Articles in Category: Blog

Making a space for thinking…

Written by Barbara Higgins Posted in Blog, All Posts

A manager who once told me that his goal for me was to find time for 20% open thinking time in my work day. At the time, I thought this was a silly concept considering I had so much to do and not enough time to do it. I was so busy with tasks that needed to get done. Coming from a strong work ethic background, it was actually hard for me to leave an open space in my schedule. I believed that being super busy was being the super employee. Clearly, this gift from my manager would take time and practice to understand and recognize the value.

A recent psychological study by UVA and Harvard found that people would rather be doing something – possibly even hurting themselves – than doing nothing or sitting alone with their thoughts. When faced with 6 to 15 minutes of time to think, many participants chose a mild electric shock rather than open time to think. “What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock…” – Wow! I guess this time to think is a common challenge!

Today’s technology devices allow us to fill every minute to be sure to get the most “productivity” out of our day. Instant, endless messages are sent at every moment of every day. The impact of this constant barrage of activity leaves us unable to quiet down often leading to exhaustion and insomnia. It becomes so uncomfortable to just be still.

I decided that taking time to think was a critical part of my wellness. I started with small steps. On the suggestion of a friend, I tried to pause to take a deep breath before opening the car door…easy right? Definitely No. I was miles down the road before I remembered my resolve… even after many attempts. Clearly this would be a long journey to change for me.

After much time and effort, I am pleased to say that I really enjoy open time to think. I had to try lots of different approaches to find a few that work for me…and I had to turn off the cell phone. Considering the research referenced, it’s no surprise that the focus on wellness continues to grow.

Personally, I am amazed at how the time to think can energize creativity. Creativity doesn’t just take the form of some amazing idea. For me, creativity fills the space with options to do things differently. Many creative ideas have been tossed aside but some have made a real difference in finding a better way to accomplish a task, partner with a co-worker, or solve a problem.

So what have I learned about the value of taking time to think? I’m happier and more creative. I have more patience for great conversations and future possibilities. I don’t really know when I lost my skills for enjoying thinking time, but I’m even more appreciative now that I have it back. My wish for you is some wonderful and enjoyable time to think…with no electric shocks. 

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Off Target with your 2014 Goals?

Posted in Blog, All Posts

3 Steps to Get You Back on Track

It’s hard believe we are past the half-year mark for 2014.  Have you pulled out your goals and reviewed your progress?  How are you doing?   If you are in the majority, you probably are not doing so well.  Why? There may be a few reasons:

  • Setting goals has become just an empty ritual. We take last year’s goal and “tweak” it.  Often there is not much thought put into creating the goal and not much thought given to it afterwards.
  • No one is really checking in, holding you or others accountable.
  • There are too many barriers – not enough resources.
  • Priorities are constantly changing.

As leaders, if we do not make reaching goals a priority, no one will. Setting and achieving goals needs to be part of regular conversations and expectations. Want some help to get things moving again? Let’s start by analyzing the goals that were set many months ago. 1.  Are these real goals?  Apply the SMART formula to them:

  • Are they specific? Significant? Stretching? Focused?
  • Does each of them have a specific metric that you have applied?  How far off the mark are you?  This shouldn’t be a guessing game.
  • Are the goals attainable?  Goals must stretch us and they need to be attainable. Were you over-reaching? If not, who is responsible for the lack of achievement? Have you been holding yourself and others accountable?
  • Are the goals realistic? Relevant?  Do they align with the mission and vision? Does everyone consider them real goals?
  • What are the time constraints?  Have deadlines been set?  Were there milestones established and published?  Have you and others met all the deadlines?  Why not?  What got in your way?

2.  Once you have completed the SMART formula, consider these questions:

  • Do you have the right goals for the mission and vision of your organization?  Are there more important specific goals that need to be introduced?
  • Which of the goals are truly attainable and relevant?   Which goals must be reached?
  •  Are your metrics appropriate?  Are you tracking the right things?  Are others tracking progress?
  • What barriers need to be removed?

3.  Pick the top 3-4 “must reach” goals. Schedule time with your team and stress the importance of this “2014 Goals Check-In” meeting. Send out an agenda days in advance. The agenda should include:

  • Vision and Mission discussion.  (Note: the vision and mission answers “Why we do we what we do.”)
  • 2014 Goals – Where are we? What do we need celebrate? What do we need to talk about?
  • Focus for the remainder of 2014. New goals, more focused goals.
  • Setting the plan
    • The SMART formula is applied to every goal
    • Barriers are identified and a strategy is created to deal with the barriers
    • Bi-weekly check-ins are scheduled to discuss each goal and progress (no exceptions)
    • Celebrate each milestone achieved
    • Reward appropriately

You still have time to achieve the “must-have” goals. Stick to your plan. Hold yourself and others accountable.  Be sure to celebrate along the way.  The reward of hitting your target will be long lasting and gratifying! Also, as you look to 2015 in your Fall Planning activities, MSBCoach would be happy to help facilitate meaningful and productive planning and team building sessions.  Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss a customized approach for your organization.

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The Success Equation

Posted in Blog, All Posts

Strong Values + Strong Will x Skills = Success

I had the privilege of hearing author, Jim Collins, speak recently.  He said a lot of things that made me think, a sign of a good SME (subject-matter-expert), and one thing in particular stood out: “ First, great leaders must have strong values and a strong will and then skills”. How many people have you encountered that had tremendous skills and competencies, with great potential, yet they never reach that potential?  Skills matter and with a strong under-pinning of good values and a strong will, success is inevitable. We are constantly bouncing around the whole “values” concept.  Values are the guiding force of how we live and work. We understand that very few people have identical values. Yet, we know that our values must be in sync for us to work cohesively and productively. When was the last time you thought about how your values and your organization’s values work in tandem? If I ask you to list your personal values and that of your organization, would they align? Would there be any out of sync?  What does your organization offer in support of your core values?  How do your values support the goals/objectives of the organization?  It may be worth your time to examine this.  It could answer a few questions that you may have about your next steps and future goals. Jim Collins told a wonderful story of how having a strong will can make the difference in growing and surviving during tough times.  We all have those tough times – individually and organizationally. What determines a strong will? More importantly how do you develop one?  Ever heard of the phrase: “strong-willed child”?  I happen to have given birth to one….some of you are relating to me right now!  Once this child decided that she was going to do something or not do something, it became a real battle of wills.  I would usually resort to using a well-known technique of: “You will do it because I am bigger than you!”  I realized that technique was not going to last too long so fortunately I was given wise counsel that I should guide that strong will instead of trying to break it.  This wise person told me that my strong-willed child who was pushing all my buttons would have a greater chance of being a successful adult if I would nurture that will. So how do we nurture a strong will?   Here are some thoughts from Jim Collins’ insight and a few from someone who was raising one:

  • Be clear on your objectives.  Know what you want and don’t want. My strong-willed child was always very clear about her objectives, wants, needs, etc.
  • Be ok with others pushing against you.  Many times we get “talked out” of doing something that we know is the right thing to do.  The key here is to make sure that we are aligned with our values and clear objectives. Strong-willed people should always listen to wise counsel and adjust if needed but never cave to someone else’s thinking.
  • Set a plan and follow your plan.  We lose our way so often because we didn’t create a plan or follow the plan that we created.  We allow others to change it or we don’t take the necessary time to think it through.
  • Be “fanatically disciplined”.  This is one of the discoveries that Jim Collins made in his research of leaders for his book, Great by Choice. His research revealed that strong-willed leaders did the “hard” things, sacrificed for the future instead of enjoying the moment, and relied on their skills in times of chaos.
  • Mistakes are going to happen. And there will be consequences. Strong-willed leaders will choose to accept those circumstances and to learn from them. This is a lesson that I learned from my wise counselor.  Every time my strong-willed child made a “mistake”, I was encouraged to ask, “What did you learn?” instead of saying, “I told you so…”

In our ever-changing, competitive, super-charged information world, it’s more important than ever to be clear on our values and to be strong-willed.  What are you doing to stay centered on your values and strengthen your will?  

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Could You Be a Strategy Storyteller?

Written by Barbara Higgins Posted in Blog, All Posts

Have you ever listened to a true storyteller? My dad was a gifted storyteller. Each night, he would weave a story for my sister and I, and we were transported to a world of the imagination. Vibrant characters would embark on all sorts of exciting challenges and adventures. These stories created a wonderful fabric of memories for my childhood.

I think of strategy as an engaging story about an organization. A strategy story can draw you into the passion and purpose of why that organization exists and what they hope to accomplish. Like a gifted storyteller, a strategic leader can bring you quickly to care about the mission and interest you in the pathway to the future. Navigating interesting business challenges and opportunities can craft an interesting plot that has you rooting for mission success. Like a gifted storyteller, leaders in great organizations can consistently recount their strategy story about who they are, how they serve their customers, and where the organization is headed in the future.

Shouldn’t you be able to tell your organization’s strategic story? To do it well, you need to develop an attention-grabbing script. Whether it is an employee, vendor, client or even a neighbor, the story you tell can engage the listener and generate interest in supporting future success.

So how do you weave your story of strategy? It takes effort to internalize the important messages of strategy. You need to own the story. Consider the following three parts to compose your strategy story:

  1. What is the most inspiring purpose for your organization? A good mission statement should serve as your guide. Start with the mission statement and put it in your own words. Be brief. As Peter Drucker said, a good mission statement should fit on a t-shirt. Don’t be afraid to believe in the product or service you provide. Be sure it is a “we” statement not a “they” statement.
  2. What role does your character play in the strategy story? Consider your contribution to the organization. Define why you enjoy your role and how you ensure a quality product or service. Think about a great day at work and what you love about your job. Own your story and how you bring unique value to your role. Be proud of your contribution, and this can inspire others to contribute their best efforts.
  3. What do your colleagues contribute to future success? Each person in an organization should connect to future success. It is a great feeling to be a part of a broader purpose and the success of a team. The more you engage others in your strategy story, the more they contribute. Consider each role and how that role contributes to the product or service. Remember to provide feedback and appreciation to encourage participation.

Like a great story, strategy is about the journey to succeed and you get out of it what you put in. You can be a part of creating a wonderful journey of opportunity and success for your organization. I will never forget the amazing characters in my dad’s stories. My wish for you is to invest your career in organizations where you are truly a part of the strategy story.

For further information about connecting strategy and leadership, consider watching the MSBCoach Webinar: Connecting Leadership and Strategy: Sparking Energy for Success

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Trust – The Three Crucial Components

Posted in Blog, All Posts

I was recently working with a group of first line leaders that represented several departments in an organization. We were discussing the importance of trust and how to create an environment of trust.  As often is the case, I heard from the group, “My boss needs to hear this stuff. He doesn’t do any of this”.  I’ve been at this long enough to know that some truth and a lot of perception is involved in those statements. When I challenged the group to have a conversation with their boss about their perceptions of the environment, I got the usual - an emphatic, “No way!” We know trust is the foundation to good leadership and a strong organization. Yet we often pay little attention to ensuring that trust actually exists, let alone nurturing it. Trust isn’t a competency or skill – it is (for lack of a better term) a “living thing”. By “living thing”, I mean it can grow; it can be injured; it can be withheld or freely given; and, it can cease to exist. I believe that trust is created and built upon three primary components – Intentions, Words, and Relationships. So, with that in mind, I want to share (one more time) – How to build an environment of trust. Intentions We all have met people that we were skeptical of their intentions. Often we can relate it to past experiences, reputation or our “gut feeling”.  Often the skepticism is just part of the tension that exists between leaders and followers (as well as leaders who lead other leaders).  Unfortunately, the world we live into day reflects a “always question the intention” attitude. Those you lead need to believe and see that your intentions are good. How do you do that?

  • Practice open, back and forth dialogue. Tell those that you lead what you’re thinking and ask them what they are thinking. People should not have to guess your intentions. State your intentions.  When we poorly communicate, people will fill the void with their own stories and perceived intentions. And those stories that people create are seldom good ones.
  • Be honest with yourself. Often we hide behind the excuse we’re protecting the people, the company, or the future.  If your intentions are being questioned, ask yourself these questions:
    1. What do I want for myself?
    2. What do I want for others?
    3. What do I want for the organization?

Hopefully, your answers are well-intended. Your next step would be to ensure that your actions align with your intentions.

Words
The most powerful tool we have are our words. There is a song that says: “Words can build us up or put us down. Words can give us life or kill our dreams”. All too often we are careless and not very thoughtful with our words.  As leaders we do not get a pass for poorly chosen words - we are responsible and accountable.

  • Hone your message to be succinct and clear. Limit yourself on the number of words that you use. Less is really more. Practice it. Ask someone to listen to your message and then tell you what they heard. If they don’t nail the message, keep honing it.
  • Use words that connect to your employees – example: “Your input and ideas are critical to our success.”
  • Drop the excessive expletives and descriptors.  Drop the “always”, “you should have”, “what were you thinking”, “if you’re not on board”, “this is my department – ship - project”.   People stop listening and begin to judge and create their own story.
  • If you put too much negative emotion and body language into your words, people hear and react to the perceived negativity. Your message is lost.
  • Want to know how your words are “landing” with your employees?
    • Watch their body language – especially their eyes.
    • Are they asking appropriate questions or sitting silently?
    • Ask them how you could improve with your choice of words – make sure you really want to hear.

Relationships
In my earlier years, I had a boss that could not seem to remember my name correctly– even after a year. This same boss would make statements like: “I’m not here to be your best friend.”  Believe me, I didn’t want this boss as a best friend – I just wanted to be called by name! How would you define your relationship with your employees?  How would they define the relationship?  Good, bad, or indifferent, a relationship exists with all our employees. Studies continue to show that people want to know that their boss cares about them as an individual.  That level of care is defined differently for each person. The stronger the relationship between leaders and their employees the more engagement there is for everyone.

  • Relationships matter – make them a priority. Have one-on-ones with your folks at regular intervals – performance review time doesn’t count. Customize those times to the need of that employee.
  • Don’t use the excuse that you don’t have time – even a 5 minute conversation will improve the relationship and engagement.
  • Don’t play favorites – it gets noticed.
  • Ask for ongoing feedback – for you, for the organization, for the team.

Trust can be achieved and maintained when people believe that your intentions are good, that your words support those intentions, and that you choose to have a caring relationship.

There is an additional benefit to nurturing and growing trust. The day will come when trusting you to lead through a tough time is paramount to the success of a project and/or the organization.  Your employees will “have your back”. How do I know? They trust you!

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