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Drop Your Agenda – Idea # 18 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

no agenda

Often times, I find myself heading into a meeting with other people with a very fixed agenda regarding what I’d like to see accomplished as a result of the meeting and, in many cases, ideas for how to achieve that goal.

I’m much more aware of this tendency than I used to be, but I still catch myself attaching to my agenda.  This can be quite problematic.  During team meetings, attaching to an agenda can close us down to the ideas of others, limiting the possibilities of what we can achieve.

However, creating as much space as possible for building a shared vision of the future fuels engagement around that vision, and increases and leverages the intelligence of the team.  Allowing team members to come up with their own solutions for how to achieve the shared vision further increases buy in, engagement, and accountability.

Of course, when meeting with a team, it is useful to have a reason for meeting in most cases.  In fact, it seems that many organizations have too many meetings without clearly defined objectives, and end up wasting a lot of time as a result.

What I am working on, and what I believe would be of great benefit to other leaders, is to:

  1. Drop my agenda for how we accomplish a goal
  2. Have more one-on-one meetings with no agenda whatsoever

Letting Go of the “How”

I’m working to be better at dropping my agenda for how a goal is accomplished.  One of the key traits I’ve noticed in the most successful leaders over the long term is that they are extremely comfortable creating a shared idea of “what” needs be done, and leaving the “how” completely up to the team member.

As I mentioned above, the results are higher levels of engagement and accountability, and also higher levels of fulfillment.  People tend to enjoy work much more when they have a greater sense of autonomy.

Meeting Just to Meet

My natural tendency for arranging a meeting with someone is to only arrange meetings when there is a clear idea of what we will get done as a result of the meeting.  I realize more and more, however, that although “getting things done,” is certainly important, it is not as important as developing and strengthening relationships with people.

I’ve noticed that life is certainly more fulfilling when I put people ahead of worldly accomplishment.  This also tends to be a more effective way, especially over the long term, to achieve worldly goals.  Nothing can be accomplished without the help of others.  No business survives without happy, loyal customers, and it’s almost impossible to keep happy loyal customers without happy, loyal employees.  We can’t even bring a strategy to life without people executing it.

Although I’m aware that building better bonds with people is certainly an important element of effective leadership, my goal in taking more time to meet with people just to meet is simply to enjoy connecting with another person in a purely human sense.  There is no agenda other than to simply be there as a friend and share time in a way that has nothing to do with work.

I don’t know if there is a magic ratio of how many purely personal meetings we need to have to counterbalance the work-related meetings.  (Do you know of such a ratio?  If so, please let me know.)  I think it’s important to just start somewhere, though, so I try to have such a connection with team members at least once every two weeks, and more often if there is something going on in a team member’s personal life that is challenging.

How often do you schedule one-on-one meetings with team members, or a group meeting, where there is no agenda other than to have a shared experience as human beings?

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Be A Healthy Device User – Idea # 17 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

Healthy smart phone use

 

It’s 10:00 p.m. and, trying to adhere to your New Year’s resolution to get more sleep (likely inspired by Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive), you’re getting into bed with the intention of going to sleep.

You set the alarm on your smart phone for 5:30 a.m. so you can adhere to your other New Year’s resolution to exercise each morning before starting work. Just as you reach from your bed to place your phone on the nightstand, you hear that “ding” or “dong” or some other sound that lets you know you’ve got an e-mail.

You know you’re expected to respond to work e-mails as quickly as possible so you check to see if it’s from work. It is. And, it’s annoying.

You calm down a bit, apply the necessary thought work to reply appropriately and hit “reply all.” For the next one and one-half hours you hear lots of “dings” and “dongs” as the conversation grows in intensity and finally winds down close to midnight. By the time you settle down from thinking about the conversation and getting over how annoyed you feel, it’s almost 1:00 in the morning.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

If you have a management role, have you ever created such a situation for team members?

As leaders, a simple way to show team members that we care about them is to allow their time away from work to actually be time away from work. We should allow people to have social lives and family lives that are made more rich by being free from having to do, or even think about, work.

This is actually a win-win for both team members and the organization. There is a large body of research suggesting that allowing people to relax when they’re away from work boosts productivity during working hours.

Those of us who realize that effectively serving and caring for team members is essential for long-term, sustainable performance certainly want to allow team members to completely unplug while they’re away from work. However, actually doing this can be very challenging.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.  To continue reading, please click here.

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The Power of Asking Team Members How Well You Love Them – Idea # 16 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

lazy kangaroo

As leaders, we are usually required to give feedback to our team members on a regular basis. But it can often be challenging to get the feedback we need to grow. The more senior our position, the more challenging it can be to get feedback.

Of course, most of us receive lots of feedback from our direct supervisors about how we’re performing. This feedback is crucial for ensuring that we’re on track to leading our team to achieve the goals that are important to our organizations.

Just as important, and perhaps even more so over the long-term, is to get feedback from our team members on how we’re doing as leaders.

In many cases, especially in organizations in which senior leadership “manages by the numbers,” by the time we get feedback from our supervisors it’s very difficult to get things back on track. If we’re told that we’re not achieving the numbers we need to achieve, it’s because we haven’t created and sustained a team culture that allows the members of our team to thrive.

By the time the effects of an average or poor team culture can be seen in the numbers, transforming the culture might be a significant challenge. It could take a long time to reestablish trust, communication, and the positive emotional climate that is essential for sustainable performance.

A simple way to avoid this fate is to regularly request anonymous (whenever possible) feedback from our direct reports regarding how well we are serving and caring for the members of our teams and living the core values of our organizations.

This is a great way, in and of itself, to serve the members of the teams we lead.

By simply asking for feedback about how well we are serving and caring for team members and living the values, we send the message that we care about our team members and about living our core values. If we take action on the feedback we receive, it sends an even stronger message communicating that we truly care about these essential aspects of effective leadership.

Below are the questions I ask to get feedback on how well I’m serving and caring for team members and living our core values.  Essentially, I’m asking, “How well do I love you?”

How often do you ask for feedback?

What are the questions you ask?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Team Survey
Please rate Matt on a scale of 1-5 regarding how often he exhibits the behaviors questioned below. The questions are organized via our core values.

1 = Never

2 = Rarely

3 = Sometimes

4 = Often

5 = Consistently

Serving the Greater Good: Our focus is serving the greater good, not accumulating wealth. We use revenue not as a means to accumulate wealth and possessions, but as a way to meet our basic needs and make a greater impact in the world. We believe that we can realize extraordinary business outcomes and a more fulfilling life by focusing on making the greatest positive impact on the people around us and on the world in general.

1. How often does Matt prioritize applying business revenue to growing the impact of our company ahead of applying it for personal gain?

Long-term Success: We are focused on building a sustainable organization that will be able to serve the greater good for many years. Although we set and pay attention to short-term goals and metrics, we do not allow short-term goals and metrics to take precedence of over long-term success.

2. How often does Matt prioritize the long-term success of the company over short-term wins?

People First: All business success is dependent upon people and healthy relationships with people inside our organization, as well as customers, vendors, our community, and other organizations doing similar work. We aspire to always put people ahead of short-term wins, and to treat all people with respect, kindness, and compassion. We look to create win-win solutions at all times.

3. How often does Matt treat you with respect?

4. How often does Matt treat you with kindness?

5. How often does Matt offer you compassion?

6. How often does Matt look to create win-win solutions for clients?

7. How often does Matt look to create win-win solutions for you and the organization?

8. How often does Matt consider and care about your legitimate needs?

Excellence: Motivated by our aspiration to be of greatest service to others, we aspire to grow each and every day both personally and professionally. We believe that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well, so we aspire to maintain a high standard of excellence in all that we do.

9. How often does Matt inspire you to purse excellence in all that you do?

10. How often does Matt set clear expectations for tasks?

11. How often does Matt clearly define what success looks like?

12. How often does Matt ensure that you have everything you need to complete tasks?

Happiness: We believe that our own happiness is a powerful tool for serving both ourselves and others. We aspire to develop true happiness, which is not dependent upon external factors like money, fame, power, possessions, or entertainment. We aspire to spend adequate time nourishing true happiness.

13. How often does Matt make you feel as though your happiness is important to him?

Right Speech: We understand that without open, honest, helpful communication, trust cannot exist. Without trust, success is not possible. We aspire to maintain strong, healthy lines of communication.

14. How often does Matt make you feel truly heard?

15. How often is Matt’s communication internal to the organization completely open?

16. How often is Matt’s communication external to the organization completely open?

17. How often is Matt’s communication completely honest, even at the most subtle levels, internal to the organization?

18. How often is Matt’s communication completely honest, even at the most subtle levels, external to the organization?

19. How often is Matt’s communication kind and helpful internal to the organization?

20. How often is Matt’s communication kind and helpful external to the organization?

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Cultivate the Most Important Leadership Skill – Idea # 15 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

leadership skills

There are so many aspects to effectively leading others. Have you ever felt overwhelmed just thinking about where to begin?

For instance, we know that we need good business acumen, but we also need to have the emotional intelligence that allows us to effectively serve and care for team members. We also need to be competent, and we need to be able to inspire others with a positive vision of the future.

What’s the most important of these? How should we prioritize our time and energy?

What if there was a single skill that helped us improve every aspect of being leader — a meta-skill that influenced all the others?

Wouldn’t that be the most important skill to develop?

There is such a skill. It is self-awareness.

This is the most crucial skill there is for leadership (and for life in general) and I believe that the vast majority of people have likely reached less than five percent of their potential for self-awareness ability.

Why Self-Awareness Is So Crucial

This post was originally published on the Huffington Post.  To continue reading, please click here.

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Commit to Train Emotional Intelligence – Idea # 14 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

emotions

I like to define emotional intelligence (EQ) in the broad sense as a combination of self-mastery and people skills.  By mastering our inner world, we are better able to influence the emotional states of those around us in positive ways.

Over the last 15 years, as a result of the bestselling book of the same name by Daniel Goleman, “emotional intelligence” has become one of the most common buzz words in the business world.

An abundance of research has been published suggesting that EQ is the most important skill for leaders to develop.  Daniel Goleman’s research suggests that EQ actually predicts stellar performance twice as often as IQ does.  Goleman’s research also suggests that for senior leaders EQ accounts for roughly 90% of the differences between stellar performers and those that are average.

As we would expect when there is so much written about a topic, and it is touted as being the most important skill to develop, there has been some backlash.

Studies have been conducted suggesting that EQ isn’t really that important in many situations.

Who is right?

I don’t think we need research to help us realize how important emotional intelligence is.  It’s actually quite intuitive.

Let’s imagine two hypothetical companies, company A and company B.

The leaders of both companies have relatively similar business acumen.  They have relatively similar levels of competence and intelligence.

However, at company B, the leaders aren’t able to create and sustain a positive emotional climate.  The culture is quite toxic.  Negative emotions like anger and anxiety are the norm.  People don’t enjoy coming to work.  They come in, do enough to keep their jobs, and go home.

At company A, the leaders are able to sustain a culture where positive emotions reign.  People are happy, inspired, and feel cared for by their leaders and their co-workers.  Communication is open and robust. People truly enjoy coming to work.

Which company would you imagine is the better performer, especially over the long-term?  There’s no question about this, is there?

Of course, in the short term, company B may outperform company A if they have a dominant market share or some other factor that allows them to generate a lot capital.

But, at company B, workplace metrics like quality, innovation, and customer service will all be significantly worse than a company A.  Over time this will create a huge disadvantage for company B.

Company A will be able to attract and retain people much more easily.  This will result in better workplace performance and lower costs due to the expense of high turnover.

Emotional intelligence is what allows the leaders at company A to achieve better long-term success as leaders.

Is competency important?  Are cognitive skills like creative problem solving and analytical ability important?  Of course.  In fact, these skills are required to be promoted to a leadership position in the first place.  Technical and cognitive skills are essentially a ticket that allows us to have a chance to get in the leadership game.

What Daniel Goleman’s research suggests, and what intuition tells as well, is that while technical skills and cognitive ability can help us get into the leadership game, they’re not what’s most important for long term leadership success.

For those of us who aspire to be highly effective leaders who can consistently serve and care for team members, EQ is what helps us close the gap between aspiring to effectively serve team members and actually doing it on a consistent basis.

The good news is that EQ is highly trainable.  We can train to change our brains in ways that make us more emotionally intelligent.

If we aspire to be highly effective leaders who can serve and inspire greatness in others, we should commit to a well-structured plan for training in emotional intelligence skills.

This topic of EQ is so essential to leadership success that I will be devoting numerous posts the topic of EQ over the coming months.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Can you think of examples where a technically proficient, smart person failed when promoted to a leadership position simply because she or he lacked emotional intelligence?

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An Inspiring Metric for Leadership Success – Idea # 13 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

lifting someone up

In Serve to Be Great, and in a recent post on this blog, I wrote about the importance of “measuring the right things.

The best leaders over the long term tend to place equal or greater emphasis on measuring the degree to which they serve and care for team members than the emphasis they place on numbers.  These leaders realize that by serving and caring for the people on their teams, they are helping to ensure that the numbers are taken care of.

Of all the metrics we could establish for how well we serve and care for team members, one of the most impactful is the growth of our team members.

At a strategic level, a metric could be as simple as asking the question, “How much did the person on my team grow professionally and personally, as a result of working on our team?”

Upon further reflection, it seems as though getting this aspect of leadership right would influence every other metric in a positive way.

When growth is a metric, each of the following are taken care of:

  • We inspire a person to achieve excellence and we help them to achieve it. Thus, we facilitate the individual’s peak performance.
  • We develop the spirit of teamwork, which helps the team achieve better performance.
  • We help the person develop personal qualities that will ensure their success both with our team and beyond; qualities like kindness, patience, compassion, empathy, and good listening.

In short, we work to help the team member become the best version of herself that she can possibly become, and this is a win-win-win-win.  This benefits us, her, our organization, and our community in general.

This approach also builds trust and loyalty.  Imagine working for a boss who cares just as much, or more, about you and your growth as a person as she does about what you can produce for the team.  Isn’t that someone for whom you would go the extra mile?

Tactically, the metric of growth becomes a little more challenging.  Measuring growth isn’t incredibly easy.  Also, we can’t make a person grow.  We can only facilitate the process.

A good exercise to help with this effort is to sit down and think of all the areas where the team member could grow both personally and professionally.  I recommend focusing on areas where the team member is strong and leveraging those strengths to help bring any areas of weakness up to the point where the team member could at least be average in that area.

The next step would be to discover what’s important to the team member and where he wants to go in both the short and long term, and both personally and professionally.  If you’ve already conducted the “How can I serve you?” meeting, you already have this information.

Once we know what’s important to a team member, and where he wants to go, we can construct both a plan and metrics for helping the person grow in the areas he’ll need to grow in to accomplish his goals.  It will also be much easier to align any areas of growth we would like to see with what the team member values.  If we combine this with involving the team member in building a plan for development, we can achieve a lot of buy in, which is essential for success.

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

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Be Powerful By Giving Power Away – Idea #12 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

empowered kid

The following quote—attributed to Lao-Tzu, considered by many to be the wisest man in the history of China—summarizes a true leader’s achievement: “When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”

There are many reasons why empowering people results in better business outcomes.  Below are just a few.

First, empowering team members can dramatically improve our organization’s capacity for creative problem solving.  When we find ways to empower people, we significantly reduce bureaucracy, which frees team members up to think on their own and come up with novel solutions.

In Daniel Pink’s best-selling book Drive, he draws on 40 years of research showing how much more effective providing autonomy is as a motivator than is money. He points out how this is especially true for any work that requires creativity and other forms of higher-level thinking, which is almost all work in the business world. A great real-world example of this principle in action is Google’s flextime.

Google employees are allowed and strongly encouraged to spend up to 20 percent of their time on campus working on any project they want to. In other words, they can spend a full day out of each work week on pet projects that excite them. The only requirement is that they need to report on what they’re working on from time to time. Google reports that as much as 50 percent of the company’s innovations are the result of projects that employees have conceived and developed during flextime.

Second, empowered people like coming to work more—and who wouldn’t want the members on their team to actually look forward to coming to work? Besides being the right thing to do, creating an enjoyable team culture results in greater productivity, more innovation, and a significant impact on a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent.

Empowering the people on a team can also save a tremendous amount of time. When people know that we trust them and even expect them to make decisions without our input, we can eliminate having to think about and answer questions that they’re fully qualified to answer on their own. We are freed up to focus our energy on higher-level and more strategic aspects of our work, and on serving the members of our team.

This is vitally important for any leader, but especially for start-up entrepreneurs. One of the easiest ways to speed up the growth of a newer organization is to delegate as much responsibility as possible to others so that we can work on our business and our culture instead of being constantly caught up in the day-to-day operations.

Let’s look at some ideas and tools for helping us to become increasingly comfortable with extending high levels of trust to members of our team and truly empowering them, so that we can gradually make that a new mental habit.

The Power of Listening

A very simple way to empower others is to do less talking and more listening.  As leaders, the more questions we ask and the more often we ask for help, the more successful we will tend to be.  Asking lots of questions and listening more enables the intelligence of our team members to blossom.

Setting Boundaries

There is a legitimate concern about giving team members “free rein” to do whatever is needed to wow customers. We might worry that they’ll spend more than is appropriate, or make some other kind of rash decision. Although I think it’s natural to have thoughts like this, there is really no need to worry about it because when we care for and trust people, they almost always do the right thing.

That being said, we can also reduce the risk of some anomaly to the general rule of people doing the right thing by setting boundaries that give members of our team some structure for how they can go about wowing a customer. This is as simple as placing a limit on how much a team member can spend on any single customer, which can vary depending on the margins of our products or services.

For example, the Ritz-Carlton brand sets a limit of $2,000 (your limit may be much lower for lower margin products or services). Leaders at the Ritz-Carlton are saying to team members, “We trust you do the right thing to make sure that our customers are 100 percent satisfied with their experience with us. You can be as creative as you like to make that happen, and spend as much as $2,000 per customer to make that happen.” In most cases, the employees spend almost nothing to come up with creative ways to wow a customer. But, when it’s necessary, employees have the freedom to make some big decisions without getting approval.

Core Values Make Decisions Easy

Well-designed core values should act as filters for decisions. When faced with a decision, people should be able to run the options through each of the core values, starting with the first. If an option would violate one of the core values, it can immediately be eliminated as a possible course of action.  For instance, if one our core values is Long-term Success, when a member of our team has to decide whether to do something that will result in short-term gain, but could result in negative long-term consequences, she will know that the course of action being considered is not even an option.

Core values allow us to give team members even more autonomy. If our core values are well thought out, we should be able to say to the people we lead, “I hired you because I have great confidence that you will make good decisions. So, although you are welcome to seek my input on any decision, these are the only things that you need my approval on (there may be a several examples where you will want to have the final say). With everything else, provided that what you do is in line with our core values, it’s your call. I trust you to do the right thing. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. As long as it doesn’t violate our core values, making mistakes will just help you learn and grow.”

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

This piece is an adapted excerpt from the book Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom.

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Train to Be Happier – Idea #11 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

happy busienss person

Making the effort to effectively serve and care for team members is always a win-win: it helps improve business outcomes while also helping us to live a more meaningful, fulfilling life.

With some of the efforts we make to serve team members, it can take a little contemplation to make the connection between the effort to serve and the fulfillment that it brings.

There are a few examples, however, where the connection between fulfillment and achievement are immediately obvious.  One of those examples is being happy.

One of the greatest gifts we can offer to the people on our teams is our own happiness.

Research cited in the book Happiness Advantage, by positive psychology expert Shawn Achor, shows that leaders in more positive moods are better able to think creatively, problem solve, and negotiate.

Happiness is quite contagious.  According to a study at Yale, happiness is more contagious than bad moods, and smiling and laughter are the most contagious of all.

Thus, happier leaders are better able to drive positive emotions in the people on their teams.  Clearly, all other things being equal, a team with a more positive emotional climate is going to outperform a team where negative moods and emotions are the norm.

This might explain why in a study cited in Primal Leadership, by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, researchers found that leaders who laugh the most, and are able to get others to laugh, significantly outperformed other leaders in terms of how they were rated by team members and the bonuses they received for financial performance.

This is all likely quite intuitive for most of us.  We don’t need research to tell us that a happy leader is going to be more effective than a grump.

The important question is, “How do we increase our happiness?”

Fortunately, happiness is actually quite trainable.

It is now well established that we all have a baseline level of happiness that was set at a very young age.

We can experience times where we are happier or less happy than our baseline level of happiness as a result of pleasant or unpleasant life experiences but, within a short amount of time, we will return to our pre-set, baseline level of happiness.

This explains why some people generally seem to be happier than others.

It also explains why people who win the lottery or become paralyzed experience temporary changes in happiness but, within a year, both lottery winners and people who become paralyzed report that they are no more or less happy than before winning the lottery or getting into an accident.

Most people mistakenly pursue happiness by trying to change external circumstances in their lives, unaware that this only results in a short-term spike that will soon fade away, and won’t change their baseline level of happiness.

The wise approach would be to focus on cultivating happiness that doesn’t depend on outside circumstances by changing our baseline level of happiness.

Fortunately, this type of happiness is actually quite trainable.  For an exhaustive list of methods developed by positive psychologists for changing our baseline levels of happiness, please check out the book mentioned above, The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor.

My preferred method is mindfulness training, which has been shown to literally change our brains in ways that change our baseline levels of happiness.

I believe, based on my own experience and research in neuroscience, that mindfulness has the most profound effects on the happiness that doesn’t depend on external circumstances.

The other major advantage of mindfulness training is that we can train in mindfulness without adding anything to our already busy schedules.  All we have to do is change the way we do things that we already do anyhow.

For a quick-start guide to mindfulness training, please click here.  If you’d like to go further, I highly recommend the book Search Inside Yourself, by my friend Meng, Google’s Jolly Good Fellow.

 

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

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Be a Mono-Tasker – Idea #10 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

multi-tasking

Some of the least productive people I’ve ever seen also seem to be the busiest.

They work long hours, often juggling multiple activities – such as eating lunch, reading e-mails, and listening to music – all at once.

I believe people do this because they have been fooled by the common misconception that the ability to “multi-task” is one that is highly valued and should be developed.

I wrote “multi-task” in quotes because the brain is actually not even capable of performing two cognitive functions at the exact same moment in time.  What we’re actually doing when we’re “multi-tasking” is switching rapidly between tasks.

Contrary to popular myth, this rapid switching between tasks that we tend to brag about as “multi-tasking” is extremely detrimental to performance and productivity.

As Dr. Susan Weinschenk explains in an article she wrote for Psychology Today,

“Task switching is ‘expensive…’

Here’s what we know from the research:

  • It takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between them than if you do them one at a time.
  • You make more errors when you switch than if you do one task at a time.
  • If the tasks are complex then these time and error penalties increase.
  • Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.”

“Multi-tasking” is such a bad habit, in fact, that the more often we do it, the worse we get at it.  This means we won’t be as effective at handling multiple tasks at once when life dictates that we need to do that.  We’d be much better off if we practice mono-tasking as the rule, and only “multi-task” when we absolutely have to.

Doing one thing at a time and doing it well – mono-tasking – helps us to improve our own output, and it is also a simple yet powerful way to better serve our team members.

By taking time to focus on the most important tasks, we get them done more quickly and we do them better, which is an indirect way of serving team members.

Mono-tasking also helps us to be less anxious.  When we’re less anxious, we are much better able to create a positive emotional climate for our team.

When mono-tasking becomes more of a habit, we also listen much better to others.  When someone is speaking to us, we’re better able to put down our smartphones, turn away from our computers, and give our full, undivided attention to the person who is speaking to us.

I humbly suggest that we all make it a practice to do one thing at a time, do it mindfully, and do it well.

 

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

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How to Compassionately Let Someone Go – Idea #9 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

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Does being a compassionate, servant leader mean that we should keep team members who are not performing well?

Using the approach below, we can often help an under-performing team member to improve and grow.

And, when necessary, we can use the approach to compassionately let someone go without having to fire them.

Addressing Poor Performance

I’ve certainly failed with this balance at both ends of the spectrum.

I’ve been too quick to want to let someone go. And, as I’ve grown more compassionate over the years, I’ve not addressed an issue that really needed to be addressed because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

But being compassionate doesn’t mean that we don’t address issues that need to be addressed, like consistently poor performance. Sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do, which would be in the best service of all the stakeholders, is to let someone go.

Are we really serving someone if we allow him or her to consistently do mediocre work? Or, are we actually hurting his or her long-term chances for success?

The Four Pieces of Paper

I learned the approach below from my friend and mentor, John Spence. He calls the approach The Four Pieces of Paper.

Although variations of it can be used with any team member who is underperforming, the approach is very powerful when thoughts come to mind of letting someone go.

When having a conversation with a team member who has been underperforming, we can frame the discussion by saying something like, “I expect really great things from you. Recently, I don’t think what you’ve been doing is up to your standards. What’s going on?”

Then we can let the team member know that we’d like them to have the greatest chance for success for years to come. Not encouraging them to reach their full potential is doing them a disservice.

We then allow them to create a solution, which they will write on four pieces of paper. The team member writes:

  1. What will they achieve in a given period that they feel adequately makes up for the previous poor performance
  2. What do they need from us, as their leader, to make that happen
  3. What should the reward be, within reason, if they hit the mark
  4. What should the consequence be if they fail

Using this approach, you might find that a team member you thought you would have to fire suddenly turns around simply because you showed them you care about them.

You’ll also find that if they don’t hit the mark, you won’t have to fire them.

They’ll have written, “I should leave,” on the fourth piece of paper because they’ll see that they picked the goal and were given all the support they needed to accomplish it. If they still don’t hit the mark, they’ll almost always see that they are simply not in the right place and voluntarily move on.

As a compassionate, servant leader, we could then help the team member find a position within our organization, or even outside of it, where she or he could thrive.

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

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