Steven's Own Words

The “C’s” of Life Can Be Tumultuous & Rough

The “C’s” of Life Can Be Tumultuous & Rough

Navigating the “C’s” of leadership and change can be hard, because those C’s are made up of challenges, conflicts, chaos, calamities, complexities, cynicism, cruelty and more. And we’re expected to be the captain of our lives and the lives of others. How do we navigate that and not get worn down or cynical ourselves? Well…carefully, I guess. Let’s break down a few of those dangerous seas — I mean C’s — and see how we navigate their challenges. Conflict is a tumultuous sea because it’s a clash of values. Each side wants something that is important to them, that they hold dear, or at least hold as more desirable than what the other person wants. Ultimately, conflict forces a choice. The question is, are those choices conscious?  Are you conscious about what you feel, what you are reacting to, how you see the other person, or the story you are making up in your head about what “winning or losing” means? If not, get conscious about these things. They are your insight and your power. Without choice, conflict just feels Chaotic, almost like things don’t make any sense, that the “facts” don’t add up. If they did, you think to yourself, there would be no conflict or chaos — because it would all make sense. If you find yourself flailing around in this “C,” grab the life ring of Curiosity. In most instances, the disorientation of chaos can be easily calmed by asking powerful, positive questions that seek insight and understanding. Without that insight and understanding, you risk serious calamities. Like sailing on the real seas, Mother Nature will...
Connection IS the point

Connection IS the point

When I ask leaders what they give in their relationships with their team, the answers I most often hear back sound like support, trust, tools, authority to act…things that their position allows them to give. Sometimes, however, the most important thing we can give is the most vulnerable parts of ourselves.   Professional speakers like to say we’re not on the platform for us, but to serve our audience.  I’ve come to understand that that’s not wholly nor literally true. It’s got to be at least somewhat about us, doesn’t it? Because we stand here not as a puppet, but with an agenda of our own. We talk about the topics we care about, hoping to impact and influence the world in profound and meaningful ways. It’s got to be a little bit about us or we’re just mouthpieces for someone else’s words. We are there for us, and we are there for you, in an interconnected web. If it goes well, you will get something valuable — and I will, too. Even Servant Leadership is not a one-way street. If we can’t be vulnerable, ask for help (which is not the same as “help me reach this target/goal), or relate to the audience and their fears…if we can’t be where they are, we can’t get them where they are going. If we can’t let others in, feel their emotions, understand their needs, then we miss the gift that leadership really offers: the gift of connection.   Are you connecting with your team? Are you connecting with yourself? After all, we lead ourselves first, and it’s amazing how easy...
We Go Where We Focus

We Go Where We Focus

There’s a pattern I see that shows up everywhere. I’ve seen it in every organization I’ve worked with, and to some degree with every single client. That pattern is this: at some level, we have a tendency to see the negative in a negative situation. That might seem obvious to you. Of course you do, right? It’s a negative situation. So you see the negative. But the reality is almost every negative situation has a positive opportunity — we just don’t always see that part. The bottom line is, we find what we are looking for. If you focus on being afraid, you’ll find reasons to be afraid. If you focus on being angry, you’ll find reasons for being angry. And don’t get me wrong — it’s not that those reasons aren’t valid. There are very valid times to be scared, upset, angry. But does that always serve us? And how could we shift our world if we dared to focus on something else? When there’s a conflict at an organization, often the solution is to try and separate the conflicting parties. Just pull them apart — avoid the conflict. That’s easiest, right? But it accomplishes so little. It misses a powerful opportunity to connect and learn from each other. How can we get through conflict with connection instead of separation? This is a problem everyone faces, in personal relationships, at school, at work — and as you all probably are all too aware of, on the national level as well. The division in our culture is off the charts. But if we can’t solve this problem on a...
Have We Really Recovered From the Recession?

Have We Really Recovered From the Recession?

Have your employees recovered from the recession? Ten years ago, we were in the middle of the great recession and layoffs were sweeping the nation. It was a grim necessity for thousands of companies that were able to weather the storm. Technically, that recession has been over for years now, and many have seen great rebounds since. By most markers it seems all behind us (though a new one seems to be looming). We did it! We recovered! Our companies that survived are safe! Here’s the problem for some: Companies may have recovered from the recession, but not all employees have. While revenues rebounded, not all jobs, pay cuts or benefits did, and the recession mantra of “Do more with less and we can get through this” has become the new normal. Employees are still doing more with less, and because the company is thriving again, too many times the conclusion is, We didn’t need those people or roles to begin with. In some cases that is absolutely true. But what about the cases where it’s not? Where it’s burning people out, undermining morale, destroying loyalty, and inspiring the lowest level of engagement from your team?  It’s our job as leaders to help with that. A team wants to feel invested in, seen, respected, properly compensated, able to thrive in their role and understood. Does your team feel that way? The lesson too often lost in the day-to-day is that the company’s first customer is their people.  They can’t be their best, provide the greatest service, or be the best evangelist, if they feel unimportant, like they’re just a...
The Productivity Quadrant Adjustment

The Productivity Quadrant Adjustment

You’ve probably heard of Covey’s four quadrants of productivity. If not, here are the basics: as we work on tasks, we sort them by importance and urgency, which makes for four different quadrants to sort the tasks into: 1) Important AND Urgent 2) Urgent But Not Important 3) Important But Not Urgent 4) Not important, not urgent. These quadrants help us to decide what to do, when to do it, and what we can delegate (see quadrant 4!). But a common problem I’ve faced when using this with clients is how full the quadrants get. Many of us have so many tasks to fill the quadrants that we get stuck in quadrant #1 for days, weeks, even years, and we feel overwhelmed just looking at it. How do we decide what to do first? Recently, I had a client solve this problem with a simple but elegant tool. When they meet with their team, they sort tasks into quadrants — but they place the tasks strategically within the quadrants, like a graph. Something very important and VERY urgent, for example, would go in the most top left of that quadrant. Something important but less so, urgent but less so, would go in the bottom right corner of that quadrant. Here, they can see the weighted value of each item in a quadrant. Yes, lots of things are urgent and important, but truthfully, they aren’t all equally so. Then, based on that visual graph, we were able to much more easily rank those tasks in order, adjusting slightly for certain deadlines — and there it was. A simple, numbered list...
When Are You The Most Effective?

When Are You The Most Effective?

Sometimes, the solutions to our own problems are staring us right in our face. I was recently talking with a client about their frustrations at work — they just felt like they weren’t getting anything done. They weren’t being productive. “That can’t be the total truth,” I said, “because some stuff is getting done. You have clients, you have revenue, you have a team of thirty — you’re getting stuff done. So what’s the problem?” Well, sure, they were getting some things done — but there were recurring issues that got in the way, they said. They weren’t as productive as they wanted to be. So I asked: “When have you ever solved these issues? When have you been most effective as a team?” And that’s when it surfaced: Face-to-face. They were their most productive as a team when they made decisions together in the same room. If people had to leave, do something, and come back? It just didn’t get done. So how did they fix that problem? They meet every day now. As a team, first thing in the morning, 45 mins. Every. Single. Business Day. Now, a lot of people might find that many meetings exhausting, or inefficient. That’s fine. This isn’t the solution for you. But it certainly is for them — they’re way more productive, finally solving problems, making decisions and reinforcing behavior that in the past would drift for weeks or months before being addressed. The lesson we can take from them is this: Ask yourself, When/How are you most productive? When do you best solve problems? And if you can find the...
Stop Putting Out Fires

Stop Putting Out Fires

Do you ever feel like your work schedule is simply out of your control? Every day is a series of fixing problems & putting out fires, rather than prioritizing your own work and your own projects. You’re needed so desperately to help out others that you don’t feel like you can do your own work — and your time slips away into everyone else’s eager hands before you can get a grasp on it. Have you ever considered what would happen if you stopped? If you just — didn’t put out those fires, right away, all the time? “Well, that’s not really an option for me.” I hear that. Sometimes it’s not. But sometimes — it actually is. Consider this: You always stop at some point, right? You go home. You clock out. Unless you’re an ER doctor or a firefighter, or handling life-or-death crises in some other way, you do make the decision to stop and leave at some point (even ER doctors). You have to! You can’t sleep at the office (I hope). You can’t go 24/7/365. Maybe that choice to stop comes much later than you’d like it to, or you get sick from stress and overwhelmed and then the others have to pick up the slack without you. Whatever the reason, for the vast majority of us, that time does come. And for the rest of you it does, too — you just aren’t ready to admit it. Which means it is an option. You can make that choice. It’s hard, and stressful, and might have consequences — but you can make it, and oftentimes...
Road Trip Logic

Road Trip Logic

We all know the old saying: “If everything is important, nothing’s important.” Hogwash, I say. Seriously! Because everything actually is important to somebody. And the problem with words is that they have more than meaning; they have feeling as well. If we say something is more important to do first, someone is likely hearing, “That means I am less important” — which is not true. So if it’s not about importance, what is it about? Priority. Which, I admit, has the potential for equal confusion. So let them work together to lift the weight of confusion. Top priority means what you need to do first, and frankly, that isn’t always the most important thing. Your project, Mark, might be “more important” by some measure, but Mary’s has a higher priority if it serves us better to do it first. Think of it as a road trip. You’re taking a vacation with your family, driving from Portland, Oregon to Orlando, Florida to go to Disneyworld! Yay!!! I can’t wait. But it’s a long drive, filled with possibility. You want to make a fun adventure out of this, and ask everyone to pick the side trip most important to them to hit along the way. Enthusiastically they respond: “The Grand Canyon!” “Music Hall of Fame in Nashville!”  “New York City!” “Mount Rushmore!” Alright, well, that’s a road trip, and in the immortal tone of Chandler from Friends, “Could these destinations BE more spread out?” So, I ask you, which is most important?  None of them! You value each person’s wish equally. Despite that, there is absolutely a logical order in which you’re going to hit these spots. You might start across the...
Tips To Start Journaling: Keep It Simple!

Tips To Start Journaling: Keep It Simple!

We’ve all heard about the benefits of journaling recently, haven’t we? You can do a quick Google search and get a TON of information about the value of this practice. You can also find a lot of how-tos and tips — almost too many, in fact. The information overload can be overwhelming.  I’m a huge fan of journaling, and I’ve seen firsthand the benefit it can provide. When you’re thinking about starting, don’t let yourself lose out on the opportunity because of the overflow of what-to-do’s. The simple way to start is to find what works for you, and then give yourself the freedom and forgiveness to be awkward and bored with it until it becomes natural. Because, yeah, it does start off a bit boring, especially if you’ve never done it before. Give yourself a break and allow that.  For me, a very small set of core questions to answer consistently can help. I like, “What am I grateful for today?” This is easy at the start, because we typically pick the low hanging fruit: spouse, kids, life, food…but once you run out of the obvious, it forces you to look deeper. That’s when you start to be grateful for the challenges, and the things that didn’t go so well, because you learn to see the gratefulness in the lesson. You start to see the opportunity it opened up to serve someone, or to make something right that then led to a better relationship. Another question might be, “What am I struggling with today?” Allow yourself to free-write your thoughts about it without judgement. This allows you to...
The Infrastructure of Communication

The Infrastructure of Communication

A few weeks ago we talked about how interconnected trust and communication are — each affects the other, and when they’re failing, you can quickly find yourself with a toxic work environment. But it’s worth noting that while broken trust will almost always break down communication, broken communication can sometimes be the result of something as simple as broken infrastructure.  One of the biggest problems in organizational communication is when people feel out of the loop. Actions are being taken and people who need to know are not being informed. We don’t know the things we “should” but, somehow, others know it, so we take offense — we might even perceive an intentional slight. For growing teams in particular this can feel overwhelming — it used to be just three of you in a garage, and communication was simple, real-time, thorough! But now it’s a team of twelve, and four of them are remote, and things are slipping through the cracks. But how do you fix it? First, which problem are you solving? Is the problem over-communication with people swimming in so much information they can’t distinguish what’s important from what’s just FYI? Or is it a case of so little communication people can go for weeks before hearing important updates? Either way, the answer, as with most things, is based in simplicity. Occam’s Razor states that if there are two explanations for an occurrence, the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Applied to solutions: in the face of any technical problem, the simplest tool is usually the most effective. Analyze what your needs are, and then find the tool...

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