driving to a basketball tournament in Rice Lake, MN early in the morning, as I’ve done dozens of times.  I was giving a ride to my friend Michelle, her son Chris, and my son Will.  I was driving my 1998 Honda Accord, and the boys were sleeping in the back.  We started out about 6:30 in the morning, and it was snowing pretty hard.  For some reason, our directions took us on a path which was a bit remote, but we made it through until we reached a major highway, which was in much better condition.  As I turned Eastbound on Highway 8, I remember a sense of relief to that point.

Highway 8 is a two lane highway, and Michelle and I were making small talk, probably about our shared relief to no longer be on the back roads.  I remember being in mid-sentence when I heard the first of two loud thuds in succession.  The second thud was something slamming into my car head-on, driving us into the ditch to the right.  At that point, much of it became a blur, but airbags, glass and panic ensued.  I quickly looked around the car, both boys returning with eyes wide in shock.  I yelled, “is everyone OK?” and they nodded.  Like the cliché, I had no idea what had hit us.  I instructed everyone to get out of the car.  Michelle, who is a registered nurse, quickly noticed that my arm was bleeding.  “It’s gotta be broken Omar,” she said.  I winced and tried to pry my door open to get out.

I looked out my broken window and a truck was stopped on the road, and the driver was trying to talk to me.  Soon, all I can remember is getting out of my car, crossing the road, and seeing emergency vehicle after emergency vehicle racing down the road.  All the focus was on whatever had hit me.

Michelle and Chris were separated from me and Will, and in an ambulance someone was taking care of me.  My son just sat there, unable to even speak.  I finally remember a helicopter landing in the field where the other vehicle was in addition to fire trucks, police cars, and many people.

We traveled by ambulance to Amery, WI. where I learned that the driver of the pick-up truck that had crossed the center lane and hit me was killed.  I was beaten up, bloodied, and stitched up, and clearly in shock.

But we walked away.  He didn’t.

It’s taken awhile to get my thoughts around the enormity of this accident.  Both boys are thriving young high school Juniors.  The police said that because they were sleeping, the impact was less, similar to why a drunk driver sometimes inexplicably escapes injury in a crash.

When you walk away from something like this, you can’t help but think you got a second chance.   I got a second chance.

So what have I done with it?

Honestly, not enough.  I wish that I’ve done more.  I wish I had some inspirational change or comeback story to share with you.  I’m humbled that I don’t.

But re-living a major events is healthy.  It gives you a reminder and perspective about the bigger picture.  It makes me want to thank everyone that is a part of my life, who has supported and believed in me.  Even the modest number of followers to this blog.  You don’t know how important it is to me that you read, and care about, things that I have to say. And I hope in some small way its added value. Today, for me, is a day of reflection, and a day to now look forward.  With this humble reminder of what happened on January 15, 2011, it’s time to do something with that second chance.

I Don’t Know

Those three words instill fear with some people. Part of a leader’s job is to ask questions, sometimes difficult questions. I think we have to be conscious of how we are asking the questions, but I wonder why people don’t just say “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer.
Many people feel that talking their way through an answer, even if they don’t know the answer, is better than just saying they don’t know the answer.
I disagree. I believe it’s much better, and not a sign of weakness, to just say you don’t know.
I remember my Mom telling me that you don’t have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth. I think Mom was onto something.

We often are coached to be confident. I would argue that confident people can say they don’t know the answer to something. When faced with this situation, ask yourself “why” you would be inclined to “wing it” instead of just saying it. Then keep asking “why?”

Why #1: Why won’t you just say you don’t know?
Answer 1: I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid
Why #2: Why are you afraid that you will look stupid?
Answer 2: Because I think my Boss thinks I should know the answer
Why #3: Why do you think your Boss thinks you should know the answer?
Answer 3: I don’t know.

Bingo. In this example, the core issue might be expectations between you and your Boss. Have a discussion with your Boss about expectations, and level of detail you should have in your role given your scope. Likely this conversation will be enlightening in that your assumptions of what your Boss expects do not actually match what your Boss expects. Having this conversation saves you from losing credibility when you try to “wing it” but inevitably admit to not having a clue.

If we were all much better about being open and honest about this type of thing, then we can be liberated, and not fearful, when responding to a question for which we do not know the answer.

“I don’t know, but I can find out.”

Your 2015 Leadership Wake-Up Call

As we think about how we make authentic leadership impressions  with each other, and the teams we lead, many people I talk to have used the same tools throughout their successful career.  Recently, I was talking to a great leader, my friend John (it’s actually his real name) and was asking him questions about how he goes about connecting with his broader team as President of his company.  John very quickly pointed to some good, solid tools out of his leadership tool belt:

  • Manage by walking around. John makes it a point to know each person’s name, and enjoys the personal connection realized by physically walking the floor
  • Open door policy. He makes it a point of setting aside certain hours where employees can come into his physical office and talk 1:1

As John’s workforce makeup changes from the Baby Boomer now to the Millennial of tomorrow, will those legacy tools be enough?  Will the new workforce be able to relate to John?  In short, can John stay relevant as a leader if he doesn’t modernize his tool kit?

In my role as a reverse mentor, I’ve helped executives like John realized that the tools of yesterday, while valuable, might not scale and be relevant to the workforce of the future.  By now you should have a solid understanding that the workforce of tomorrow has different needs from leadership than the workforce of yesterday.  As a result, leaders must evolve their tools to stay relevant.  That’s the wake-up call.

How to “wake-up” in 2015:

  • Keep what works, with a twist. Ask your team while walking around or during your open door 1:1 meetings about this and what they would suggest you try.
  • Commit to one new and different way to work. Talk about what you are going to try and do differently, and ask for feedback.  For example, “I’m going to start a monthly blog to share with the team.  Let me know what you think and what others are saying about it.”
  • Ask for feedback via a communications survey and personally read all of the responses. This will get you tuned into whether or not your workforce needs are changing in respect to leadership connections.

Recently, I read a blog authored by an executive I have worked with in the past.  He had even tweeted the link to it!  A couple years ago, blogging and tweeting were nowhere in this leader’s vocabulary.  Seeing that leaders are capable of evolving how they engage and inspire their teams was very humbling to me.

He “gets it”.  Do you?