As a first time supervisor, I was given lots of advice. Much of the advice was helpful and some of it – not so much. One thing that I was told by my new boss on my first day as a supervisor was, “never blindside your boss”. I was not quite sure what he meant but I promised that I would never blindside him. I was reminded of that advice recently when I was “blindsided” by some news. My first thought was how did I not see this coming? You set the path, you’re working hard, pushing for that goal. Then – the report drops on your desk, a member of your team drops in, you get a phone call from your boss/stakeholder. You’re blindsided! Why didn’t someone sound the alarm? Where was your team?
No one likes being blindsided. Here are some strategies that will keep you protected:
- Constantly cast the Vision – People tend to live and work in the “here and now”. They are working on the tasks at hand – doing the next thing. Understanding and working toward a company vision is generally not a motivating factor. More concerning is that many employees don’t even know the vision of their company! Vision provides the direction and focus of the organization and should be the driver of every goal and decision. It is vital to talk about the vision, connect the vision, and live the vision for your team. Experts say that leaders should “re-cast” the vision every 30-60 days to keep their teams fully engaged. Find creative ways to remind everyone what they do every day contributes to the vision.
- Pay attention to fatigue, mentally and physically - We live in a world that is fast-paced and demanding. Working long hours for an extended time creates burnout, physical and emotional fatigue. Research continues to show that work weeks that extend past 40 hours are non-productive and supports poor decision making. Know the number of hours your team is putting in. Make sure that you do not project the message that working long hours is a badge of honor. Your team needs time away to de-stress and recover. Yes, there will be times where the extra push and hours are needed. If you have done a good job of keeping the vision alive and connecting it to the desired goals, the vision will become the fuel that energizes the team. And I’m betting the extra hours will shrink and goals will be met.
- Answer the Why - Perhaps you did a good job of stating and defining the goals. Did you take the next step? That step is discussing the “why” of the goal. This is one of the most important steps in the entire process, because once people know why they are doing something, they are more likely to do whatever it takes to figure out how to accomplish it. Answering the why question is essential to defining the importance of the particular goal. Ensure that you team knows and understands the Why of every goal. This means that you must be engaged and in conversation with your team - not just your “inner circle” folks. Encourage questions from everyone.
- Be aware of conflicting priorities – Once I was discussing with an employee my concern about her attention to priorities. It was obvious that she was frustrated and after a few seconds she summoned the courage to tell me that I made everything a priority. It is important that we “keep the main thing the main thing” and that your team knows what that is. Seemingly constant changing priorities are frustrating and confusing especially if they are not communicated well. Take the time to define clear purpose, values, strategy and goals. Do this often. Remember to answer the “Why” and re-cast the Vision.
- Be available and visible – Don’t be a “MIA” leader. People want their leader to be visible more during tough times than they do in good times. They need to see someone who is stronger than they are. They need to feel a sense of direction, a sense of security. The key is to cut back on focusing inwardly on your goals and the company, and to focus more on what’s happening around you, often in unexpected places. Why focus outwardly? Because the more you focus internally, the less peripheral vision you have, and the more signals you could miss - setting yourself up for being blindsided. By being visible and available helps to create a culture of trust. It also creates opportunity for you get information first hand and unfiltered.
- Celebrate the small victories - Acknowledge and celebrate small victories. This re-energizes the team and gives you opportunity to re-cast the vision. Celebrating is part of the culture of successful organizations. It provides the opportunity to recognize what individual or team achievement means to the company's success. Celebrating the small victories will drive the success of the vision. Celebrate your team! And make sure you are there to celebrate with them. And when it’s time to celebrate the big victory your team will celebrate YOU as the one who led the way.
We all have been blindsided at some time and have questioned why others let us down. In reality it is often that we let them down. I am confident if you work toward these strategies, your team will watch and protect your blindside!