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Have you ever received wise leadership advice from someone you least expected? Even though he has never owned a business, some of my best business and leadership advice has come from my father-in-law.
In Andy Stanley's message titled Time of Your Life, Andy recaps the story of Moses and his father-in-law Jethro from Exodus 18. As the story goes, Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and as many as two million people were now under his leadership. Moses became inundated with petty disputes among the people and would end up serving as judge for entire days at a time.
Can you imagine dealing with every little dispute for two million people? Handling disputes between two little girls was challenging enough for me when my daughters were young!
“What are you doing? Why are you doing this alone?” Jethro asked Moses.
You see, Jethro’s credentials did not include a consulting degree or experience leading an entire nation. But he observed what was going on and provided Moses with some excellent leadership advice. The leadership principles Jethro shared with Moses are still applicable today:
- Give your best time to what makes the biggest impact. What time of the day or week do you have the most energy and focus? Make sure you are using these times wisely and focusing on the tasks that are important, not just urgent.
- Develop other leaders. In his bookThe 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell refers to this principle as the Law of Reproduction. He says, “It takes a leader to raise up a leader.” When you invest in developing other leaders, you create opportunities for them and free you up to focus on what’s most important. Who can you begin mentoring to become a leader in your organization?
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Have you ever felt like things would not get done if it wasn’t for you? The truth is, there are times when our expertise is needed. But many times we take on other people's jobs and challenges instead of choosing to train them or equip them in problem solving on their own.
Karen called my office recently describing the challenges of her growing business.
“I’ve been working 7 days a week for the past 6 months. Everything seems to fall on me if it is going to be done correctly.“
As Karen began to describe her dilemma, she talked about situations in which her staff would come to her with production, human resources or other business related issues. Since she started her small business a few years back, she has grown accustomed to taking on the challenges and helping employees. Now that the business is growing the assumed workload has become overwhelming.
Karen’s not alone in her management style. I’ve been guilty of assuming other people's problems with great intentions of helping them. But what often ends up happening is their problem becomes my problem and I take the responsibilty of problem solving out of their control. We call this Monkey-on-the-Back Management: an employee comes into a meeting with a monkey on their back and leaves with the monkey on your back.
Think about the last time an employee walked into your office with a problem, or monkey on their back. The monkey may have been an issue with IT, HR, accounting, or a difficult vendor. How did you respond?
Help your employees develop problem solving skills
The goal is to equip your team to take care of the problem. Have them come up with solutions. Don’t let them dump the problem on you. Don’t let them leave their monkey in your office!
In the book The One Minute Manager, authors Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson provide some practical ideas on keeping the monkeys out of your office. The book presents several studies in medicine and behavioral sciences that clearly explain how equipping others is more effective for your time management than solving their problems.
Next time an employee comes to you with an issue, take a minute to determine if they are capable and equipped to solve the problem. If they are, start by asking questions that help them talk through the problem. Often times when they process the problem out loud, they will start to offer potential solutions out loud as well. This provides you the opportunity to guide and train them in addressing the issue without taking over. Sharpening their problem solving skills is not only beneficial for you in the long-run but it allows an opportunity for the employee to understand and find encouragement in the value that they bring to the team.
Unless you are a zoo keeper, keep the monkey’s out!
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We've all been in a position where we've seen people blame everyone except themselves for a problem. And if we're honest with ourselves, we've probably been in the same boat. One thing I've recognized, personal accountability is becoming a dying trait. A number of years ago I met with a perspective client whose company was struggling with cash flow. The owner, for the sake of this post I'll call him Brad, was doubtful he would have enough money to cover the upcoming payroll for his 15 employees. As I listened to him describe the situation, he made it clear that the declining economy and slow customer payments served as the root cause of his business problem.
Before bringing on a new client we typically go through a fair amount of due diligence. In most cases we review items such as business plans, QuickBooks data, recent tax returns, and other relevant information. It’s amazing how that data can provide some telling information as to the health and management philosophies of the ownership.
As I reviewed financial information from Brad’s company, I noticed a couple months prior to the decline in his cash flow that he had written two checks to himself for a total of $30,000. While there is nothing wrong with an owner distribution, I found it a bit odd that he would take such a large amount in the midst of an impending cash flow crunch. There was probably a good explanation.
When I asked him about the owner distribution checks and how the money was used his answer was, “That’s none of your business.”
In the book QBQ – The Question behind the Question, author John G. Miller, describes the lack of personal accountability as a problem that has resulted in “an epidemic of blame, complaining, and procrastination. No organization, or individual, can achieve goals, compete in the marketplace, fulfill a vision, or develop people without personal accountability.”
As it turns out, Brad used the $30,000 to purchase two boats for himself earlier in the year. While the down economy and slow customer payments didn’t help the situation, the real cause of the dilemma had been caused by the owner himself. Unfortunately, the lack of personal accountability had a devastating effect on his company.
While you and I may not be out buying a new boat with needed cash flow from our company, we can all learn a lesson from Brad’s example. As a business owner and in your personal life, many of the situations you face today are a direct result of the decisions you made (or didn't make) yesterday. So don't take the easy way out by passing blame. Instead, be a leader that takes personal accountability seriously. Not only will it help you with items such as cash flow management, but personal accountability is a trait that will help you build trust and buy-in with your employees.
As a reminder of improving my own personal accountability, my wife Pam and I will be leading a college and young adult group this fall from the book Taking Responsibility for Your Life: Because Nobody Else Will by Andy Stanley. You can check out the intro of the series here.
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I had the chance to sit down recently with Kevin, a business leader in Missouri, and go through the DISC communication profiles for him and his staff. It quickly became clear that creating a positive culture had to be a top priority for his business.
[column col="1/2"]One of the recurring themes that we discovered was a growing culture of dissatisfaction. The profiles indicated that although the company had been a great success recently, there was a huge disconnect within the team as many felt they were not appreciated. We discovered that some of the staff simply wanted affirmation, such as a “pat on the back” or a verbal “great job.” Others were hopeful for tangible recognition such as increased compensation, promotion, or a bonus.
Staff and management had begun to take on the “what’s in it for me?” attitude. This resulted in poor work habits, declining customer service, and an overall poor culture within the company.
If you had asked Kevin for the major reasons for his company's recent success, he definitely would have recognized the importance of his team. However, through this process, he realized that he was not doing a great job of making sure they know how valuable they are to the company and how grateful he was for their work.
Once he identified this issue, he began creating a positive culture by approaching the team with an attitude of gratitude. Kevin is now intentionally looking for ways to express appreciation. When I spoke to him last month, he said even some of his worst “what’s in it for me?” offenders had shown great progress.[/column] [column col="1/2"] [/column]
Creating a positive culture for your organization
Three tips to creating an attitude of gratitude:
- Think back to someone who mentored or invested in you to help your career. Give them a call or write them a note to say thank you. Then encourage your team members to do the same for someone who has invested in them.
- In the last week, who on your staff has done a great job? Go tell them thank you and be sure to be specific. When they know that your gratitude is genuine and their hard work is noticed, they are excited to be doing great work for the organization.
- How, specifically, can you better equip each person on your team for success? Your team wants to be productive and successful as much as you want them to be productive and successful. When you ask them what they need or how you can help, you have the opportunity to resource them and unlock their full potential for your company.
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