Archive for the ‘ Problem Solving ’ Category

Imagination as a Tool for Leadership

With this knowledge of the power of thought, you can become a better leader and, as well, motivate your employees to become better workers. Imagine successfully navigating through a difficult conversation. Imagine making your employees feel cared for. Imagine implementing positive change. The more you imagine, the more successful you can be when it comes time to act.

The same holds true for your employees. Let them know that visualizing success can have a huge impact on actual success. Share this video with them. Encourage them to use imagination as a tool for practicing on a new task when hands-on time is limited.

About the author: Hart is an HR Data Analyst at The Ken Blanchard Companies, finishing his Ph.D. in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at hart.lee@kenblanchard.com.

The Balancing Act of a Leader

Being promoted into your first management role can be both an exciting and scary experience.  It shows that your employer trusts you to make decisions and lead others.  However, it can also be a major shift in responsibility.  People are going to look to you for direction, and it’s up to you to have the best possible answers for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile most people are told that they will have new responsibilities, there’s one crucial piece that tends to be left out of that promotion-prepared conversation: get ready to start the workload balancing act.

What I mean by that is most people assume that their focus on work shifts to people they lead when coming into a management position.  While that’s true, that only paints half of the picture.  You had your own individual tasks and projects you completed before this promotion, but now that you’re promoted, you’re individual task work doesn’t simply stop (though the focus of that individual work may shift).  In fact, not only are you now responsible for your own workload, but you’re also responsible for the workload of those you lead.

It can be a major challenge when you have your direct reports coming to you needing direction, yet you’re in the middle of trying to complete a project with an impending deadline.  How can you balance the needs of the two?

  1. Start with the open door policy: Hopefully, you’ve heard of this term. If not, the basic idea is that your door is always “open”. If someone you lead has an issue they need to discuss, they can come by your office, email you, call you, etc… at just about any time of the working day. Having this policy can remove a major hurdle and allow the people you lead to get past problems faster than having to waiting until you’re available.
  2. Draw a boundary with your open door policy: While it’s great for your people to be able to discuss issues or get direction at anyJuggle Balls time, it may not always be feasible for you to maintain this policy at all hours of the day. If you have approaching deadlines or your own workload is starting to pile up, block out some time on your schedule. Set a ground rule with the people you lead that you can’t be disturbed during this time unless it’s absolutely critical. Be sure to follow up with step 3 below after establishing your boundary.
  3. Find your second-in-command: You’ve established your boundary, but now what? Your people need a backup plan for time-sensitive issues. After all, customers will only wait for so long before an issue gets out of hand. If you work in an organization with a large workforce, perhaps there’s another manager in the same department as you who can be your backup (also allowing you to reciprocate the favor).
    If you work in a smaller organization and there’s not an immediate manager who can cover for you, perhaps there’s someone you lead who is an expert in their role who can be groomed to take on this responsibility. Not only will it allow you to keep your boundary, but it allows you to tackle another management responsibility of developing your people.

Finding the right balance between being available and completing your own work will always be a juggling act, and you may find yourself needing to adjust and readjust your boundaries depending on the needs of your work and the needs of your people.

Leave your comments!

Can You Get the Delicious Cake?

Several years ago, someone posed the following challenge on a popular internet image board:

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The goal was “get the delicious cake” and you had to draw your solution. No other rules were given.

One response showed the figure crawling through the spikes, while others used elements from pop culture to get the cake. For instance, Harry Potter magic spells, Star Wars lightsabers, and Super Mario warp pipes were all presented as solutions to this challenge. The following are a few of the more original and creative ways people attained the cake:

enhanced-27165-1394809165-18 (1)

Use the door!

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When you want to get rid of something in an image, the eraser tool is handy

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Thinking outside of the box

The lesson I took from this was that people can get very creative when presented with a problem and given the freedom to devise a solution.

As a leader, you may have goals you need to accomplish, but it is left up to you to determine how to accomplish those goals. With a little time and ingenuity, you can come up with many different and often surprising ways to achieve those goals, particularly when you have the help of others.

So how would you get to the delicious cake? Type your solution in the comments, or you can use your favorite image editor or an online one and post a visual of your solution.

How to Manage your Competing Values

In the spring of 2010, I received a phone call from my commanding officer. “Jaramillo, you have been selected to a deployment in Afghanistan for 400 days. I don’t know what you will be doing or what unit you will be with, but I trust that you will have a successful mission and that you will make us all proud.”

Ok, whoa! Can I get a little more detail here?

I wanted to serve my country and go to war, but, I mValuesean, do I have to go now… like, right now? I had just gotten married 3 months earlier and was working on my graduate degree. I had no plans at the time to pack up and go. “Hey boss, look, I’m a little busy right now, can we move this war thing later on in my calendar.” Of course, it doesn’t work like that, but I still had these two strong competing values. In this instance, I wanted to go to serve my country, but my family and school were also very important to me. We all have competing values, and we must understand them and embrace their complexity. What I needed to do was figure out how I would internalize these feelings and contain my emotions through this experience.

What are your competing values? Take a minute to really ponder this question to understand your own thoughts and feelings. Really evaluating your competing values will help you to look at them objectively. Gather the facts in all scenarios to be open to exploring and doing a little soul searching. These competing values can come in all aspects of life, from relationships with friends and co-workers to grand theoretical and philosophical questions. It’s important to realize that they exist in our lives, so make sure you take some extra thought when you are confronted with one to be fully content with your decisions.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

Lifehack – Achieve Your Goals by Making Them Easy

Happy 2014! With a new year comes new resolutions. Are yours the same resolutions you’ve made last year? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Despite what psychologists tell you, behaviors are difficult to change, especially when you’ve become used to doing them. There’s a reason why self-help books sell every year and apps are released to motivate individuals to change.

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Change is difficult

So why will this year be different? Because I will share a secret that will help you to actually achieve your resolutions: Make your resolutions easy.

Now this does not mean that you reduce your weight loss goal to -5lbs or that you discard your quest to read 50 books this year and instead read 2 lines of a blog post. What I mean is, do all of the prework first so that the goal becomes easy to attain. This is especially useful for when you have difficulty starting.

Its-easy

It’s easy if you try

For instance, I had an issue with running. I would sit there figuring out what to wear and then spend another 10 minutes scrolling through my playlists and choosing the songs for my run. Then I would look through my fridge for a pre-run snack and spot the delicious leftover burger from the restaurant the night before. The next logical thing to do was to gobble down that burger on the couch!

Instead, I prepare all of this in advance. I prepare my clothing, my playlist, and my snack before I go to bed. The next morning, all of my running gear is ready to go. The preparation comes easy since I know that I won’t have to run right after I’m done.

The author of the post below, Gus Jaramillo, actually changes into his workout clothes when he is off of work. That way, he is ready for the gym before he even gets into his car. The only logical destination becomes the gym.

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Start today

So think about your goals and ask yourself, “What can I do to make them just a little more easy to start?”

Image Credit: 1 | 2 | 3

Leadership is as Leadership Does—Leadership Lessons Learned from the Recent US-Government Shutdown

 

Leadership is Not a Title

Leadership is Not a Title 

Leadership Dependency Weakens Independence 

The most fundamental leadership lesson learned from the shutdown is the ancient reminder that the more we, as individuals, become dependent on leadership, the more it weakens our own personal independence. The United States of America was founded on the core value of personal independence—leadership of self. When leaders of organizations and communities take a top-down approach to solving problems and finding solutions, they undermine the power of the individual to come up with creative and innovative solutions to the challenges at hand. Excellent leadership empowers individuals to equip themselves with the mindset and skill sets to resolve issues at a personal, local level, rather than depend on someone else to solve the problem for them.

Leadership Is Not a Title

People assume that elected officials are leaders by nature. This assumption is misleading and is often a source of frustration when politicians don’t live up to our expectations; behaving more like spoiled children rather than acting like mature servants of the people. As with other assumed leadership roles—executives, teachers, doctors, president of the local sports league—people aren’t necessarily in that role because of their leadership skills. Often they assume positions of authority by default or indifference of the people, not necessarily because they are qualified for the position. We shouldn’t assume people are effective leaders just because of their title. Good leaders should be viewed as such based on how they collaborate with and influence others through a positive and productive process.

Leaders Collaborate

Collaboration is no easy task. It’s an acquired and developed skill set of every good leader. The larger the stakes and the more people involved means the more complicated collaboration will be. That’s why great leaders—of both others and self—need to be effective collaborators. Collaboration is not just listening to others’ opinions then making a decision based on your own personal point of view. Collaboration could be the most exhaustive, painful, messy, and frustrating part of leadership, but it is critical to maintain the trust of the people you are leading, as well as serve the greater good of the people.

Blame Game

Blame Game

Leaders Don’t Point Fingers

One of the silliest aspects of an otherwise tragic situation in the government shutdown was the public calling out of others with opposing views. The blame game is nothing more than an immature act of desperation in an attempt to influence public perception of other people’s point of view. Instead of finger pointing, great leaders assess the disagreements, seek understanding, and assume the best in other’s opinions, even if there is an apparent selfish intent. Effective leaders roll up their sleeves and work behind closed doors, face-to-face, to get the issues on the table as a first step to discussing possible solutions. Leaders listen, they don’t stand behind a podium and blame others.

As the dust settles from the latest uprising of political division in the country, let us sober our minds and check our own hearts to consider how we, the people, may glean something worthy from this conflict. There is still great hope in the great American experience, and it still resides within the heart of effective personal and collaborative leadership.

During Chaotic Times, FOCUS is King

I am sure many of the people reading have experienced streaks of pure chaos in the workplace. Often times people let their emotions get the best of them, and the result is usually very stressful and unproductive.

Stress in the workplace

Stress in the workplace

Leaders in organizations need to dig deep during these pressure packed periods to find a sense of calm and clarity from which to lead their direct reports. They still need to work with a sense of urgency in order to meet deadlines and complete timely requests, but sometimes in order to work fast the best practice is to slow down.

That is where the acronym FOCUS comes into play. When the leader finds the ability to take a moment to breath and FOCUS then they keep their mind clear and simplify every challenge. Some people are not naturally calm under pressure but this is a skill that can be learned if leaders are mindful enough to be aware of how their thoughts affect their actions.

Leading Others

Leading Others

FOCUS:

Find your center – When stress builds and tensions rise take a moment to breathe deeply and return to your internal comfort zone. You really need to be in tune with yourself to diagnose when your mind is about to be overloaded. Start practicing mindfulness now to know how you feel when you are at your most productive and collaborative state.

Own your emotions – Once you let your emotions control you then you have lost your ability to lead. Stay calm, cool, and collected and remember that when you are starting to feel overwhelmed take a moment to find your center.

Control your reactions – Reactions define your relationships with your coworkers. Every time you interact with another you create a memory on the others mental blue print of whom they believe you are. Be sure that all the impressions you are leaving are consistent with your character and personal values. Owning your emotions will definitely help you control your reactions.

Understand the situation – Leaders who take the time to listen to their direct reports during chaotic times succeed in identifying the correct next steps. Listening occurs with both your ears and your eyes. If you are entering a situation without having been previously involved then you do not know the dynamics. Taking a moment before reacting will help you understand the solution to the situation.

Serve others needs – The greatest leaders know that it is not possible for one person to make every decision and complete every action. Therefore you must provide your team members with the direction and support they need at every point in time. If you approach every day with the mentality that you lead to serve rather than be served then you and your organization will succeed.

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

Steve Jobs

Brian Alexander is the Marketing Project Specialist with The Ken Blanchard Companies

Stop the Stalling – Ideas for Spreading Innovation

Why is it that certain innovations spread faster than others?  After all, everyone should rush to a game-changer, right?

lightbulbThat’s the topic of an article on The New Yorker from Dr. Atul Gawande.  In the article, Dr. Gawande dissects (excuse the pun) two very important medical innovations that began during the 1800s, each having very different adoption rates.

The first innovation examined was surgical anesthesia, which went from being used in a couple of test cases to a surgical tool used in various regions around the globe in less than a year.  The second innovation was antiseptics, which took decades to be widely used.

Why is it that both innovations, while both very important, spread at radically different rates?

Dr. Gawande identifies some of the following characteristics:

1. Pain – Both medical advancements solved pain in one form or another for patients.  However, only anesthesia solved an immediate pain for the surgeons, as well.  Before anesthesia, surgeons would have to fight and hold down screaming patients who simply had to deal with the pain.

The early composition of antiseptics, while beneficial to patients, actually caused additional pain in the form of chemical burns for surgeons who handled them.

2. Visibility – I can see an individual in pain caused by a fresh wound.  What I don’t see are the germs that might be crawling into that wound to later cause infection.  The visibility of a problem plays a key role in how quickly we prioritize a resolution.surgical team working

3. Speed – Anesthesia solved a pain that could be immediately felt.  Antiseptics solved a pain that would come much later.

You may have heard of a term called “hyperbolic discounting” or “delay discounting”.  Various studies have shown that in many cases, when presented with an immediate reward with a smaller payoff, compared to a reward that will come later with a larger payoff, the greater reward is discounted in our minds.

As an example, I could give you a choice to receive $10 now, or $20 in a month.  If you wait a month, the reward is greater, but the downside is that you have to be patient to receive it.  We know $20 is greater than $10, but the perceived wait to receive that money causes us to discount the overall value of that $20 bill.  We love immediate gratification, and in many cases, tend to lean towards choices that fulfill that need.

4. Sacrifice – Related the number 1 above, the perceived hassle of dealing with chemical burns from antiseptics likely caused most surgeons to simple say “It’s not worth it.”

These same characteristics can be applied to the spread of other ideas and innovations, as well. Keeping all of these questions in mind can increase the spread at which they are adopted:

  • How painful is it to implement?  Is there a way to minimize the potential impact?
  • Does it solve a problem perceived by many?  If not, is there a way to increase awareness of the issue?
  • How fast does it solve the problem?  Is there a way the move up the time table?
  • Does it require individuals to give up something they cherish as a trade-off?  How can you limit the trade-off?

There is a lot more to Dr. Gawande’s article about the spread of new ideas, so I highly recommend it for a fascinating read.

Leave your comments!

Speakeasy Leadership

Seakeasy Leadership

Seakeasy Leadership

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a cultural rebellion against classic traditions, inspiring social revolutions around the world. Everything seemed to be possible through the modern technology of automobiles, motion pictures, and radio, which all promoted ‘modernity’ to the world.

One of the most mysterious trends that came out of the Roaring Twenties was the establishment of Speakeasies—hidden sections of an establishment that were used to illegally sell alcoholic beverages and feature new artistic expressions of music, dance, and risqué behavior. To enter a speakeasy, one would need to say a password to the doorman, indicating that the person-seeking entrance was welcome by the owner or other members of the “business within the business.”

In many ways, today’s workplace resembles the spirit of the twenties, with a rapidly evolving workplace, cutting edge technology changing and shaping the culture norms of organizations around the world.

Unfortunately, one of the dangers of today’s workplace is Speakeasy Leadership—the hidden sections of an organization where only a few people in positions of power make decisions that affect the rest of the organization. The practice of exclusive leadership, rather than inclusive leadership practice is alive and well in today’s organizations. But the reality is that the old school leadership hierarchy is an ineffective novelty in a knowledge-based economy.

Outside Looking In

Outside Looking In

Today secret societies and “good ole’ boy networks” only work at your local grocery store or coffee shop as a special promotion tool. In a Knowledge base economy, where individuals are empowered through the Internet, smart phones, and social networking that empowers a variety of information and connections that naturally drive higher levels of collaboration and success.

One new workforce member expressed it this way, “I am used to being so connected to my colleagues and playing off each other in the office, via social media, and creating ideas together with high levels of synergy everyday…” The open organization, without the Speakeasy executive office on the second floor, is a robust place where individuals create new best friends instantly and in days create a strong network with everyone on the team, as well as the friends made at their last organization.

Speakeasy Leadership promotes the opposite atmosphere at work where a few gatekeepers of ideas, formulate a plan from the top of the organizational pyramid, then pass it down to the people on the frontline to try and implement—void of passion and intimacy. 
 “I feel like there is a secret group of people running the organization,” says another frustrated employee. “It’s like were sitting in a meeting, and there are two or three people sitting at the table, speaking their own language, giving each other a wink and a nod to each other when I present our teams creative solutions to our organizational challenges.”

Collaborate for Success

Collaborate for Success

Speakeasy Leadership will kill today’s knowledge based company, because today’s leadership model and workplace formula for success is one based in wide-open communication, effective collaboration, social networking, and truly empowering individuals that are encouraged take ownership in the vision—not just contribute to it. Touch the untouchable by bringing energy and productivity to work, breaking down the interior walls of Speakeasy Leadership, creating a community where people work and play together, stimulating innovation, connection, and wild success.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant and New Media Producer at The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a non-linear learning program that promotes individual empowerment and collaboration.

Separating the electronic umbilical cord

Vacation, vacation, vacation…. I’m going on vacation.  There’s nothing quite like sitting on a warm beach sipping a margarita…or so I’ve heard.  Instead, I’ll be in my backyard digging up the ground to make way for a new patio in what will probably be 90+ degree heat.

Couple at BeachIt sounded like a good idea a few months ago.  I’d take some time off in July to do some work around the house and in the yard.  Well, it seems that was a boneheaded move on my part to pick one of the hottest times of the year to give my backyard a facelift (I hear Death Valley reached 129 degrees earlier this week).  However, even though I’ll be doing physical labor, I plan on returning from vacation fully recharged and ready to work.  How do I plan on doing that?  It’s simple…

I’m not checking my email.

I’ve made a commitment to stay away from my inbox, no matter how addicting it is every time I see that blinking indicator light on my smartphone that a new email has arrived.

With that addiction comes the side effect of stress.  It’s stress from seeing something that’s being asked of me.  It’s not so much the work that accompanies those email communications that causes it, but rather juggling priorities with fast-approaching deadlines.  It’s the stress of wondering if I can really meet all those commitments within the time frames specified.

It’s why I’m leaving my inbox with accompanying stress at the office.  My fellow colleagues are more than capable to cover my workload while I’m gone.

It sounds so easy to do, but like I said, it’s an addiction.  Over half of workers who take vacation wind up checking their email.  I read one study that pinned a figure as high as 79% who check their inbox during vacation.  As that study pointed out, some do this so that their inbox doesn’t turn into a mountain of requests when they return from vacation.  Even I have been guilty of this for that very reason during previous vacations because I hate playing catch-up.

phoneSome of you might think this is impossible.  Perhaps you have a unique role or skill set within your organization.  Maybe you’re the go-to for specific projects and/or tasks.  The trick to being able to “cut the cord” is to do the necessary prep work before you leave for vacation.   Work with colleagues who can be your back-ups while you’re gone.  Brief them ahead of time on what to expect and train them on any important processes.  Enable your organization to survive without you for a few weeks.

After all, that’s the point of vacation – to be disconnected from your work.  If you can never get away from it, sooner or later, you will find yourself burnt out.  Everyone needs a mental refresher every now and again.

What about you?  Do you make it a point to leave your inbox at the office on vacation, or do you have no choice but to check email?

Leave your comments!

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