Steven's Own Words

How To Have A Better Meeting

How To Have A Better Meeting

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash Last week, we discussed this era’s overreliance on Zoom, and when we need to step away from the video call — or from a meeting altogether. It’s just not always necessary! Remember: a meeting exists for one reason only: to solve a problem that can’t be solved any other way. Passing along information doesn’t require a meeting; it can be accomplished with a report. Having a discussion or solving a problem is what meetings are for. Most meetings are a waste of time — and this is coming from someone who goes to meetings for a living. But for the times you really, truly do need a meeting, how can you make sure it’s as effective as possible? How can you grow as a team to make your meetings powerful and efficient? I always recommend a process of growth. Every meeting you have, take time to review and see how you could have done it better. A great question for the end of a meeting (when they don’t run over and need to end abruptly) is how well did the meeting go, on a scale of 1-10? Go around the room. Everyone answers. No debate, just a number. After the team answers that, then ask: what could make that number a 10? Again, everyone answers. The whole process takes a minute or two. No debate. Most people view most meetings as a waste of time; this simple process asks people not just to quantify the value, but to help improve it to a 10. The questions help the team to look inward and see what they could do differently, and provide a space for...
Video Conferencing and When to Avoid It

Video Conferencing and When to Avoid It

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash Personally, I avoid video conferencing whenever I can. My wife does Zoom calls all day and is exhausted from it. I do one or two a week and hate them. Zoom has replaced meetings, but these digital replacements are not the same as meeting in the boardroom. You feel like you have to constantly look at your screen, maybe just making sure you don’t look weird. When you are looking at the faces on the screen you aren’t looking at the camera, so you don’t have eye contact. It becomes a false image of truth. It keeps people from really being themselves because they are unable to make quality eye contact and establish that real connection. As The Gambler taught us, “Know when to hold’em, know when to fold‘em.” Sometimes you need a Zoom call, but most of the time you probably don’t. An old school phone conference call, Slack message, chat, email, or text may be more appropriate; there are so many methods to communicate these days, but for some reason we’ve depended too much on Zoom in this season of COVID. Part of this is because we want to see peoples’ faces; we want to read their expressions, because we think we’ll connect more from it. Often that’s true, but with Zoom? It’s often not. First of all, there is a mistaken perception that we are gifted at reading expressions. We all think we’re better than we actually are! Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book about how bad we are at reading other people’s faces, titled Talking with Strangers. The book explains that we have a way of reading...

Letting Go Of Knowing What’s Next

One of the hardest things a leader faces is giving themselves permission to actually feel, to actually be sad, to actually not know what they are doing. Right now, that means recognizing that with the pandemic and everything going on, no one can pretend to understand or know what’s coming next. We are afraid, we are sad, we are confused, we are lost in so many ways. Putting on a face and pretending we’re good when we’re really not — you aren’t doing yourself or your team any favors by pretending you are. Things are bad. Nothing is normal in this season. We think we are supposed to know how to handle these sorts of situations as leaders, but we don’t — because this is a new experience. Your team knows you are as confused as they are. You need to be honest with your employees about where you’re at. It’s a funny thing — as leaders, we can miss so much opportunity. There’s a radio commercial for Comcast Business, where they say, “More than bouncing back we want to help you bounce forward.” We are so focused on getting back to normal or business as usual, hoping that this pandemic will just end and everyone will go back to work. To think our job as leaders is to maintain sanity, or the status quo, or “normal,” is incredibly dangerous. We are headed toward an unknown season. For our teams, we need to realize that when we can sit in those hard places, in the confused, in the sadness, in the new, we open ourselves up to more and better health and connection. If I...
Taking a Moment to Review Your Relationships

Taking a Moment to Review Your Relationships

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash “Books are meant to be read from beginning to end, but they are best understood from end to beginning.” – from the 2016 film Mr. Church.  Like books, situations can be better understood when looking at them in reverse. Some divisions or organizations are masterful at debriefing important events with their teams to dissect the learning and improve the processes and results; most, however, are not. Most are afraid to have an honest critique for fear of being wrong, or “held accountable” in a negative way. Critiques are taken personally and protectionism kicks in creating defensiveness. What if more teams were able to have constructive, empowering, and engaging assessments of their successes and failures, courageously asking what worked, what didn’t work, and what did they not do that they could have to have helped? Imagine taking time to learn from their mistakes, to better work together as a team during ordinary moments as well as high-stress moments. This kind of learning can only be done in reverse. We can only assess high-stress situations with our team when we go back and look from the end back to the beginning and seek to understand our own failings and work to get better. This sort of review works for all teams in all kinds of industries from firefighters and SWAT teams to production and manufacturing floors to sales organizations, health providers, significant others, and families. It is an act of love to look upon your relationships, personal, professional, or otherwise, and make sure you have tended it well. Such love is worth bestowing upon anyone you engage with on a...
A New Lens for Foundational Leadership

A New Lens for Foundational Leadership

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash Beware of the way things have always been done, they can hide a great deal of creativity. Working with law enforcement I was enthralled when a civilian who works for a Sheriff’s Office referred to the deputy level of the organization as “The foundation” rather than the traditional “subordinate” nomenclature often used to describe this entry-level. I really fell in love with that. It gives a whole new meaning to foundational leadership. This group of employees, those on the front lines, or in other industries, those that work on the factory floor, that clean the bathrooms, that fix the computers, that keep the doors open — they are the foundation of the company, they are the ones who actually make the organization run. Upper management may be directing them, but those on the ground are actually doing the grunt work. Doesn’t it change the imagery, emotion, feeling around leadership, when we think about the people who are at the bottom of your organization as your foundation? It matters to have a strong foundation – in a house or in an organization. No matter what you are leading, too many leaders look at that level of the organization as expendable. They make the lowest pay, they are the highest numbers, they often have the highest turnover and we tend to think of their skills as lower level and replaceable. But Foundational? And yet they absolutely are the foundation. They are likely the most public-facing and doing most of the hands-on work. And the only way to build that foundation is to open yourself up to trust...

When Being “Right” Can be Quite Wrong

There is a great scene in the show Friends where Phoebe and Ross are having an argument about evolution. Ross spends most of the episode attempting to convince Phoebe that Evolution is true. By the end, exasperated by his incessant demand that he be right and convince her, standing over 200 million-year-old fossils, Phoebe asks if Ross could have the slightest sliver of doubt about the theory of evolution, considering that at one time the brightest minds in the world thought the earth was flat, and until they burst it open fifty-sum years ago they thought the atom was the smallest particle, so is he really saying there isn’t the tiniest, itsy bitsy weeniest chance they could be wrong about this? Reluctantly, Ross agrees there might be a small, tiny teeny chance that he’s wrong. Phoebe then destroys him in our greatest fear as leaders – she humiliates him. She gasps, claiming she can no longer respect Ross for letting her undermine his whole perspective: “Before I didn’t agree with you, but at least I respected you!” Beaten & humiliated, Ross grabs his fossils and exits from the room embarrassed. Having completely forgotten the scientific method and the goals behind scientific inquiry, he allowed Phoebe to trick him into thinking the discussion was one of indisputable facts and his personal reputation.  Like a scientist, the objective of leadership is learning and discovery and the courage to grow beyond a previous discovery proven wrong – even if it is yours. Don’t let your ego get in the way of improving your company or making a better decision. Ross sees Phoebe as ignorant – mistake #1 – and his inability...
Disagreement  Is a Path Toward Insight

Disagreement Is a Path Toward Insight

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash Let’s stick with this disagreement theme a little longer because it’s rooted in a core Leadership truth. Leaders often fear disagreement for any number of reasons; it takes time, they know better, insecurity, some simply need to be right… But let’s be clear. What’s the core truth beneath this issue? Disagreement requires us to actually lead and that looks a lot like work. The reality is, it’s easy to lead people who agree with you, even entertaining. It’s effortless and positive, and a path of least resistance… but leading people who disagree is an incredible hassle. True Leadership doesn’t even show up until there is some kind of challenge, adversity or obstacle; without it, there is no leadership, just hierarchy. There are too many weak leaders who over-simplify their reality and claim “either you are with me or against me.” Hogwash! Even worse, they think everyone they lead should follow their every word as if it’s gospel or brilliant and infallible. If I exaggerate, it’s not by much; and such blind following is an incredibly dangerous sentiment in any relationship, especially leadership. Such “leaders” aren’t leaders at all, they’re dictators. Many of them may be benevolent dictators, but just because you’re kind doesn’t make it less dictatorial. Leadership doesn’t create followers, it creates more leaders.  Leadership is about bringing people together and allowing disagreements to teach your teams to think, to problem-solve, and to cultivate better communication skills which can only make your team better and build trust. Disagreement is a path toward insight, exponential growth, and improvement of people. Sometimes a decision needs to be made and your team is diametrically...
Giving Your Team Time for Criticism

Giving Your Team Time for Criticism

Photo by Andrea Natali on UnsplashPreviously we talked about the importance of building a safe environment for your team to feel comfortable disagreeing with you. Here’s the thing: creating an environment where your employees are comfortable telling you “no,” and one where they are comfortable articulating why they have that opinion, are two different things.It’s not that leaders don’t want to hear no; it’s that they want to understand why the answer is no. To their way of thinking, and it makes sense, if no is a viable response, further information is also important — if you get to say no, they get to ask why. The problem, however, is your team might not have an answer for why right away; it may take some time to articulate; and in that gap between you asking, them answering with depth and understanding takes time during which your team can often feel judged.Leaders are in their world thinking up ways to grow the company, solve problems, improve efficiencies… while most employees are paid to work, to do the day to day of their job that keeps the company running. That means that a leader has often done a great deal of thinking about a given subject, one that an employee hasn’t been thinking about or given time to consider. Now the employee or team is asked to give a mature and educated answer to a topic they are just learning about and thinking after the leader’s weeks or months of contemplation. That isn’t fair. People need time to think, to research, to articulate, to formulate their thoughts, and in the absence of that time they can feel judged,...
Workplace Ego & You

Workplace Ego & You

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash Problems with leadership often boil down to issues of fear: fear of humiliation, fear of mistakes, fears of perception, fear of weakness, fear of incompetence, fear of failure…and these fears can dictate how we lead and respond to those we lead. Consider this: our culture tells us that a promotion means that person is ‘accomplished,’ that they have something that makes them better — hence the promotion. This tends to inflate one’s opinion of oneself, even if just subconsciously, and can simultaneously cause one to over-inflate their value, or even to suddenly question their worthiness. As a result, this promotion can affect relationship dynamics: how the one promoted treats the others, or perhaps even the way the other treats them in return. If you have been recently elevated to a position of authority in your organization, it is extremely important to take time to ask yourself a powerful question: What are you most afraid of in this new role? Think critically about the obstacles or challenges that are going to trip you up.  Consider with explicit detail how you are going to define both your leadership style and your behavior around your coworkers. The truth is, your behavior is going to change whether you are mindful of the change or not, so it’s in your best interest to pay attention — because when you don’t, it’s often your fears and doubts that captain the leader-ship. For the first 12 months, get in the habit on your drive home of asking yourself a few questions: Are you treating those under you with respect? Are you honoring their competence and expertise? Are you behaving...
Building Blocks & Primary Colors Aren’t The Goal

Building Blocks & Primary Colors Aren’t The Goal

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash We are called as leaders, as people, as the species at the top of the food chain, to ask bigger questions. We’re called to move beyond the basic instinct of survival and self-preservation into something larger than ourselves. We’re called to recognize that discomfort and fear aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because we know powerful growth and learning can come from both. The old Charlie Brown cartoon said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how much I have to learn.” Growth and learning have no conclusion — just better questions. I hate to break it to you, but our rise to leadership (most specifically of ourselves) isn’t about life getting easier. As a child,we learn simple shapes and simple colors — not as conclusions, but as building blocks. Similarly, as adults our understandings of faith, culture, or humanity aren’t conclusions either — but building blocks. We don’t teach primary colors in art school so that artists will limit themselves and paint only with red, blue and yellow, but because they can be combined in near endless combinations to create millions of colors. As people, we are called to the same curiosities and creations with one another. Your human color mixes with my human color, and together we form a new color that can’t exist without us. The more we blend, the more we explore, the more we paint, the more we understand that our human interactions aren’t about conclusions; it’s not about settling on answers of right and wrong. Rather, it’s about the ability to use our experiences to ask bigger and better questions. When mixing colors, it isn’t about what you take...

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