Steven's Own Words

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...
How To Make Your Team Look Good

How To Make Your Team Look Good

My brother used to say that the secret to success is “Keeping your boss’s boss off of your boss’s a–.” Roughly translated: if you make your boss look good, you look good, and success is sure to follow. And as Derek Severs teaches us in this brilliant TED Talk, if something is true, its opposite can also be true. So what if we turned my brother’s wisdom around?  It’s hard to deny the logic in my brother’s thinking; after all, he retired a multi-millionaire in his early 50’s. But what does this thinking mean for leaders going in the other direction of the food chain? Try this: As a leader, your job is to make your leadership teams look good to the people who report to them. Consider communication as an example. If there’s a big announcement that affects the whole organization, should the CEO share it with the whole company all at once? Or should they just share it with their team leads, who in turn share it with their individual teams? At first blush, it might seem like the more obvious choice is to announce it to the whole company all at once. Why not? It’s more efficient, it makes sure the message gets delivered clearly, it skips unnecessary delays and bureaucratic layers…and sometimes it is absolutely the right thing to do. But not as often as many leaders seem to think. There are a few problems with this ‘obvious’ choice, especially for larger organizations where getting everyone together isn’t always easy. Some are in the office, others are on the road, some are on vacation, and if you have shift work it’s even more complicated. Everyone’s just not always together and it’s too easy for...
The Source of ALL Dysfunction

The Source of ALL Dysfunction

I work with a lot of teams, and I’ll be honest — people usually don’t call me in because things are going well. Which means, in my work, I see a lot of dysfunction. And in my experience, dysfunction is so very often caused by one of two things: 1) Broken communication, or 2) Broken trust. And here’s the rub: They’re unavoidably intertwined. Either can build or diminish the other. Great communication can easily build up trust, and deep trust can make up for poor communication. Likewise, bad communication can unintentionally impede trust through misconceptions and misrepresentations — and broken trust makes all communication, however executed, suspect. So, if they’re both so entrenched in the other, what can we do? Well, the good news here is you can use that to your advantage. Invest in one, and you’ll get double the return. Invest in both, and it will quadruple! (Okay, don’t check my math there, but you get the point). If your team is feeling tense, toxic, or just generally dysfunctional, addressing one or both of these can almost always help to get to the root of the problem. What communication systems can you add? Perhaps all you need is a tool like Slack or Teams to provide a forum in which information can be more effectively disseminated instead of email. Or perhaps you’re a leader who needs to get better at trusting your management teams and allowing them to speak on your behalf. The question is, how can you help the team connect and build trust? Would a communication workshop help? Perhaps it’s time to actually teach everyone how to communicate through NVC, or something...
Why Meditate?

Why Meditate?

One of my clients decided to try meditating recently. I have to admit, I’m not a meditator — not because I haven’t tried, however. I have. But it’s frickin HARD! It’s one of those tricky things that seems like it should be easy — but trust me, it’s not. What’s more, for a lot of us (like me!) meditation has something of a ‘woo-woo,’ goofy quality to it. You hear ‘meditation,’ you think guru on a mountaintop. So then, when you try, you feel stupid. Okay, I feel stupid — and I really can’t turn off my mind. The problem with meditation is it’s only marketed for a certain type of person, which causes this sort of discomfort among other types of us. But all meditation is, I’ve discovered, is practicing presence — noticing when our mind drifts. And when we realize that, we realize how beneficial this is for anyone, in any walk of life. Because what happens to us in everyday happenings? We’re constantly distracted. We’re constantly bouncing from one thing to another. Our minds wander, there’s interruption, it seems like there’s always a distraction of some sort; we get a ping from social media, a ding from our email, a buzz from a text — and we have a Pavlovian response. Most of us don’t know how to control the things that are distracting us, because we have no practice. Meditation is that practice. It’s taking five minutes and saying “Can I do that? Can I notice when I’m distracted? And can I pull myself back to a task?” That’s it. And that’s why meditation focuses on breathing —...
One Simple, Powerful Truth

One Simple, Powerful Truth

A few things we’ve been talking about — building a culture with our team, having tough conversations, clarifying terms and decisions — all of it is uncomfortable, I know. All of it is difficult. If you don’t think so, I’m sorry, but you’re likely kidding yourself. This is tough stuff, and if not for you personally, then for members of your team for sure. That’s why we resist it. But this week, I want to remind you of one small, simple, powerful truth: The best things we ever achieve are, in fact, quite difficult. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have problems. As the Dread Pirate Roberts once said, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” Wesley might have meant that with a bit more cynicism than I’ll accept, but the positive side of the same coin rings true. Life can be wonderful. But the most wonderful things in life come from extremely difficult work. So don’t allow yourself to skip out on trying because it’s hard. It will be way harder when, someday, you look back and realize you never tried. Which ‘hard’ would you prefer? Photo...
The Problem With Group Decisions

The Problem With Group Decisions

Has this ever happened to you?  You make a decision as a team. You think you have all decided together. Then, you go about your day, and you notice — not everyone is following through with that decision. They’re sitting at their desks doing something else, not doing what you all just agreed to do! To them, it wasn’t a decision at all, it’s just a what, a suggestion? Maybe it was clear to you, but obviously for them this decision was not definitively clear.   The problem is this: You lack a culture of decision making. Decisions linger without congealing because there’s no real conclusion, criteria or context for that decision. For instance, is the decision designed to serve a client, the staff, the profit margin? Which group is ultimately being served? How will we measure the options and opinions on the table to discern which is an idea worthy of pursuit, and which is a pass-through idea that gets you closer to the truth? Criteria and context can do amazing things to make everything more clear for everyone.   Equally important is knowing: who is making the final decision? Who’s the head of that bottom line/final call? It may not be the highest ranking person in the room. By naming that person, rather than assuming that everyone knows — and often this is left to assumption — you give everyone a final word, but everyone knows how the decision will be made. Otherwise, someone might assume it’s the CEO when it’s actually the VP of marketing. Why does this matter? If I’m trying to sell my idea, I may want...
It’s Always Toughest To Be First

It’s Always Toughest To Be First

I know someone who recently left an incredibly toxic work environment. It was a long time coming — he really did his best to stick it out, to try and make it work, to do his part — but nothing was enough, because, as my dad used to say, “You can’t make chicken soup out of chicken poop” (OK, so he didn’t use the word ‘poop,’ but you get the point). Sometimes we just need to commit to a courageous act.  But we resist, of course, because we often second guess ourselves, and don’t quite know if we can say for sure if it’s toxic, or if it’s just us — maybe if we’d just try a little harder, it might get better? But it’s not just us. Case in point: after this person left their job, two more people quit within the span of about a month. That’s a total of three employees leaving this workplace in under six weeks! And just like that, one’s courageous act gives others permission to do the same.  It’s like that closing line in the Marianne Williamson quote:  “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Sometimes, when no one else is making the change, it can be terrifying to be that first person to take the leap. If no one else is leaving, it’s harder to justify — because again, we’re second-guessing ourselves. But as soon as one person makes that leap, it’s as though everyone else sees the problems clearly. Our questions are justified when we’re not the only one asking them.  Is it time for you to...
You Can’t Have Leadership Without Conflict

You Can’t Have Leadership Without Conflict

Imagine if your whole team agreed with you, all the time, about everything. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Too bad that’s about as realistic as certain bacon producing farm animals sprouting wings. If that were the case, there would be no need whatsoever for leadership — there wouldn’t be a need for YOU. Let’s face it, leadership is easy when people agree with you. True leadership doesn’t even get out of bed without some kind of conflict or challenge.  Everyone and anyone can be a “great leader” to a team with no disagreements, no disappointments, no problems. I mean, I’m a fantastic mechanic to a brand-new car. But when it breaks down? I’m not the mechanic you’re going to call. I’m not a mechanic at all, in fact! When you get push back or disagreement from your team, that’s when your true leadership comes out to play — but often, instead, we hunker down and turn from leadership to dictatorship. We don’t want to deal with the problems, have the tough conversations, or do the work of understanding different perspectives with the risk of being wrong. We just want people to listen to us, do it our way, and get out of our way! But let’s face the music: that’s not leadership. That’s treating your team like an app, a computer program that will do what you tell it to if you press the right buttons. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, that rarely works out well for the team or the leader, both because people don’t like being treated like tools, and because every leader needs their team just as much as their team needs them! If...

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