Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Keep Heading Towards Your Big and Daunting Goals

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Do you know where you want to be in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years? Do you know what you want to achieve in your life? Do you know what you want to proudly look back at when it’s time to make the big tally.

Know where you want to go and keep your goal in focus. Find opportunities to celebrate and award yourself along the way. Suck it up if times are tough, but also be gentle and forgiving to yourself – not everything will always work out exactly as you thought.

I hope you don’t just idle along from day to day, getting blown around by the random winds of life.

Know your goals

It all starts with knowing where you want to go. Don’t merely think about the next step you could do from where you are. Think about where you want to be when all is said and done. Then work backwards from that end goal and lay out the path that gets you there.

Think longterm. Prepare, invest and build for your future. Don’t fall prey to the easy way out or the instant gratification. Keep your eyes on the goal post.

Find little rewards on the way

When you have a goal that’s a little out there and maybe even daunting, it’s important to find and set rewards along the way.

Do what engaging games are doing: establish little goals and rewards along the way. Celebrate when you achieve those milestones. Keep yourself moving to your distant end goal by setting in-between goals that you reach along the way. Set rewards with those goals that keep you excited and keep you going.

Train your resilience

Some times, probably many times, it will be hard to push to your goal. There will be many temptations to go the easier way that provides instant gratification but distracts your from your desired outcome (e.g. plucking down in front of the TV instead of going for a run).

Here are some things you can do when ‘the going gets tough’:

  • Look forward – keep your goal in mind, keep the forward momentum in focus
  • Get perspective – put things into perspective, don’t get stuck in the current feeling but look at the bigger picture
  • Know your why – be clear with yourself why you are doing things, what drives you
  • Build on your passion – find the things in the current moment or the challenging situation that you are passionate about, spend as much time as you can on those

80:20

While all of the above is true and good, sometimes life happens. If you head towards your goals 80% of the time, you can be proud of yourself. If you strive for 100% you will get hard, myopic and will probably miss out on bunch of equally important things.

Always remember:

The art lies in the empty space.

Give yourself some slack every now and then. Be focused but also let go when the pressure builds up too much. Even the strongest tank needs a pressure valve.

Be focused but also let go. Don’t force yourself too much. Take a day off. Forget all your rules and duties, put down this guide and just enjoy life for at least one day the week.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Be Deliberate About Your Growth

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I wanted to share how I think about career development in general but also specifically at Amazon. Take is as what it is, my personal view. However, to go with Colin Powell: “It worked for me.”

 Grow your equity

Invest in yourself!

In my mind, career growth is primarily about how you invest in yourself. It’s about what new skills you can learn, what new experiences you can gain. It’s about how you can expand the scope of your impact as you get better at what you do.

You can think about it through the lens of a job interview. We all do plenty of those as interviewers. What stories from candidates excite us? What stories can you tell and what do you need to do to expand the set of interesting stories about your professional life. Your career growth plan is how you build up the examples that will excite other people and yourself. As experienced interviewers, we know that it’s never about the title a candidate brings, but it’s always about how they solved complex problems and overcame challenging headwinds in creative and inclusive ways.

Promotion is a by-product of career growth

Career growth doesn’t equal promotion. Promotion is a by-product of career growth.

At Amazon, we deliberately only have a few levels. Therefore, the time between promotions is longer than in many other companies and the difference between levels is greater. However, the growth opportunities in a level are plenty and will allow you to build the anecdotes and data to prove that you are ready for the next step when you are ready.

Looking back to a previous life that seems far away, I remember that at Microsoft we plopped from level 63 to 64 to 65 every two years. There was lots of instant gratification, but it was also somehow meaningless, since in most cases the job title didn’t even change. At Amazon, we take big deliberate steps with longer personal growth periods in-between. The scope, responsibility, and impact we are given as individuals during those growth periods are mind-blowing in comparison to other companies.

Know where you want to go and start being that person today

Where do you want to be in 2-3 years?

Be clear in your mind what you want to do in 2 or 3 years. Understand how you will operate in that role. Look at people who are already performing in that role or at that level and understand what they do differently from you. Then look for opportunities to do the same. Work in the same way (the ‘how’ much more than the ‘what’). Talk to your manager and make sure she knows where you want to go, can provide you with proper opportunities and give you relevant coaching and feedback along the way.

Seek opportunities to learn how those role models do what they do and then find ways for yourself to show similar behaviors and outcomes (don’t just copy them, nothing is more depressing than a bad copy). Deliver at that quality bar consistently, and people will notice. Once enough people notice you will get promoted.

For example, at promotion Amazon is not a bet of leadership that you might eventually be able to grow into a new level. We don’t follow the Peter principle (i.e., you get promoted until you fail in your level). At Amazon, we promote people who already perform at the next level. We promote once people have consistently demonstrated that they are ready. Promotion at Amazon is an acknowledgment that you already have what it takes, not that we have high hopes that you might eventually get there.

Make personal growth goals

Make a plan, be clear, be deliberate, and understand what the bar is.

What is it that you want to work on? What scope do you want to expand in? Where can you help your organization? What things can you take to the next level to role-model for the rest of your team?

Understand where you want to go. Understand what the expectations are for that role and level. Understand where you need to add to your existing experiences (regular career discussion are a great tool for that). Make a plan!

Those plans don’t need to be tied to a next level though (in my mind in most cases they shouldn’t). I’m coming back to my first and most important point – it’s about how you grow your skills and equity. For example, for me, I wanted to widen my focus and impact beyond my direct PM team. I made it a goal for this year to find ways to help coach the broader org so that we can all be more effective and fulfilled. Will I learn a lot? For sure! Will that get me promoted to Director? No way. Do I worry much about that? Not a minute. It’s a ton of fun and I learn many new things along the way.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Not Everything is as Urgent as it Appears

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A critical part of being accountable and delivering against your commitments (promises!) is to actually have bandwidth for them, in other words to not over-commit.

We already talked about how it is ok – actually expected – to say ‘no’ when needed. What we didn’t talk about yet are timelines (or ‘deadlines’ to make it even more scary sounding).

Not everything is as urgent as it might appear at first glance.

Clarify expectations

Not everything that comes from your leadership comes with a “drop everything else and do this right now” expectation. In most cases, leaders just want to know when they can expect an answer and have the confidence that they don’t need to spend their energy to track that deliverable for you.

Don’t assume. Clarify and verify.

If a request came in without a timeline or clarification on urgency, don’t assume. Just ask: “Hey, when do you need this by?

No decent leader will hold it against you if you ask, “By when do you need this?” I’m actually pretty sure for most leaders this will register as a plus point (if it doesn’t it’s time to look for a different leader).

What leaders want to know is whether you commit to provide the answer and by when. They want to be confident that you will do it and that they don’t have to worry about it. They will tell you if a timeline is not flexible and why.

As an employee, train your leader to provide that information with her requests in the future. However, also make extra-sure that you are managing yourself against that timeline! It is super frustrating as a leader if you need to keep your own reminders on everything you need, because you cannot rely on open loops to be closed without your constant follow-up.

Understand timelines

Not everything needs to happen right now. In fact, very few things are truly urgent, although many are perceived or presented as urgent or initially appear non-negotiable.

Unfortunately corporate culture has developed many bad habits in order to try to compensate for low accountability:

  • Setting deadlines way ahead of time to build in buffer
  • Setting short deadlines so that people do it right now and don’t get distracted
  • Setting deadlines just because that’s what you do
  • And the worst: setting a short deadline because something was sitting idle on your own desk for too long and now it’s really time to make progress

Understand the true urgency and timeline. Offer a plan to get there. Make sure you hit the plan.

Feel empowered to understand and validate urgency and tight deadlines. Ask for when a task is truly due. If it requires you to drop other things, understand what drives the urgency and what breaks if the deadline is missed.

If you think a deadline has a ‘safety buffer’ built in, ask for the real deadline. However, once you get the real deadline, you must make sure that you will be ready by that time. Otherwise, you just teach your partners to add additional buffers to manage in the future to work around your tardiness and unreliability.

If a deadline is infeasible, check your calendar and priorities and see when you can make it. Offer that alternative plan and check for agreement. If pushed, be clear what you will have to sacrifice in order to make that timeline.

In most cases, you will find that a deadline is actually negotiable.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: How to Develop and Sell a Strategy

Strategic planning is the holy grail of leadership. Or is it?

Let’s talk about mental models for strategic planning (e.g. 3 year plans, business strategies) and also how to best communicate the outcomes – the famous ‘evangelizing’.

Strategic planning is all about setting the right priorities to have the biggest impact on desired outcomes. Strategic planning is setting the goal post, tactical execution is actually getting there (it took me about 10 years of my professional career to truly get that – I can be a slow learner).

Strategic planning is – or should be – true working backwards. The question should not be “what can I do next” but “where do I need to be 3 years from now”. With that, it always starts with getting clarity on the end state, the goals and the big problems to solve.

Where do you need to be in 3 years?

What are the goals (even better: what is THE goal)?

Identify the goals that you need to achieve. How can you measure whether you make progress against those goals?

Understand why they matter and how they might be correlated (positively or negatively) to each other.

What have you learned? What are your fundamental insights?

Goals are great metrics for progress, but there might also be big fundamental or structural issues that need to be solved, but are not immediately apparent from looking at the goals.

It’s good practice to reflect on what you have learned since the last strategic planning. Did new key problems or constraints present themselves that can have material impact on your ability to achieve the goals? Did new opportunities present themselves that weren’t obvious the last time?

Think backwards, not forward!

Don’t constrain yourself by what you know and have (e.g. current capabilities, existing funding, roadmaps and team structures).

Define where you need to be. Figure out how to get there in the next step.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Forget that you have a hammer for a moment, think about what you need to do and only then about what tool you might have to acquire.

What are your big levers?

Now that you know your goals, problems and opportunities – how can you have the most impact on those? What are your biggest levers?

Brainstorm

Make a list of all the things (the means to an end) that will help you to move towards the end state you want to achieve in 3 years.

Again, don’t limit yourself by current structure or what tech pieces you have. Think about what you need to move the goal, solve the problem or seize the opportunity.

Force yourself (!) to not just think about thinks you ‘could do’ but focus on what actually, truly, directly moves the priorities you defined previously.

Prioritize

Obviously, you cannot do everything you came up with in your brainstorming. You need to decide what to do first, what to focus on. No peanut-buttering.

What are the few things that will have outsized impact on your ability to achieve the desired end state?

Identify the biggest levers. Look at the outcome/impact, but also the cost/feasibility (i.e. what’s the Return of Investment, the ROI, of an idea). Make a sorted list of your biggest levers, their impact and their cost. Once you have that list you and your leadership can draw the line wherever you think the right ROI tradeoff is for investments.

Solidify your case

Get data. Make sure your initial assumptions are correct and the ROI story holds water.

Understand more details and make sure the idea is still feasible.

Start making a worry list or risk tracker (i.e. what could go wrong?) and burn it down. This process will not end until your final project will be shipped. Having a risk tracker or worry list is generally a good practice to avoid surprises.

Sell your story!

By now, you have put a LOT of thinking into your proposal. Be mindful that no one else has any comparable context or level of detail. You will need to catch up readers quickly and completely.

The best way to do that is to re-create your thought process for them in your story telling. Here’s a story flow that works.

Start with the goals

What do you want to achieve? What are your measurable priorities?

Why do they matter? Why these and not others?

Proper framing

What is the environment you are operating in? What have you learned (e.g. problems, opportunities)?

What assumptions about the future are you making that further inform your plans and thinking? What constraints do you need to work with?

What multipliers can you leverage?

Prioritization

Why did you pick the things you picked? What did you identify as the biggest levers and why (ROI)?

What did you push below the line and why (that’s a great appendix to have, especially when leaders are looking for additional projects to fund)? What are the most painful tradeoffs and what would it take to bring them back in?

This part is the ‘money piece’, you either get decision makers on board because they can follow your reasoning or you lose them because they cannot re-create what prioritization and tradeoffs you made.

Get tactical

Start giving a preview of how you will deploy your levers.

This is where reality kicks in.

From your current state, what are the next steps? What are rough timelines on how you would go about solving your problems as well as building and deploying your solutions?

What are the big questions you need to answers? Is there anything you need from leadership (play this card carefully and deliberately)?

Go do it!

You have a plan. You have approval. Go Execute!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections from Tai Chi Class Today

I usually don’t share discussions and lessons from class here, but today we talked about one that I think is worth sharing outside of our little Tai Chi family.

Pushing hands – Like water, like wind

We did quite a bit of pushing hands in class today. We don’t do it very often in our regular Tai Chi classes, but when we do, it’s a great way to feel, practice and guide our energy, face external obstacles and get direct feedback on our own actions.

It helps us understand the form on a deeper level, and it also presents broader lessons that apply to all areas of life.

Here’s the key point:

Don’t have a preconceived plan. Listen and react to the situation. Feel the energy and respond to it.

Our as our teacher, Hilmar Fuchs, likes to say:

Keep your mind open for opportunities. When they present themselves, go for it.

With that, we learn to ‘listen’ in push hands, to ‘keep our eyes open’ for challenges (attacks) and opportunities (openings).

Some of the principles we study in pushing hands:

  1. Have your mind on the end goal, on what you want to achieve. Don’t hold yourself back by overthinking the challenges in front of you, or thinking they are unsurmountable.
  2. Don’t try to force your way because you had a certain plan and want to stick to it.
  3. Don’t miss opportunities because you weren’t ready yet, or because they don’t fit in your plan and timeline.
  4. Be frugal, only move when you need to. Only react when you get energy. Don’t be mechanical, if there is no signal, there is no need for response.
  5. Don’t be stiff either, be flexible. The tree bends to the wind, the water flows around the rock, the wind reaches into every corner. On the other hand, the frozen branch breaks upon resistance.

When you get the principles right, you don’t need force

When we need to apply force, speed or trickery to overcome our partner (or obstacle), then we got the timing and the principles wrong. When we can be soft and calm, and still achieve our goals, then we did the right thing at the right time.

Strive to be soft (flexible) and calm, while maintaining course towards your goal.

When there is an opening, allow your energy to flow into it. When you pull a bolder out of the stream, the water will fill the void without hesitation.

When there is resistance, go around it. Every hard spot has a corresponding soft spot that is presented to you as a gift.

And in ‘real’ life?

After class we talked a little about the application of these principles to life and business.

It’s the same thing.

You want to have a general sense of where you want to go (we call it strategy), you want to simulate a few things that could happen to train your sensitivity (often referred to as business plan). But after that, you need to look and listen carefully to what is happening.

Keep your goal in mind, but lock your plan away where you can’t see it. Sense, listen, and react (we often call this experimentation and learning, or ‘little bets’). If an opening (an unexpected opportunity) presents itself, then go for it, whether the time is right or not (it usually never is). The goalpost is durable, the actual path to get there usually is unexpected.

Opportunities you didn’t predict will present themselves (openings), challenges you did’t anticipate will get in your way (resistance). Stay sensitive, flexible, and oriented towards forward momentum (project your energy to your goal, not to the obstacle in your way).

In the military they say:

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Be attentive, be flexible, be nimble, and be open for the unexpected.

Strategy gradually evolves – tactics pivot on a dime.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Situational Leadership

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The “Situational Leadership” framework by Ken Blanchard, is by far my favorite framework for managing and coaching people, regardless of whether it’s formal or peer coaching, work or personal. You might have heard of it before. There are classes, books and of course a WikiPedia page.

Coaching applies to all of us. As managers, we coach direct reports as part of their career development. As leaders, we coach peers to help them be more effective, overcome temporary hurdles, and to make the team better by sharing best practices. As individuals, we receive coaching and want it to be as effective as possible.

The Situational Leadership framework applies to both sides of the equation – it’s a framework for leaders to give coaching but it’s also a framework for individuals to ask for more targeted support.

The framework

The basic idea of the framework is that we all go through four stages of proficiency for any given skill set. It is critical to call out that this is not about our seniority overall, it is specific to the task at hand. For example, I might be extremely experienced and self-sufficient in writing specifications but I have never done a strategy document before. I would be D4 for specifications but D1 for strategy (see below for more explanation).

For every new task or area of competency, we go through that lifecycle of learning, from beginner to master. If we are faced with a new area, we of course retain mastery in the areas we already command, but we start as a rookie in the new area. Life-long learning at its best!

Situational Leadership asserts, that we need different kinds of direction, coaching and support, depending on what stage we’re in for that specific area and task. Coaching is not one-size-fits-all but specific to the person and the situation.

As we make our way through new challenges, we go through four phases. See the below chart for an illustration. The lower chart is the coaching style, the upper chart is the stage an individual is in for that specific task (I keep underlining ‘that specific task’ because you screw up coaching completely if you assess at the scope of the person, not the task).

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For the following discussion, I will make up my own attributes for the stages just for fun and emphasis; you can see the ‘official’ ones in the chart. The flow in the chart is from right to left, don’t ask me why that would make any sense. You see the inverse-U shaped flow. You can see it as a hill that you have to overcome as your motivation goes down in D2 and D3.

Stage 1: Clueless, a little scared but really motivated

“This is awesome. But please tell me what I should do, I’m lost.”

As an individual, I just got a big new area assigned. It’s awesome and I’m excited. However, to be honest I’m also deeply scared because I don’t really know where to start. I feel like there is a great chance to fail, and left on my own devices, I will need to put in many hours to figure out how to approach this.

As someone who coaches, motivation is not the issue (your coachee can’t yet anticipate the potential challenges ahead). There is plenty of motivation, but there also is plenty of worry as to the pure mechanics of solving the problem. In this stage, leaders need to give clear guidance on how the problem should be solved and what the specific steps and quality gates should look like. In short provide the cook book for solving the problem and explain what success should look like.

“Here is what you need to do. Let’s meet weekly and talk about progress.”

Stage 2: Got some ideas, facing early challenges

“Alright, I see what you want me to do. This is harder than I thought.”

As an individual, I have made first progress on the task. I have a plan, but things are harder than I anticipated. This starts to suck just a little bit. How can I make this easier?

This is the valley of frustration. As a leader, you need to give both moral support, but also clear guidance on how specific hurdles and blockers can be overcome. The coachee is still learning their ropes and needs guidance that they can transform into their own solutions and frameworks.

“How are things going? What’s challenging? Here is what I would do in that situation.”

Stage 3: Got a handle on it (mostly), not quite smooth sailing yet

“I think I have a plan, but let me double check with you. Things are getting a little easier.”

As an individual, your confidence is increasing. You are facing problems that you have seen before, and you start having frameworks to solve them. It feels like things are becoming just a little easier lately.

The coachee is coming out of their valley of frustration. Slowly. You still need to help and support them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They will have their own plan and solutions, which will be spot on many times, but not always. Your job becomes much more a reviewing and tweaking role. You become a sounding board.

“Show me what you got, what’s your plan? Interesting challenge, how do you plan to solve it?”

Stage 4: I know what to do, all is under control

“I got it. Get out of my way, you’re slowing me down.”

As an individual, you know what you need to do. You have successfully faced similar situations before. You feel confident and since you have the frameworks in place, things now go much easier and with less effort.

As a coach, your main job is to get out of the way and only stay informed what’s going on. Give space and freedom, but be there when needed. Things are flowing for your coachee and they are highly effective at the specific task. The thing you should spend time on now is to understand what the next growth area, learning opportunity and challenge for that coachee can be and to work with them to figure out how to align new growth areas with their long-term plans. The biggest risk at this stage is for the coachee is to eventually get bored.

“Anything I should know about the project? Let’s talk about what new opportunities we can prepare for you.”

Key principles

These are the things I believe a crucial to keep in mind. It’s not an official list:

  1. Always make it specific to the task – The experience model is specific to a task, not the person as a whole! Don’t put the whole person into a specific bucket. If a person gets a new area they never faced before, they will likely drop back to stage 1.
  2. Identifying the right stage matters – You need to find the right level. Giving too little and too high level coaching (directionless) is just as bad as giving too much coaching (micromanagement).
  3. People move through the stages – Watch! As you coach, people will move through levels. That’s the whole point. Don’t put someone in a box and leave them there. Adjust your style as the experience evolves.
  4. If you’re not sure, ask – If you’re not sure how much coaching someone needs, check back. Ask them “How confident are you that you know what you need to do? Do you need any help?”
  5. Get feedback – Check in explicitly as to whether you are giving the right level of feedback. “Does that help? Is there anything else that I can help with? Do you know what to do next or do you want me to step in more?”

When you give coaching

We all have our own leadership style. Few people naturally coach at all levels, but most of us have a preferred style that comes more natural to us. Some of us tend to be more directive and always present solutions, while others tend to be more hands-off and ask for (or assume) plans. If we don’t make a conscious decision, we will fall into that style and it will not always be the right style for the person and situation (there’s a 3:1 chance it will be the wrong style).

Understand what your coachee needs for the specific task. Consciously try to identify the stage and then check back with the coachee if you’re not sure. Make a mental check after the coaching session if you gave the right type of feedback and correct quickly if you didn’t.

It’s not about what you like to do, it’s about what they need!

When you receive coaching

You can either hope that your manager, coach or mentor knows what you need, or you can tell them. I would do the latter. See where they go, but if you feel you’re still unclear what to do or you feel over-managed, tell them! “Can you give me a little more guidance, I really don’t know where to start on this?” or in the other case “I think I have a plan. Let me work on it and we’ll review it together in two days.”

Don’t leave it to the coach, be specific. If your coach makes the right assessment, awesome. If not, clarify and help them. Likewise, if you feel you have moved on to the next stage, let your coach know that you would like the type of feedback to change.

Needing more direction for a new challenge is not a bad thing at all. Not articulating it and then falling behind is.

Situational Leadership requires a little more work. However, the impact is astounding.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Become A Better Leader

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Being a leader should mean that you maintain a learning mindset and constantly aspire to improve and grow. Being a leader is (or at least should be) a journey, not a destination.

There’s TONS of amazing advice out there on what leaders should do. The flip side of this is, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you are supposed to do.

I like to focus on a few things at a time. Usually the power of three works for me. I can keep up to three things in my head. After that things will get messy and messed up. Here are the three things I focus on for growing my team, as well as the three things for growing myself. They are quite powerful and work beautifully for me.

Grow your team

Motivation has always been a big topic in leadership. It’s been established for a while that money alone doesn’t do the trick. Everyone wants to get a decent paycheck for what they do, but that alone won’t keep folks motivated.

A coworker recently pointed me to a TED talk by Dan Pink that really resonated with me. Dan explains that there are three major components that create or destroy job satisfaction and motivation. I won’t do Dan justice with my words and you should listen to the TED talk, but here are my three personal homework assignments from his talk.

Provide purpose

We spend a LOT of time at work. We want that time to count for something. Understanding the purpose of what we do is very important (if you can’t find purpose in what you do, look for another job).

As a leader, that means that just delegating work is not enough. You need to engage people by explaining the ‘why’ and the broader picture. They need to understand, why the work that they do is important. They need to see how it fits into the broader mission of the organization.

Along the same lines: praising results is great. That acknowledgement or ‘thank you’ becomes even more powerful if you clearly explain, how these achievements helped advance a higher goal for the organization.

Give autonomy

Work sucks if you aren’t empowered to make decisions. It also sucks if you have to explain your decisions to everyone again and again (in this case. in reality you actually don’t make the decision, you rather repeatedly have to ask for re-approval from everyone).

For many leaders this is a tough one. We usually think that we are so much smarter. That’s why we became leaders in the first place right!? Wrong!

However often we have more experience because we’ve been in the area longer. We are also often exposed to a broader picture of what’s going on in the organization. Having that experience and broader picture is awesome if it is used for coaching. It becomes destructive if it leads to micro-managing.

Let go of doing things by yourself or being ultra-prescriptive. Let go of making the decisions for your team members. Instead provide the right data and context. Guide your team in developing the best decision framework. Empower your team members. Ask questions to better understand the solutions your team proposed. And let them make the decisions – you can always jump in if they seem to head in a terribly wrong direction.

Of course there is a spectrum for this. If someone is new to a problem space, he will need more guidance. If someone is well versed in an area, she will want less direction. Situational Leadership II is a great framework to find the right level of management.

Nurture mastery

We all want to be great at what we do. And if we aren’t yet, we want to learn how to become great. Mastery of an area is an amazing feeling!

Mastery requires trying and learning. As a leader you need to create the right balance between freedom to experiment and gentle guidance. People need to try things. They have to be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn. They also crave for just enough guidance to be successful, while not getting too frustrated in the process.

This is where leaders really need to focus on being great coaches and mentors rather than mere managers. We need to force ourselves to stay away from doing things ourselves or prescribing the ‘right’ solution, because we think that would lead to quicker results. We must stay away from managing every detail and rather give feedback along the way, while we let the team explore possible solutions.

Honestly I’m still failing at this one too often. The important thing is that I’m now conscious of the challenge and I’m working on myself.

There’s also an exception to the rule: sometimes you just have to step in and take over because there is an urgent deadline. In those cases there is no time for trying and learning, things just need to get done right NOW. If you let your team know why you personally step in, it will be much less harmful for team motivation. Hopefully this is the exception, not the rule in your team.

Grow yourself

Yes, you are a leader and most of what you achieve gets done by your team and not yourself. Leading and growing your team is your top priority. But that doesn’t relieve you from taking a hard look at how you perform individually.

I got inspired to this section by a post from Jeff Weiner talking about the three qualities in people he most enjoys working with.

Again I won’t do the breadth and depth of the original post justice, so please jump over there and read it for yourself. Below are the three homework assignments I took away for myself.

Dream big

I’m a ‘getting things done’ person. That can sometimes mean, that I focus too much on resolving tactical issues and roadblocks, because I want to get them out of the way as quickly as possible. The problem is that there are always some tactical issues that will distract you from the bigger picture.

If you don’t dream big, you won’t accomplish anything meaningful. Mediocrity will be your world, not greatness.

As with everything else, awareness and consciousness already gets you 80% down the way to the solution. If you are a ‘go-doer’, block time to dream big. Reserve time, where you will not allow yourself to ‘fix stuff’. Look at the big picture and think about the impossible. Then make a plan how to get there!

I make it a point to spend time thinking about the bigger picture and bigger aspirations. I actually put a recurring time blocker on my calendar.

Get things done

This one comes naturally to me.

I write everything on a ‘to do’ list. Once it’s on my ‘to do’ list, I don’t have to remember it anymore and my mind frees up to think about more interesting questions.

My ‘to do’ list is always long, but I hate having a long list. That’s a great motivator to get things done, one by one. Sort your list by priorities. Then work your way from the top towards the bottom. Finish as much as you can achieve in the allotted time. Focus on finishing. Rather start fewer things, but finish the ones you started. And be ok if you got less done, than you had planned (hoped). Life happens. You’re good as long as you kept focus on the most important things and made progress on those.

From time to time you should also look at your low priorities. Most of them will turn out to not be as important anymore. Remove them from the list.

Instead of worrying about all the things that need to be done, just write them down, prioritize them and get on it.

Be great to work with

In think this one was ‘fun to work with’ in Jeff’s post. I’m a German and as such inherently not fun(ny), so I changed this one a little bit.

To me the important quality is to be great to work with (not necessarily fun). Greatness can have multiple aspects. It can mean that you are a fun person. It can also mean that you are a great mentor, a valuable resource for your coworkers, a supportive person or a critical sounding board to bounce ideas off.

Find what makes you great to work with and hone that skill. I cannot help you with this one, you have to find your superpowers and build on what makes you special. Bonus points if you also critically explore, what makes you suck and then work extra hard to get rid of those behaviors.

Finally, get folks (and yourself) out of their comfort zone. That’s when amazing things will happen!

 


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