There is always a great deal of conversation at the beginning of a new year about “casting the vision” or “leading the vision” and then it seems to fade into the background until the next year. A Visionary Leader carries and models the vision daily and in every action. As you begin this year remember these things about your role as a Visionary Leader:
Articles in Category: Blog
Change…. just the word alone brings stress to many of us. We encounter so much change in our rapidly evolving world that you may wonder, “How do I keep up and manage change for myself, let alone lead my team through another change?” One thing is for sure when it comes to change, it is not a matter of if, but when.
If we are not changing, we are dying… which is not an option. There is a quote by Charles Darwin that says, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” How well do you manage and lead change?
I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a strategy process with an entrepreneurial team in a growing technology and communications organization. The owner and CEO expressed this simple request at the beginning of our discussions. The nuance of this elegant statement created an amazing exchange of ideas, energy, and future possibilities.
I was looking for a particular book for a client and during my search in my library of way too many books, I spotted the book Art of Possibilities. I read it several years ago and have often recited some of my key learnings to leaders that I thought could benefit from Ben Zander’s approach to leadership.
As I thumbed through the book, one of Zander’s key concepts caught my attention – the downward spiral. That was it – the “thing” that my client was caught in. We had been discussing for months possible solutions for a very specific issue. Although we had brainstormed several potential solutions, it seemed each of them had major flaws or “just wouldn’t work”. I realized the leader was in a constant downward spiral and I had joined him. In case you’re wondering exactly what I mean by downward spiral – it is that tendency to get caught up in “what’s wrong” and “why it’s wrong” conversations thus spiraling into negativity. And when you are in a negative spiral, possibility doesn’t exist.
So how do you stop the spiral and get unstuck? Here are five ways to avoid the downward spiral:
- Recognize that you’re in a downward spiral. Some people don’t realize or not willing to admit that they are in a downward spiral. So a little self-awareness: if someone offers a potential solution, and you’re first thought or comment is how it will not work or the potential problems you already see, you could be in a downward spiral.
- Stop the negative chatter in your head. When you think about a problem, examine the facts. What are the concrete facts? When we judge people’s intent, character, and abilities, facts can become distorted and overstated.
- State the problem without assigning it to a person or particular group. Example: Joe and his team failed to meet their sales goal this month. Possible restatement: We had a sales goal of $____ and the month-end result was $____. In the first example, you can easily move into a downward spiral with a focus on Joe and the team. The second example, the facts speak for themselves and puts the emphasis on the goal. You want Joe and his team to make goal not spend energy and time trying to defend their character and abilities.
- Have a “possibility” brainstorming session with the team. Give everyone a 2-3 day notice to come to the session with suggestions and ideas about how to resolve the problem. The key to the success of this approach is to take all ideas/suggestions without any discussion of their potential or viability. This will keep the ideas/suggestions coming and prevents those downward spiral conversations. Once you get all the possibilities listed, then you look at viability. Again, keep the conversation centered on how you could make it work. Don’t allow anyone to “shoot holes” into the ideas. Those holes will become evident if they exist during the process. Narrow the ideas/suggestions to the top 2-3 and create an action plan.
- Once you create the action plan with the potential solutions, enroll people into the plan. A good way to create buy-in is to invite people to give frequent feedback on how the plan is going. Encourage them to speak-up if there is a need to “tweak” something.
- Celebrate the successes along the way and continually ask for input on ways to improve the workplace.
Often leaders wait too long to address a problem or is only made aware of a problem when it has reached a near crisis. This creates a stressful environment for everyone. And a stressful environment creates downward spirals. Good leaders create environments that exudes, “We are in this together.” When leadership and associates work as a team in an environment of trust and individual value – the possibilities are endless.
How to be “Top of Mind” for Your Customers
Several years ago, as part of a large organization, I was challenged along with a peer to create a leadership program for a particular group of upper-level executives. Exciting as the opportunity was we were overwhelmed because we had little direction or suggestions from our sponsoring senior executive. After much brainstorming (and complaining to each other), we decided that we needed to pursue some expert advice. One of those experts was a speaker/author who had been part of another event that we had supported. John was a favorite throughout the organization because he was a passionate speaker, could deeply connect with his audience, and was a “wealth of information”. John is/was not a “hoarder” of his expertise. By that I mean, while he was paid for his expertise, you felt like he was consistently going beyond the expected agreement. And for John, the contract never ended. You could email or call him long after any contracted event and he would respond promptly with as much information he had on any topic. He shared all his expertise and would point you to other experts.
Recently, I was coaching an entrepreneur who was struggling with getting and keeping customers. The entrepreneur asked me this question, “How can I get people to automatically think of me when they are seeking my kind of expertise?” The million dollar question, right? I sent the entrepreneur off to think about that question and added this question, “Why should anyone think of you first?” Of course, I was thinking about those two questions as well. That’s how John popped into my head. When I needed an expert, he was the first one to come to mind. So why was he “top of mind” and how did he get there? Here is how I answered the two questions with John as my model.
Why should someone think of you?
- Your expertise is clear and concise. You and your potential customer know exactly what you bring to the table.
- You deliver beyond what is expected. Yes, you give what you’re contracted to do and you always bring “extra”.
- Working with you is easy and pleasant. Being good at what you do is not enough. People actually need to like you.
- You are not only an expert, you are a great “thought partner”. It’s about the customer’s success and how they define it.
- You’re accessible and available. Customers will not hunt nor wait for you.
How can you get to “top of mind”?
- Have a clearly, detailed, specific vision of what you do and who you are. Potential customers want to know what you specifically can deliver. As simple as this may sound, many “experts” cannot articulate what they bring to the stated need. You and your team must be able to clearly state the vision/mission of your organization. If there is not a well-defined vision, then confusion, conflict, and indecision will rule.
- “Lagniappe” is a term that is used in my home state of Louisiana. It means to give/deliver a little extra. Always surprise your customers with a little extra. One of the things that John did was to give free resources or notebooks. He wouldn’t rush away after the workshops or speeches – he would stay to listen or answer questions. Weeks later, he would send you a note about a topic that you and he discussed.
- No one wants to work with a prima donna. I have chosen not to work with specific experts because of their inflexibility and “superior” attitudes. Being a difficult vendor will hurt you more than you can imagine. Check with you current customers and team on ways to improve your reputation.
- Take pride in your desire to customize your delivery/material/product for each customer. John was an excellent thought-partner in developing what he would deliver. He always wanted to know our intended outcomes and would brainstorms ways to get there. He studied our organization. Do not become known for “off the shelf” or “this is good enough” delivery. I am not suggesting that you re-invent yourself for every customer but rather connect with that customer where their need exists. Listen more than you tell. Every organization/team has its own unique culture and you need to identify it and be able to relate to it.
- Be easy to find and very responsive. Make sure your contact information and website is current and relative. This may seem a like a “no brainer” but it’s amazing how many irrelevant and outdated sites and poor contact information I have encountered. Respond immediately (in less than 24hrs). John always had an automatic response that stated he’s reception of our message and the time he would respond which was never more than 24hrs. He or his assistant returned our calls promptly. He was always pro-active. He kept us updated. I never had to pursue him for information.
- Always seek feedback from your customers. John would seek feedback as soon as he delivered and then a few weeks later. He said he did it this way so he could collect what was “fresh” on the customers mind and then later after the implementation or execution of the plan to see that the intended outcomes were achieved.
- Remember – the contract never ends. Continually check with your customer. Send resources. Be willing to be a thought-partner if something goes awry with the plans. John was never intrusive or a “pest”. He would send short notes with a resource or an article. He didn’t ask for more work….he would say, “I’m a resource – use me.”
I am sure that John “gave away” a lot of his expertise. I know he did for me. I also know that John’s company has grown from a man of one to many. And he is still one of the most sought after experts in his field. I challenge you to work on becoming “top of mind” in your area of expertise. And if you need help, use me, I am good resource!