Finding time for strategy

What would you think if you walked by a colleague’s office and witnessed the scene depicted in the photo at left? Perhaps a snide comment popped into your head just now such as “must be nice to have all that extra time”.

The truth is, some of the most valuable investments we can make in our business involve decluttering the desk, clearing the mind, and giving ourselves time to think.

As much as we all might agree with that statement, the truth is we barely have time to get our daily tactical work done – never mind make time for strategic thinking.  How are we going to add quality thinking and strategic planning into our calendars?

Tips to Find Time for Strategy

  • David Allen suggests we create a single, reliable place where we store all our deliverables and deadlines (Outlook, a file folder, a drawer) and assign a doable next action to each one.   This will help us let go of the thousand details swirling around in our minds so that we can devote some clear thinking to more important matters.
  • Sit somewhere new.  Take a pad of paper to the coffee shop and let your mind wander through a gnarly problem.  Don’t answer your phone.  Don’t check email.  Doodle if you’re creative.  Sometimes revelations will arrive on the page before you even know what’s happening.
  • Take advantage of downtime during the day like sitting in the car wash or waiting for an appointment or a teleconference to start to review your main objectives.  See how many new ideas you can come up with in 2 minutes that will bring you one step closer to achieving your goals.
  • Most importantly, always know what your overall objectives are.  Write them down.  Mine are in an Outlook note that I can view and edit from my Blackberry.


Busyness or business?

A good friend recently asked “What are you doing to stretch yourself these days?” My immediate reaction was to think of the many evenings and weekends spent in the office to stay ahead of things while managing a large project. But that’s not stretching into the future to create growth. That’s just barely keeping up.

Really truly taking care of business is knowing what our goals are and aligning daily activities to those goals.  It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to go against the grain of busyness and get down to what matters.   We might be great at telling colleagues we don’t have time to chat but may falter when it comes to controlling our own time wasting habits.

Try writing out the 3 most important things to get done this week.  Not things that other people are clamoring for… these should be small next steps that will bring you closer to the achievement of your most important goals.  Throughout the day ask yourself if what you’re doing right now is pulling you toward your goal or keeping you from attaining it.

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Leading From Behind

Updated January 2013

There’s a leadership style that produces sustainable high performance and increased job satisfaction.  It’s a more evolved management style called leading from behind.  Jim Collins uses the term ‘Level 5 Leadership’ as a way to describe one of the key differentiators found among the best companies in his book Good to Great.  He describes the Level 5 Executive as one who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”

From Nelson Mandela:  “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

What leading from behind looks like

  • We seek to bring out the best in others and enjoy their success from the sidelines.  The follower takes center stage and the leader is part of the applauding crowd.
  • We remove barriers and then step back and let others’ achievements spur them on toward continued success.
  • We create an environment of sustainable high performance that doesn’t stop when the leader steps away because the results are organic and real.

Leading from behind unleashes and magnifies the potential of the team.

It has to be OK to make mistakes

If we’re not letting our people make mistakes, we’re not leading from behind.  It’s not that mistakes are the best way to learn.  The problem with trying to prevent mistakes is that it puts us in a position of hovering and over-managing.  That kind of negative management behaviour teaches people that they have less responsibility and accountability than you might like — and it is certainly not conducive to personal growth or career satisfaction.

Leading from behind is energizing for everyone involved.

Leading from behind doesn’t mean you don’t set expectations

One of the worst management expressions I’ve ever heard – and unfortunately continue to hear – is: “I hire great people and get out of the way.” Nice platitude. Makes the leader sound like anyone would be dying to work for him or her. If that expression had any truth in it at all, we wouldn’t need managers. We’d just hire great people, show them their new workstation, and be on our merry way.

When done well, leading from behind sets the pace required to achieve objectives within the time allotted — all while giving credit to those front-line workers who keep our clients coming back for more.


The Power of Uncertainty

“Everything you or I want lies outside our comfort zones. Meaning, the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty that you can handle. ” - Tony Robbins

Do just one thing out of the ordinary today.  Take an alternate route to the store, part your hair on the other side, say no to someone.  We can’t get different results unless we’re willing to shake things up a little.

Strengthening Teams

 Businesses need teams that are ready to roll up their sleeves and perform well together.   It’s not a matter of getting along – if we’re hiring people with emotional maturity, this should never be an issue.  It’s a matter of understanding the value each member brings to the group and then applying individual strengths to group goals.  It’s about leveraging cohesiveness and alignment to create something even better than we could make happen on our own.  It’s about becoming a force to contend with by virtue of collaboration and group thinking.  Most importantly, it’s about treating the team as an organic, ever-changing, morphing entity that requires feeding and attention.

Non-traditional Career Moves

When is the best time to redesign your career path?  Is it too late to change direction?  What can I expect if I switch industries?

In this article, From a Step Back, a Leap Forward, the New York Times presents career path observations and ideas. Even if you’re not contemplating a move, it’s good food for thought.

 

What are you tolerating?

Tolerations are those little irritating nuisances that crop up throughout the day.  They don’t seem worthy of our attention so we just keep working around them.  They’re small – like the filing cabinet drawer that is so tightly packed we avoid simple filing tasks for fear of creating hangnails. Or the printer that needs a reboot after every tenth print job.

Taken in isolation it may not seem worth our time to deal with these tiny details – but allowing them to remain has a negative and cumulative effect. They add unnecessary frustration to the day and they reduce our overall effectiveness.  But the biggest reason to dedicate time to removing tolerations is the sense of power that ensues. 

Over the course of a day make a list of all the little irritations that impact your productivity and sense of accomplishment.  Then pick just one or two to eliminate.  Some examples:

  • clutter
  • distractions
  • things that don’t work properly
  • a poor filing system
  • over commiting
  • poorly aligned drawers
  • insufficient lighting
  • running out of paper
  • missing phone numbers

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Managing Communications

I love email and I’m a fast typist. This was bad news for people in my network — before I clued in. If you use Outlook, I’ve got a tip that will reduce email messages, keep your communications moving forward quickly and reduce meeting time.

Outlook contains a little-used feature called the task list. What makes this so useful is the ability to categorize tasks into user defined buckets. To cut down on email messages I created a category called “agenda” and filed one task for each of my direct reports in this category. When any of them call me or when we are together, I simply call up the task on my laptop or Blackberry and we simply go through all my items. This feature syncs beautifully on Blackberries. Just set your filter to the appropriate category and they will be easy to find.