The Secret Force Directing Your Life

directionsThere is a small, but powerful force that pushes you every day. It can move you just left of success. Left unchecked, it veers you away from your goals. It taps, pings, distracts and redirects you in subtle ways.

What am I talking about?

The Nudge.

The Nudge is the unhealthy snack at your eye level in the pantry.

It’s the audible email alert on your phone.

It is the arrangement of your living room furniture centering around your TV.

The Nudge is the social media app on the first screen of your tablet; the book reader on the last.

But…

… if you pay attention, you can use The Nudge to your advantage.

Notice what you put in your line of sight. Give yourself reminders that reinforce what you value. Center yourself around the things that move you toward success.

Put success in your own path.

(HT to Charles)

5 Tips for Finding Your Best Ideas (Infographic)

I decided to try something different this week and create an infographic to go with my post. (Hat tip to my friend Sandy and the members of my Master Mind group who have been encouraging me to do something like this.) Let me know how you like it.

I like to write about creativity, but stimulating your own creativity can seem elusive. You may find yourself stumped by a problem that requires an extra amount of resourcefulness. And, at one time or another, all of us have fallen into a routine where we default to the same ideas. Sometimes you need a strategy for conjuring up a little creative “magic.”

What can someone do (even if they don’t think of themselves as “creative”) to come up with more and better ideas?

I thought about this for a bit and came up with these 5 Tips for Finding Your BEST Ideas:

5-tips-for-finding-best-ideas-infographicTip #1: Speed Date

Don’t fall in love with your first idea. “Date around” a little bit before settling on a solution too quickly. Even if you eventually decide your original idea is best, considering options can add to or improve your first concept.

Tip #2: Interrogate

Curiosity can often breed creativity. So, ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid of asking a “stupid question.” Be brave. Seek to understand what the goal is and why you want to acheive it. Break down assumptions and discover where the real boundaries are.

Tip #3: Hunt Your Muse

Seek out things that inspire you. Notice when you find yourself full of ideas:

  • When you’re in nature
  • When you experience art
  • When you read
  • When you listen to music
  • When you spend time with others
  • When you are in solitude

What works for one person, may not inspire the other. Find what speaks to YOU and then listen.

Tip #4: Symbolize

Don’t be so literal. Instead, use metaphors to describe your ideas.

What is an important attribute of what you’re attempting?

For example: If you want customers to have a sense of adventure when they enter your store, then “exploring outer space” could be a metaphor you use. You could have “launchpads” where customers find quick help information. Areas around key merchandise could be “orbits.”

Tip #5: Boil It Down

We started with the idea of “speed dating” lots of ideas, but you have to boil it down eventually. Strip your ideas down to their essentials. Dieter Rams called this “less but better” design. By removing what isn’t necessary, you can focus on what is important. If you don’t know what is essential, go back to step #3 and interrogate with more questions to find out.

Do you have any other methods you use for finding your best ideas?

(and let me know if you want to see more infographics like this in the future)

4 Reasons Your Team isn’t Performing

Reasons Your Team Underperforms

Last quarter, your team didn’t reach their goals. You chalked it up to market circumstances or a seasonal anomaly. Halfway through another quarter and things aren’t looking any more optimistic. It’s obvious this is a trend and something has to change.

Before you assume you should restructure bonuses or send folks through training, you should consider different reasons your team isn’t performing. If you assume you know what the problem is, then you’re guessing at the solution. And applying the wrong solution may be worse than doing nothing at all.

So, what could the problem be?

Here are 4 reasons your team isn’t performing:

1.     Lack of knowledge

Either people don’t know what to do, or how to do it (or both). Leadership will often assume this is the problem, because training seems like a simple solution.

Signs you may have a knowledge problem:

  • The same questions are asked by different individuals
  • There is a steep learning curve with every project/undertaking
  • Quality is inconsistent

Knowledge Solutions:

  • Training
  • Quick Reference Guides
  • Mentoring
  • Continuing Education

2.      Lack of structure or process

The steps to get things done in your organization are undocumented and it is unclear who has authority. Consultants will often assume this is the problem, because they have methods to address this.

Signs you may have a structure or process problem:

  • Decisions are often delayed
  • People are doing the same work (redundancy)
  • People step on each others’ toes unintentionally
  • It is difficult to report status of projects/undertakings
  • Quality is inconsistent

Structure and Process Solutions:

  • Organization charts
  • Outlining roles & responsibilities
  • Process maps / flowcharts
  • Decision framework

3.      Lack of Tools and Resources

People are not equipped to do their work. They do not have the hardware, software, people, and/or budgets they need to accomplish their responsibilities. Front line workers and line managers will often assume this is the problem because they see the workload, feel overwhelmed, and don’t feel supported by leadership.

Signs you may have a tools and resources problem:

  • Tools are not evenly distributed and those with proper tools are your highest performers
  • The use of existing hardware or software is a consistent bottleneck (be sure it’s not lack of knowledge)
  • Multiple workers are putting in overtime on a regular basis
  • There is a large area of responsibility within a group for which no individual has the required skills or experience

Tools and Resource Solutions:

  • Assess needs through outlining team goals, roles and responsibilities
  • Research industry best practices on staffing and tools (could be informal questions asked of employees who worked elsewhere)
  • Assess ROI of additional budget for staffing and tools

4.     Lack of Motivation

People have no incentive to perform better. Entrepreneurs will often assume this is the issue, because they believe others share similar motivations to themselves.

Signs you may have a motivation problem:

  • It is unclear what is rewarded and recognized by your organization
  • You have a hard time retaining people who have a healthy sense of competition
  • People complain about expectations and adopt a victim mentality
  • Opportunities are unaddressed

Motivation Solutions:

  • Clearly stating how and why individuals are rewarded (meeting goals, taking good risks, giving extraordinary effort, etc.)
  • Have a system for tracking and reporting performance
  • Give employees honest feedback on their performance (more often than once a year)
  • Be consistent with rewards and recognition

So, when it appears your team is chronically underperforming, take stock in these 4 key areas. By identifying a specific cause, you can define a specific solution and increase your opportunity for successfully reaching (or exceeding) team goals.

What have you done to improve your team’s performance in the past?

I’d love to hear other thoughts and solutions you’ve seen work before. Share your experience by commenting below.

Envision Versus Division: Which Will You Choose?

In your organization, you have a choice. You can envision something bigger than yourself that others can rally together around. Or you can cut things down to size and try to divide, because you’re afraid of hoping for something bigger.

When you have a mindset to envision, you unite people around a common cause. You share in the responsibility and in the credit. You inspire others to “step up to the plate” and challenge themselves. You include people who bring different skills and experiences to the effort. You motivate everyone to achieve something great, and you focus them on what is truly important.

When we divide, we separate people into “us” and “them.” This restricts what we’re able to do, because “we” don’t want “them” to show “us” up. So, things become very political and begin to alienate people from the team and the organization’s goals. This can deflate any energy and determination our teammates had, which makes our whole organization weaker.

Envision-versus-divisionThink about whether you support a culture that ENVISIONS or one that is DIVISIVE.

Why is it so easy for us to lose sight of how counterproductive divisiveness can be in our work environment?

 

 

How to Deal with Your Insecurities

In my previous post, I outlined an approach for dealing with insecure leaders or coworkers. Of course, it’s hard to do this for someone else when your own insecurities are controlling you. So, maybe it’s better to start with our own “stuff.”

Our insecurities can hold us back at work and at home. When we feel threatened or uncertain, we can act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others we care about. We sabotage our own efforts and erode the trust of friends and colleagues. How can we manage our insecurities and avoid destructive behavior?

Some of the same steps I stated before can be helpful. Here’s a quick summary from last week’s article:

Dig Deeper

Know thyself. Understanding your personality through an index like the 9 Domains, the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you know when you are operating in a stress behavior. (The Birkman Method is another more advanced / thorough tool for the workplace.)

Give Complements

Surround yourself with people who balance out weaknesses and strengths.

Follow Up

Check back on your progress. Without checks and balances, it is easy to fall back into old habits and veer off course.

What else can you do to deal with YOUR insecurities?

  1. Keep a Log
    Notice when you act out in unhealthy ways at work (e.g. avoiding responsibility, blaming others, becoming territorial, procrastinating, claiming someone else’s reward). Next time you do, write yourself a note. Describe what was happening and how you felt. Keep a log of these incidents and look for patterns. Do they occur around deadlines or when work is added to your plate? Maybe it happens when you are confused or when your requirements are not clear.  Some people may exhibit stress behavior when they feel alone, or when they feel others are ganging up against them. (Here’s a list of common causes of workplace stress)
  2. Get a Reality Check
    Once you’ve identified the source of your insecurity, you can ask yourself whether it fits with reality. Do you actually miss deadlines or just worry about it? Is there really no one who will help you with your full plate? Can you not ask for clarity on expectations?Ask a trusted friend or coworker for their perspective. You may be putting unneeded pressure or expectations on yourself. You may discover what you are worried about isn’t even happening. And if it is happening, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By worrying about missing a deadline, you start micromanaging and interrupt other people’s work. They can’t get their work done because of the interruptions and you end up missing your deadline.
  3. Be Patient
    Lifelong habits are hard to break. So don’t expect to “cure” yourself. You will likely fall back into your old routines. The trick is to be aware of yourself and to manage your reactions. Give yourself (and others) the grace to fail, and the courage to try again. This process takes time, but can be more fulfilling if you’re patient with yourself.

Do you know your tendencies? Are you doing anything to manage your insecurities? If you don’t take intentional action, you’re unlikely to improve your behavior and more likely to hamper your own success.

This is not exhaustive and you may have other thoughts or suggestions. Feel free to share your comments below.

How to Deal with an Insecure Leader

Insecure-LeaderYou probably get along with most people in your life. But it probably doesn’t take long to think of someone who challenges you in a negative way and makes your life difficult. These folks don’t just wake up and scheme about making you miserable. It’s more likely they are trying to do what they feel is right, but because of some insecurity they sometimes will exhibit unhealthy behavior – which can affect you.

We all deal with insecurity at different points in our lives and careers. It’s challenging enough to deal with our own “stuff,” but we’re often in an environment that requires us to deal with other people’s insecurities as well. Compound these internal and external factors and you can see why offices, homes and little league baseball can be a breeding ground for drama and conflict.

When reacting to stress or difficulties, your boss or colleague may start acting out from their insecurity. What are some signs of insecurity? 

  1. Pointing fingers at others’ mistakes (even insignificant errors)
  2. Whining and complaining
  3. Taking all the credit
  4. Drawing attention to their plight
  5. Withdrawing from any interaction
  6. Becoming indecisive
  7. Ramping up activity needlessly
  8. Being domineering and/or territorial
  9. Getting stuck or paralyzed

So, how do you deal with an insecure leader (or coworker)?

React

One way is to respond to their actions.

  1. Defend yourself against criticism
  2. Pacify their complaints
  3. Placate to their ego
  4. Rescue them from themselves
  5. Guard the door until they’re ready to face the world again
  6. Make decisions on their behalf
  7. Help them spin their plates
  8. Walk on eggshells
  9. Wait patiently for them to get unstuck

Dig Deeper

Another way to deal with insecure people is to deal with the insecurity itself. Ask why they are acting the way they are. Just be sure to do it in a way that conveys you want to help them, not criticize them. Encourage them to talk to someone (a mentor, a coach, a friend, clergy, etc.) who can give them guidance and peace of mind. Help them see that facing their insecurity is better than letting it control them.

Understanding the differing personalities and their ways of operating is definitely helpful. The lists above follow the 9 Domains, but a basic understanding of the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you recognize when others are operating out of insecurity or responding to stressors.

Give Complements

These aren’t compliments like, “Nice shirt.” or “Have you lost weight?” I’m talking about finding people who complement each other with different strengths and weaknesses. John Maxwell calls this “Developing a Complementary Friend”.

If your trusted friend also complements your insecurities and helps make up for some of your weaknesses, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming this problem.

Encourage insecure people to collaborate with people who complement them. Point out how they can help one another because of their differing styles. This can help make their differences a positive instead of a negative.

Follow Up

As with most things, making a one-time course correction doesn’t mean you’ll stay on target.  If you have addressed someone’s unhealthy behavior, follow up with them to check on progress. Make observations. Ask a few open-ended questions of colleagues. And ask the insecure individual how they feel it’s going. If they know you are checking back and will hold them accountable, they will be more aware of when they start slipping back into reacting to their insecurities.

Working with others is hardly ever neat and tidy. It can be a messy ordeal, especially when dealing with insecure people. But dig a little deeper, complement strengths and weaknesses, and follow up on progress. By doing this, you may find your workplace can be (in general) a healthier and happier place.

The Power You Have to Control Reality

Perception is reality. More specifically, YOUR perception is YOUR reality.

Understanding this is critical to how you view circumstances and your life in general. We do not interact directly with reality. We filter everything through our senses. We take the empirical evidence we see, hear, taste, smell and feel; then extract meaning from it. We determine that meaning based on our understanding of how the world works. This means our reality is largely created by combining what we sense with what we already understand. So, we take a limited sample of facts, blend it with our narrow story to create our perception of reality. PerceptionThis individualized recipe for reality explains why we have so many conflicting opinions. Conservative vs. liberal, Apple vs. Android, Yankees vs. Red Sox. If you listen to the arguments without having a bias yourself, the opposing viewpoints can sound convincing. At the same time, they present alternative realities that seem to be unable to coexist. When we recognize our perception of reality is based on the intersection of facts we know and the story we tell, we better understand how different people can have world views that are polar opposites.

Perceptions of RealitySo, the story you tell yourself has incredible power over your reality. You may be cast in your story as the victorious hero, the underdog against huge odds, the lovable fool, the helpful sidekick, an unlucky loser who can’t get a break, or even the villain. This story colors reality differently and affects how you see the world around you. By controlling the story you tell yourself, you gain power to influence the reality you experience.

We are pattern recognition “machines.”

No one has all the facts. We build the puzzle of reality with a small fraction of the actual puzzle pieces. The rest of the picture we fill in using the incredible human capacity for pattern recognition. For example – when you visit a hotel, you may find the toilet tissue has been folded. With just that bit of information, you fill in the gaps and create a story telling you the maid has been in the hotel room and has cleaned it since the last guest’s stay.

Al Seckel’s Ted talk shows how this pattern recognition skill can lead to misinterpretations. If we can be so wrong about small things like a pattern in a vase or the size and shape of a table, then we could conceivably be wrong about significant things as well.

The two children figures above are the same size.

Our perception of our lives could be misinterpreted just as easily. You may mistakenly think the world is out to get you when it would be much more helpful to believe others are cheering for your success. You may believe everything will fall apart if you’re not in control, but delegating to others would help you be more effective. Maybe you think pacifying someone who disagrees with you is your best option, but you would do better to stick to your guns even if it rocks the boat.

“You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not.”
—Isabel Allende 

“Carpenters bend wood; fletchers bend arrows; wise men fashion themselves.”
—Buddha

“Make your life itself a creative work of art.”
—Mike Ray, The Highest Goal

The above quotes are from Tom Peter’s ebook, Radical Personal Development.

So, what do you do now?

  1. Get other perspectives.
    Find trusted advisors in your life you can use as sounding boards. These should not be people who completely agree with your worldview. Be willing to hear and consider opinions that may be in complete opposition to your own. Look for solutions created in unrelated industries or markets. You may find innovative solutions that have been applied in other areas will help you with your application. By getting other perspectives, you can obtain a 3-dimensional view of reality instead of your 2-dimensional perception.
  2. Step back.
    Take time to get some space from the work at hand. Spend some moments meditating and/or praying about  your perception of things. Take a walk or visit an art gallery. Do something that engages your body, but leaves your mind idle. Your subconscious may tap into answers hidden in the corner of your mind. Open yourself up to alternate possibilities and see if you receive any new insight.
  3. Craft the story you want your life to tell.
    Are you happy with the story your telling? If not, what do you want your story to be? Wrestle with this question and build an epic story worthy of your life’s work… because that’s exactly what it is. Your life’s work. In the end, if your story were a movie, you shouldn’t be left wanting a refund on your ticket.

By considering your perspective and adjusting your story, you may find that you have more power over reality than you realized. You can’t change facts so that you’re 5 inches taller or so your distant and rich uncle leaves you a million dollars tomorrow. But you can see yourself in a new way and realize that opportunities exist in every moment. At least, that’s the story I’m telling myself right now.