In 2019 I decided to take some of my own advice and not work so much.  In particular, I am, once again, reading for pleasure and not just reading for work.

Once upon a time, I read a lot of novels; but not for many years.

However, to the great disappointment of my husband, I read my books on my iPad.  That way I always have it with me, I can read in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep, and I just find it to be very practical.

And recently I have noticed that my eBook app is cheering me on.  I get these notifications at night congratulating me on meeting my goals (that I don’t remember setting) of reading every day.

And the creators of these apps are clever people; because I look at that notification and feel a little bit pumped, a little bit more inclined to read again tomorrow night.

I have also dealt with some employers who tell me that they don’t understand why they “should” have to give praise to or thank people who are “just doing their job”.  So that tells me that they don’t normally let their team know that they value them. Those employees do not get “seen”.

You can bet your bottom dollar that those employees probably don’t feel like they are valued. They probably feel that they are taken for granted.

I wonder what impact that has on the quality of their work; or their level of engagement.

If the makers of apps recognise that psychologically we are looking for feedback, recognition and a bit of a prod, then maybe we leaders should take a leaf out of their book.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

I saw a great Mel Robbins video the other day about how she doesn’t get nervous before she speaks on stage.

She said that the body’s response to nervousness is almost identical to its response to excitement; except that you can think when you are excited.

This was a real Aha Moment for me.  I do a lot of public speaking, but I often feel nervous or anxious just before I speak.

So, I tried it the other day when I gave a keynote address. I just kept telling myself that I was excited, and it worked. I felt way more confident on stage and I could think much clearer.

The reality was that I was excited. It is very exciting to be asked to speak in front of a group of people; to be invited to share my ideas and thoughts. But I can and have at times unintentionally sabotaged such experiences by getting so nervous that my brain stopped working and I would clamber for basic words or concepts.

As leaders, we can sometimes unintentionally sabotage ourselves by getting bogged down in our fear of failure.  We spend too much time worrying about what could go wrong; looking for errors and anticipating the worse.

How much more likely are we to succeed if we lead with excitement? If we could think clearly and celebrate the extraordinary talents and skills that we possess and that our teams possess?

It is really exciting to lead a team. It is so incredibly exciting to think about all the great things we could achieve when we are engaged and connected and on the same page.

Lead with excitement.  It’s thrilling.

The weather has turned. Hooray! Spring has sprung and I had a huge need to do some spring cleaning on our first warm weekend in what seems like forever. 

So I decided to tackle the air-conditioner in the kitchen.  We have an almost flat roof (electricians love us – not!) and so we have to have split systems around the house.  There is an air-conditioning system above the sink in the kitchen.  

The top of the system looked pretty grubby, so I thought I’ll get up there, clean out the filters and just tidy it up a bit.  Then I opened the cover and woah – it was filthy! There were dead flies, even a dead wasp and the filters were putrid. (Sorry – I hope you’re not eating at the moment). 

What I recognised at that moment is that we had unintentionally been putting the unit under significant stress over the last (too many) months (I’m not good at this cleaning gig) and this had not only been inefficient but also probably horribly expensive. 

I also see this in teams.  Everything looks OK from the outside. Nothing to see here.  But then a new person arrives and challenges the status quo.  This usually leads to a fair bit of conflict with a few of the old guard saying things like “We’ve always done it this way” or “so and so has always been difficult, you just put up with it” and suddenly you see that the whole structure has been under significant stress for a long period of time.

Maybe your system needs a cleanup; a bit of spring cleaning.  Maybe it’s time to set aside some time to methodically and honestly work out what is working well and what could we do better. Are we unintentionally putting our team under unnecessary stress? What savings could we make if our people were less stressed? 

Go well. 

Brené Brown is right.  Shame is one of the major reasons people get stuck. 

So often I have leaders who have to point the finger at their team members for being bad, useless, lazy, dodgy etc. because they can’t or won’t look at how they might be contributing towards the performance of their team. 

So they chastise, punish or blame their team for not doing what they want them to do, for gossiping, for creating silos. 

These leaders do not have an awareness of how important their behaviour is in the workplace. They don’t recognise that they stress their team out when they are stressed; that they encourage the team to turn on each other when they start blaming members of the team for not getting it right. 

And the reason they can’t look in and take responsibility for the performance of the team is usually shame. They are the boss, the leader. It is their role to get the team to perform, and they have failed. They are embarrassed and ashamed. It’s too painful to own that. So they don’t. And then things get worse. 

We are not all skilled leaders.  Leadership is rewarding but incredibly hard.

But the more we can be vulnerable and recognise the impact we have on our teams, the more we can look past the shame, the greater chance we have of becoming seriously good leaders. 

I hear it over and over again. The leader, the boss says: “my team don’t respect me.  I do all these things for my team, I pay them well, I provide them with opportunities and still, they don’t respect me.”

What I also hear over and over again from their teams is: “my boss just tells me what to do, they don’t talk to me. They don’t listen. They don’t care how their decisions impact on me and my team. They don’t check in with me. They don’t ask my opinion on important decisions that are going to impact on the way I work. They don’t follow through with the things that they said they would do.”

I hear of so many teams that have almost no structure. They are totally reactive. They don’t plan and work out strategies as to how to deal with likely issues that will arise; they just react and everyone is really stressed. 

I hear of bosses who always say yes. Yes, we can do that for you, dear client (despite the fact that we don’t have the resources to do so); yes, dear staff member you can take three weeks’ leave (despite the fact that we don’t have anyone to cover for you).  Yes, dear colleague, I will do your work for you, despite the fact that I don’t have the time to do it and it is really your job to do that. 

There is no clarity, no clear direction, no boundaries, no communication and no appreciation.  In its place are high levels of stress, increasingly disappointed and disengaged staff and lots of grumbling and complaints.

A leader who leads, who provides great clarity, boundaries and who communicates is going to feel respected because they are showing respect to their team. 

The change has to start with you, the leader. 

I’ve been working with a lot of “new” leaders recently.  They are not new to their industry, in fact, they’re usually very experienced practitioners; they’re just new to leading people. 

One of these leaders said “you need a degree in psychology to do this job” and he meant it. 

He said he had never learned so much so quickly in his life.  

Leading people is hard. It’s particularly hard because you have to learn on the job (which is super scary) and you have to be successful at the same time.  It makes for high stress levels and possibly strained relationships (at home and at work) whilst you find your feet. 

Leadership is about leading and not doing. It’s about delegating and setting boundaries with your team; being really clear about what you want to achieve and what the rules, policies and procedures are so that you can achieve those goals. It’s about managing everyone’s stress levels, always calling out inappropriate behaviour whilst being a barracker and a shoulder to cry on. 

But most of all it’s about looking after the people on your team so that they feel valued, inspired and engaged. 

It’s hard because sometimes you will feel like screaming. You will feel grumpy and stressed and you will want to yell at someone because they don’t get it or they appear to be disrespectful.  You will doubt yourself and at times you might feel really judgemental or have cruel thoughts about certain members of your team. 

And the more stressed you get the harder the job will be. 

You don’t have to do it alone. 

There are lots of leaders, some new and some very experienced who are keen to spend time with other leaders who get what they are going through.  You might find each other online in various groups, in networking organisations or fellow leaders within your organisation. It might be that you will find a coach who you can be frank, honest and vulnerable with. 

But in order to manage your own stress, to look after yourself, you need to find your tribe so that you can share your experiences, your ups and your downs.  

Leadership is much easier when we find our tribe. 

 

 

There is a great children’s book entitled Who Sank the Boat by Pamela Allen. All these big animals get on the boat one by one. The final animal to hop on to the boat is this tiny mouse and the boat sinks.

It looks like it was the tiny mouse that sinks the boat – but obviously, this is not true.

I often see leaders blame the ‘mice’ for the woes of their business.  They say things like “I just can’t find good staff” or “if only my staff would listen” or “that team leader is useless.” They throw around blame like there’s no tomorrow.

They keep forgetting that they are the ones that have the most influence on how the team functions.

So often I see the owner or CFO of a business transfer enormous responsibility to the General Manager or CEO, but they don’t give them any authority.  They make them a toothless tiger.

“We need to achieve 6% growth in the next twelve months” they demand – but then don’t allow the GM or leader to make the decisions that they believe are necessary to achieve that growth like moving some staff on, or making any financial decisions.

At the end of the day, if your boat is sinking, then you need to look inwards. You need to review how you lead and whether you have set the rest of the team up to fail.

Sometimes we have to have difficult conversations with ourselves.  Sometimes we need someone external to review how we operate and provide us with some feedback that we might not want to hear.

Often we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Sometimes we need a guide to help us out of the forest.  Let me know if you need a guide.

 

I was recently in a client’s training room.  This room is also used as their lunchroom.

It has a tiny kitchen with a sink, a power point and a cupboard under the sink. That’s it.  The dishes live in another room.

Well, the dishes are meant to live in another room.  Where they actually reside is in piles on the sink. Apparently, they are clean – but I wash the cup I’m going to use every time – just in case.

I asked one day what is the deal with the dishes? Do they have a roster to clean things and put them away? No.  Everyone has to wash their own cup and put it away.

“That system is working really well…” I said and we all had a good chuckle.

The reality is that they don’t have a system and there is no accountability.  It’s only the dishes so it’s no biggie – but what if this approach is used in other areas of the business?

This situation highlights 1) if it’s everyone’s responsibility, then it’s no-one’s responsibility and 2) what you tolerate becomes the norm.

If one person doesn’t wash, dry and put away their dishes and no-one says anything about it, then that has just provided consent to everyone else to do the same.  So the dishes generally don’t get done.

The only person likely to deal with this situation on a regular basis is the office martyr. And really, do we want the office martyr to deal with these issues? You’ll never hear the end of it.

What if we were to use the same approach in more important elements of the business? What if we don’t call out inappropriate comments when we first hear them; or we allow people to use their phones in meetings or let people rock up to work late every day?  What if we allow our team to be disrespectful to each other?

If we tolerate disrespectful behaviour then we are saying it is okay and it will become the norm.

It’s the leader’s role to ensure that 1) the dishes in the sink get done and 2) to ensure that disrespectful behaviour is not tolerated.

 

We have possibly the oldest freezer in the country.  It’s a small freezer that is the twin of our fridge. They would be about 20 years old, and they perfectly fit into the spot that was designed just for them. There is no way we could find a fridge and freezer to fit into these spaces in our kitchen, so we will need to put in a new kitchen when either the fridge or the freezer dies.

But this is no self-defrosting freezer. It’s so old that we need to defrost it every few months.  When I say we, I mean my husband, Graham, defrosts the freezer. Somehow this task has fallen to him, and I am very grateful.

The exciting thing about defrosting the freezer is that we get to go through everything in there and throw out the old stuff and re-organise the items we are keeping.  It’s quite cathartic to throw out things that have sat in the freezer for a few months; all placed there with the intention of being eaten at a later date. But we have moved on, and those leftovers are not so tempting any more.

Every organisation and workplace needs to have a clean up every few months. You need to slow down to speed up. Every few months, possibly quarterly, it is good to review what is working well and what is not. To “throw out” processes and procedures that don’t serve you any more.

We need to refresh our work environment constantly. We need to challenge our thinking; we need to stop hanging on to “we’ve always done it this way” conversations. This will help us keep the energy up and ensure that we keep our teams engaged and looking forward.

Defrosting the freezer is a bit of a yucky job. It takes a bit of time, and you have to do it in one go. You can’t do it bit by bit. You either defrost the freezer, or you don’t.

But the benefits are so good. You can easily open the drawers; you can see what is in the freezer, you don’t have old foodstuffs taking up space. You feel energised by the prospects of all those new empty spaces in the freezer.

Keep your team energised – renew and refresh your workplace every three months.

The other morning I was walking my dogs, Doug and Margaret. It was pretty early, about 6.30 am.

We were nearing the end of the walk when I saw a woman with a biggish dog on a lead walking towards us.

Now, I am a terrible and irresponsible dog owner, my dogs are not properly trained, which is why I walk them very early in the day or very late at night. That way we are less likely to run into anyone. They will sit on command most of the time but that really is the extent of their training. I know, it’s not good.

So in order to prevent a scene with the dog walking towards us, I crossed the road.

On the other side of the road were two big dogs behind a fence. The fence was made up of thin metal poles about 8cm apart.  The big dogs were aggressively barking at Doug and Margaret and Doug and Margaret were being typical annoying little dogs yapping at the big dogs.

Doug then lurched at the dogs and he got too close. Suddenly Doug’s head is in the mouth of the big dog and the big dog would not let go. I started hitting the big dog and screaming for help. Doug is screaming. I let go of Margaret and keep my attention on Doug who is bleeding profusely. I am terrified this dog is going to try and pull Doug through the fence.

All I can think is that Doug is about to die.

A young woman runs out of her front door.  She is screaming too. She starts hitting the dog. She is apologising and saying her dog has never done anything like this before.

Then miraculously the big dog releases Doug. It’s all over. I don’t know how long this nightmare went for, but it felt like at least two minutes. Doug is bleeding profusely and he’s all ripped up, but he’s still got a stupid grin on his face. He seems quite normal. I love this dog so much.

Doug required surgery. The wounds around his ears were deep.  He nearly lost an eye. There were lacerations in his mouth. He had to wear the cone of shame. He got quite down during his convalences.

And it was my fault.  

The chance of a conflict arising out of this situation was high. It would have been easy to blame the big dog behind the fence. To blame the dog’s owner for allowing their vicious dog to roam their front yard so aggressively.

It would also be easy to blame Doug for being a yappy little dog that took on the big dog. It’s easy to just blame anyone but me.

But, I know that I am at fault in this situation.

Because if I had trained Doug and Margaret properly, then we wouldn’t have to walk in the dark, we wouldn’t have to try avoid other dogs and people, we wouldn’t have had to cross the road on that day.

It wasn’t planned. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I love my dogs so much and yet I have allowed them to live their lives without proper training. I could not expect my dogs to train themselves.  You reap what you sow.

It’s not easy to take responsibility for this horrific experience; but no-one else can be held responsible. It was me.

I have done a lot of great things in my life. I am not a bad person. I have taught my children a heap of valuable life lessons and they are good people. I have helped thousands of people over my life. And this one incident does not suddenly mean that I have “turned bad” or that I need to “bash myself up” for a long period of time. But in that moment I felt terrible shame, because I knew it was my fault. I had to take responsibility for what had occurred.   

Leaders always take on enormous responsibility when they stand up and say “yes, I’m up to this role”.  In that moment, you have to take responsibility for everything that occurs. The good, the bad and the ugly.  In some way, your hand is all over how well the business or organisation performs and it is, at the same time, all over any mistakes or stuff ups that occur.  Whether it be a lack of training, a lack of trust or faith in your team, poor systems or processes. A failure to recognise a risk. Whatever it is, the buck has to stop with you.

Make sure your team has the training and support to be able to cope with the day to day trials and tribulations of your work environment.