Are You Getting in Your Own Way?

As a leader, you have an endless list of things that need to get done. On the list is strategy, leading and coaching, hiring and growing your team, budgeting, and launching new products and services. Most likely, these are the very things that fall last on your list because of other day-to-day odds and ends like putting out fires, solving problems, getting projects back on track, and resolving client or partner issues. The balance between the day-to-day activities and focusing on the big hits that move the business and team forward can be difficult to juggle.

If you find yourself spending most of your time on the day-to-day emergencies, it can be a sign that it’s time to make a few changes. But, how do you know for sure you’re misallocating your time?

Here are a few signs:

  • You’re staying late at work while your team ends their day at a reasonable time.
  • A team member or two have come to you requesting additional responsibilities to fill their day.
  • You find yourself logging in late at night to review work your team has sent you to take a look at. You spend the next hour or so reworking the deliverable.
  • You’ve caught yourself thinking, “If I want something done right, I need to do it myself.”
  • You cancel one-on-one meetings with your team members, often at the last minute.
  • When ending a meeting with a direct report, your to-do list is noticeably longer than theirs.
  • The two-hour time block on your calendar to focus on strategic activities usually gets blown up by 9am to resolve the latest burning issue.
  • You’ve found the best time to get the big things done is Sunday morning while your family sleeps in.
  • You’ve postponed taking a day off numerous times.
  • You haven’t had a chance to review and map progress against your team goals for at least two weeks.
  • Your boss has hinted that you may not have the capacity to take on the next big initiative. The one you were most looking forward to.

On the surface, things are getting done. But not the big things. The projects and initiatives that will take you, individuals on your team, and the business to the next level are stagnant.

It appears to be the nature of the beast given your leadership role. What you may not see in the day to day, unless you look up from the weeds, is that you’re likely not leveraging your team effectively.

In short, you’re getting in your own way.

The difference maker here is learning to delegate. Realizing that it’s time to move over and teach others on your team how to take on greater responsibility. In turn, you’ll be able to do the same.

Your challenge for the week:

Pick five tasks from your list this week to delegate. Then, step aside as your team members take the lead. Will they have questions? Probably. Will they make mistakes? Maybe. Will you end the week feeling like you moved a big priority forward? Absolutely.

Let me know how it goes this week!

– Jackie Simon

One Bite at a Time

You’ve got a lot on your plate. Between work, home, family, hobbies, and other personal obligations, how can you possibly get [fill in the blank] done, too? Did you bite off more than you can chew? Where will the time come from?

Picture a waitress delivering a BIG platter of the most beautiful spaghetti you’ve ever seen. You’d never look at it and say, “Oh my! There’s no way I can do this. Take it away.”

Just as with time management, you’ve got to swirl a few noodles around your fork at a time. Then, when you’re maxed out, get a to-go box and save some for tomorrow.

What are the two most important bites you can take today? Get those out of the way. Save the rest for later.

(Hint: I’m free for lunch.)

– Jackie Simon

3 Things to Do When You’re Not Feeling It

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Here’s a ditty about Jack and Diane. One random Wednesday, Diane meandered into Jack’s office and said, “I just need to tell you I’m not feeling it anymore. I don’t feel inspired these days — and honestly? I’m on the verge of quitting.” (In response, Jack scratched his head and did his best James Dean.)

Ok, so that would never happen. Most of us probably dream about being that honest, or even dream about quitting on days (or weeks) we’re stuck in a rut. But we don’t. We carry the secret around and wait for the solution to present itself.

Are you just not feeling it at work? Maybe you’re not jibing with a new client. Perhaps you’re not feeling the love from your boss. Maybe the work or your company just doesn’t excite you like it once did. Whatever it is, and you’re not exactly sure what it is, you’re not feeling it.

This “not feeling it” phenomenon may be a new experience for you, or maybe you’ve been carrying it around for some time. It could be you’ll snap out of it rather quickly. For a little while, this “out of sorts” feeling or boredom may not have an impact on your work, but you run the risk of negatively impacting your personal brand if it settles in for too long.

Here are three ideas on what to do when you’re just not feeling it at work:

  1. Quickly take stock of the last time you took a day off. Chances are, it has been a long time. Even if you have a vacation planned a couple months from now, it’s time to take at least a day off. I’m not talking about doing that “work from home” thing either. I’m talking about a real day off in which you unplug, keep your laptop in your bag, and resist the urge to peek at your phone. This isn’t a day for errands or scratching items off your to-do list either. It’s a day for you to recharge and reflect. Go to a museum. Enjoy that long lunch you keep meaning to schedule with an old friend. Go for a long walk. Do anything that takes you out of your normal routine and gives you an opportunity to rest and reflect and see what comes from the day.
  2. Think about that thing, that one special something you’ve been dreaming about but just haven’t found the time. Maybe it’s a sailing vacation. Maybe it’s a class you’d love to take but keep putting it off (cake decorating, anyone?). Perhaps you’d love to volunteer and work with kids. Now is the time to sign up. It’s likely you would benefit from external interests to help you relax and breathe new ideas into your life and, as a result, also into your work.
  3. Remember that hobby you loved as a child? Maybe it’s time you got back in touch with something you have long since put aside. A few years ago, a client of mine, through coaching, remembered his love of drawing and architecture. He had forgotten over many years of pursuing his demanding career how much he enjoyed drawing and sketching. As a result of this re-discovery, he was able to feed this valuable insight into research to start his own company. Where is he today? In his first season as the owner of his own small business, where sketching and architecting are key to his craft. He couldn’t be happier. While he has a ton of work ahead to get his small business off the ground, he’s happier in his work than he has ever been because he found a way to incorporate a past love into a new career.

These ideas represent more than just recommendations. They represent opportunity. From this list, after taking up one of the recommendations, see what materializes for you. What opportunity is there for you at work that you perhaps otherwise didn’t realize? What are you starting to realize about the lack of “oomph” you feel in your work? What’s next for you to do to reach for more and take your career growth to the next level?

– Jackie Simon

Become an Instant Expert

Want a new challenge? Looking to identify your inherent talents and strengths? Want to be seen as an instant expert? Teach! Spread the word! Share your knowledge!

A great way to challenge yourself, get unstuck, learn something, and elevate yourself is to share your expertise with others. Maybe it’s a Lunch ‘N Learn session. Or an online training course. Maybe you go balls out and become adjunct at a local college. Be a mentor and have regular meetings. No matter the “who” or “how,” try your hand at teaching. When you listen to yourself teach and see the light click with others, you’ll soon realize how far you’ve come and you can better identify your next move.

–  Jackie Simon

How to Lead Your Boss

We reflected last week on the importance of leading your boss to improve your own effectiveness. In a nutshell, by leading your boss, you’ll find that your job gets easier and you’re showcasing your adeptness to lead, manage, take on greater responsibility and get things done.

You may now be thinking more about leading your boss and how exactly to accomplish that. Here are some suggestions:

For the boss who micromanages:

Let’s say your boss gives you lots of projects but not the space to independently manage them. Once a project has been delegated to you, you find your boss remains in the picture, sending countless emails regularly to inquire about status, jumping in to respond to people on your behalf, and completing tasks before you have a chance to address them.

For this boss, you need to build trust and confidence with her. Show that you can more than competently take the reins. When you receive the next project from your boss, set up a brief meeting to review the project purpose, your approach, timing, and the tasks you’ll own. Clearly set expectations with your boss that her help isn’t needed at this time but you’ll be sure to let her know if and when it is. Then, take the lead. If your boss begins to interfere, pop your head into her office and confidently thank her for her help while assuring her that her help isn’t needed at this time. It may take a few instances of “correcting” your boss on running interference. If after a few corrections, your boss doesn’t seem to be getting the hint, set up another one-on-one to talk openly about the challenges you’re experiencing and to see if you can come to an agreement on mutual responsibilities moving forward.

For the boss who doesn’t effectively prioritize:

It probably feels like you’re spinning your wheels at work most days. One day the direction is blue, the next it’s red, and so on. This boss clearly has difficulty making up his mind. Or, he’s dealing with the exact same kind of boss you are. Someone at the top may be constantly changing objectives, making it a larger, cultural challenge.

To start, meet with your boss as close to weekly as possible to discuss current and upcoming objectives. The key to getting ahead on this one is that you’re taking the responsibility to set up and ensure consistent meetings with your boss to focus and prioritize. Discuss and agree to the priorities, and send a meeting recap. Then, if anything changes, meet with your boss again and lead a dialogue to understand what may be driving the change in priority. The key behavior in this situation is not to gather the changes and then head back out to implement them, but to engage your boss in a discussion about why the shift in priorities occurred. Without creating a perception that you’re a roadblock to change, you’ll want to engage in dialogue to demonstrate your deeper desire to understand what’s driving the change and truly chase the highest priority projects. The next time priorities shift, meet again with your boss to try to understand the bigger picture.

This could be a great opportunity to demonstrate your strategic interest and desire to understand things at a higher level. You’ll put yourself in a better position to make recommendations instead of executing changes for change sake.

For the boss who doesn’t give helpful feedback:

Jack spent a couple of weeks on a proposal for improving quality, and when it was finally done, he clicked Send to run it up the chain. A week has gone by, so he approaches his leader, Jill, on whether she has any input, or received feedback from the executive team on the proposal. Did she even look at it yet?

A lack of feedback can apply to a project you’re working on, or your overall performance. We covered this in a previous post, but if your boss typically says, “Looks great. Everything’s great. You’re doing great. Keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s a problem.

Get in front of your boss to ask questions on performance like, “what do you see as areas of improvement,” or “If there were one area of the proposal you’d like to see built out, what would you suggest.” This approach demonstrates an interest on your part to engage in higher level thinking and to more than just execute on requests.

What’s the common theme in all of these examples? Communication. In each scenario, you’re taking the lead to open the lines of communication with your boss to understand direction and set expectations. You’re leading your boss to achieve a shared understanding of roles, responsibilities, and direction. Your boss may be too busy, or too scattered, to get there with you without your help. Thus, the reason leading your boss is important, if not critical.

I’d love to hear from you. What other situations have your run into and what approach did you use to effectively lead your boss?

– Jackie Simon

Leading your Boss is More Important than Leading your Team

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Mike: “Jackie, I’m completely overwhelmed and feel as though I’ve really accomplished nothing in the past week. My team seems to over-rely on me and it makes it difficult to focus on my own projects. Whenever I finally have a great idea to help get me out of the weeds, my boss says no.

Jackie: “Tell me more.

Mike: “For example, I have a great idea to bring on a new member to my team to focus specifically on purchasing. I think by focusing the role to one dedicated person, we can create efficiencies and save the company money. I presented the idea to my boss but he dismissed it, saying we don’t have the budget.

Jackie: “What did you do next?

Mike: “Well, nothing so far. Since I can’t get approval to hire, it looks like I have to figure out how to make time to handle purchasing myself. I swear, my boss expects me to do it all.”

Does this dialogue sound familiar to you?

A lot is written about the importance of leading your team, while little is written about the importance of leading your boss. We view our boss as the individual we work for and therefore rely on him or her to make the final decisions, approve direction and clear the obstacles. While we may do the heavy lifting, we ultimately put everything in our boss’s court to resolve and decide. Essentially, we disempower ourselves by believing our boss is the only one with the final say.

If you approach your boss with the understanding that you work for him or her, you’re likely missing the big picture. Arguably, your boss is a member of your team and in many ways, the most important person on your team who you must lead and influence daily. It’s not up to your boss to make the big decisions and clear the obstacles. It’s up to you.

To be most effective, you must lead your boss. And, believe it or not, your boss wants you to lead him or her. I’ll say it again: your boss wants you to take the lead. Meaning, he wants you to make his job easier by lining up the facts, making the business case, recommending the direction, and making the decision. Your boss wants to spend only 5 minutes weighing in on an important issue, not five hours figuring out the pros and cons on her own based on what little information you may have provided so he can make the decision.

You may not be leading your boss effectively if you feel:

  • your boss says “no” to you more than “yes”
  • you can’t seem to get on her calendar
  • decisions have stalled to a halt
  • your boss gets the small things out of the way first; e.g., the things you sent to him only as an FYI
  • frustrated that you seem to have to run everything through your boss
  • you could be so much more efficient if only your boss would respond to your emails

If you feel you’ve been waiting a long time for your boss to get back to you, you’re going to continue to wait a long time. So, change your approach. It’s time to lead your boss.

Let’s say you want to grow your team but you haven’t received approval from your boss to hire someone new to add to your team. Why stop at “no” or even radio silence? How about putting together a plan for your team structure and a description of the role you want to hire for. Paint the bigger picture for your boss and make it easier for him or her to decide. Don’t just stop because your boss said “no.” Change his or her mind.

By leading your boss, not only will you find that your job becomes much easier, you’ll also find you’re getting things done much faster. Not to mention, you’ll be positioning yourself for promotion in the process because you’ll be showcasing your adeptness to lead, manage, take on greater responsibility and get things done.

– Jackie Simon

Five Overused Strengths (that may be perceived as weaknesses)

Poor leadership can easily frustrate well-intended employees.

As your career progresses, the same strengths that prepared you for promotion may not be the same that propel you to a level beyond that. The rules of the game change for strategic or people leadership roles. Alternatively, if you feel stalled in your current position, it may be that you’re overusing your strengths and unintentionally holding yourself back.

Here is a list of the most commonly overused strengths and how your colleagues may actually perceive you:

Your Intention: Attentive to Details

How Others Perceive You: Micromanager

As an individual contributor, you excelled at the details and consistently demonstrated your ability to be on top of everything. As a leader, demonstrating this same strength may result in frustration for those around you and set you up to underdeliver key targets. Allow your team to attend to the details and show that they are on top of their objectives, while you focus on setting the vision and leading your team to reach new heights.

Your Intention: Independent

How Others Perceive You: Unable to Build a Team

You built your reputation as an independent, steadfast, reliable emerging talent. Someone who always delivered, no matter the time constraints or challenge. Now that you lead a team and have more resources available, you’re not viewed as someone who delegates effectively or taps into the expertise of others to deliver results as a team. You often work later and longer than your direct reports and feel that the only way to do something right is to do it yourself. The harsh reality is that you’re unlikely to move to the next level of greater responsibility and a bigger team if you’re not maximizing the resources already available to you.

Your Intention: Confident

How Others Perceive You: Arrogant

The same swagger and confidence you built in your role as individual contributor is now rubbing others the wrong way. Whether in your interactions with internal colleagues or external partners, nobody enjoys working with a know-it-all. Drop the words “I” and “me” from your vocabulary. Dial back giving all the answers to ask questions of those around you. It’s possible you don’t know everything. Your team of experts wants to show you what they know and what they’re capable of, so give them a chance and see what you learn in the meantime.

Your Intention: Effective

How Others Perceive You: Lacking Composure

A swear word here, an email marked as high urgency there, a veiled threat to a vendor, and a fist pound on the conference room table has gotten needed attention in the past, raised awareness and assembled resources to work through pressing issues. Now, you’re seen as someone who struggles with maintaining composure. As a leader, you’re expected to set an example for those around you and demonstrate you can achieve results while maintaining a consistent demeanor. Being effective doesn’t mean bringing attention to yourself, it means bringing attention to the issues and demonstrating an ability to resolve them without creating unnecessary disruption.

Your Intention: Ambitious

How Others Perceive You: Pushy

Ambition was a necessary ingredient to helping you achieve promotion. Without ambition, you won’t reach those higher level positions. However, being overly ambitious may cause others to question your motives and distrust your intent. As a leader, be a people builder not a career builder, and focus on helping those around you positively achieve results and receive accolades. Know that your positive intent will be interpreted accordingly and the cream will naturally rise to the top.

For more on utilizing your strengths while leading successfully through others, be sure to check out: Even Great Leaders Have Room for Improvement and Calling “Shotgun!” Won’t Put You in the Front Seat.

– Jackie Simon