Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You're not lazy..Really, you're not!

I have a confession to make. I became fed up with time management/personal effectiveness programs that made me feel lazy and useless. I have a history of attending those programs and nodding agreeably to all they say, yet I knew that deep down inside there was always something fundamentally missing for me. So, I went in search of a different way of looking at personal effectiveness and productivity and that's when I cracked it! I can now sleep comfortably at night knowing that I am a highly effective person even though I don't use the highly disciplined approach advocated in most personal effectiveness programs.

I want to reassure everyone that regardless of who you are - even if you like to-do lists and have a spotless desk - you can work smarter if you simply understand your personal productivity platform.

Attempts to categorise people do not always work all the time. In this model I acknowledge that the boundaries between the two main categories are blurred. The main objective is not to label who you are, but to make the most of where you are at.

Lower Left - Dumb We all have times when we are not very productive: those moments of ‘dumbness' are a part of life. Knowing when you are in a productivity funk is one of the smartest things you can do. For some people this can happen daily, weekly, monthly or yearly.
Without gainful employment for a few months say, it is easy to get into a rut and not work at your ‘smartest'. The first quadrant - the ‘dumb' quadrant - is not a label but rather an acknowledgement that you are not doing your best regardless of your personal platform.

Upper Left - Dedicated The second quadrant is the domain of the dedicated person: highly disciplined, committed, reliable and on time. These people manage the detail of their lives brilliantly. They know the exact number of words required for the annual report, when it is due and the format required. They read emails in detail and carefully consider their responses before they reply.

Indications that you are a dedicated person…

  1. An email from a dedicated person is often thorough and contains more than one action item.
  2. A dedicated person will read one book at a time and they only read when they have the time or the right head-space. Holiday reading is often their catch up time.
  3. A dedicated person will choose one TV show to watch and settle in a chair five minutes before it starts with a drink and nibbles ready to go.
  4. When a dedicated person says the report will be in on Monday at 10am, you can bet that it was 80% complete on Friday and they perfectly managed their time to complete it by the deadline.
  5. A dedicated person finds it hard to return to deep thought after an interruption.

Lower Right - Continuous A person in this quadrant will respond to an email that's from a dedicated person by answering the easiest or most important question and ignoring the rest. They are easily distracted and often go walkabout. They have several books on the go at one time and often don't complete them because they get bored.

Indications that you are a continuous person…

  1. A continuous person hates deadlines yet their best work happens in the final moments before the project is due. People often see them as being under pressure at the last minute.
  2. Continuous people seem to do nothing for days and all of a sudden have a productivity blitz and deliver high-value work in the final moments.
  3. A continuous person watches three TV shows at once - they flick through the channels hoping that one will deliver on the the entertainment promise.
  4. The mind of a continuous person rarely switches off. They are always thinking, although they might not be aware of it.
  5. They know that by taking a walk, ‘sleeping on it' or going to a movie, their creative wash cycle might just ‘figure it out'.
Upper Right - Working Smarter This final quadrant is the sweet spot for all of us. It's the Smart quadrant - the one where continuous people deliver on their commitments and dedicated people become aware of the big picture.

To a dedicated, disciplined person, some of us look like unproductive, lazy good-for-nothings. They might be right, but they may also be seeing someone who has a different personal productivity platform. This is not an excuse for laziness but rather a guidance system that allows all people, regardless of their style, to work together.

It's not about who is right and who is wrong. It's not even about you learning to get more done or be more effective. It's about knowing what works for you and supporting what comes naturally.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In the unlikely event of an emergency

I was on a plane again last night... The joys of travel! It struck me again how common the phrase of ‘in the unlikely event of an emergency' was. I was on 3 different airlines and each used the same phrase in their emergency procedures safety presentation. They are not afraid to consider what might go wrong and yet many leaders and certainly Thought Leaders who present, are often loathed to prepare for unlikely events.

World class presenters head off disaster before it happens. They anticipate what might go right or wrong and build in key concepts or frames to manage the possible fall out.
A word of caution goes with this idea. Often in anticipating a situation, we actually create the situation. If you are coming from a lack of confidence or even some flawed assumptions about your audience, you can make things worse using this idea. If I could repeat this paragraph several times through this idea I would. So every few paragraphs, read this one again.

I recently stumbled onto a recurring problem in my Inspiration series. The keynotes, workshops and full day programs unpack what it takes to be inspired and be inspiring. I had not anticipated (perhaps naively) that there would be a few people who want to throw a wet blanket on anything at all, either up or hopeful. It was not every program, but I started to notice that certain people might white ant the message of hope and self-accountability in the breaks between sessions. I had to fix it and fast! So I started to build a key message about the difference between a Cynic and a Sceptic. I encouraged scepticism and communicated a zero tolerance for cynicism. I defined a cynic as someone who had hope and now ‘urinates in the attitude pond we all drink from' (the ‘p' in pisses adds nice alliteration). A sceptic on the other hand is someone who suspends good or bad judgement until they're convinced. This frame is very powerful as it makes thinking OK and negative whiney judgement as not. It doesn't fix the problem completely, but it does set the tone.

Start with writing a list of what might go wrong when you speak. It's not negative thinking to prepare for all eventualities. This is the intellectual challenge that scenario planning has an idea. People who are particularly superstitious don't like discussing the downside of any idea. It's as if for them, the considering of the idea makes it more likely to happen. It is something you have to think through as a speaker.

So what might go wrong?

Not logistically wrong, but conceptually or culturally wrong. Here are some examples…
  • There may be cynicism to your key ideas. A negative undercurrent might be running through the audience that you have seemingly no control of.
  • A major disaster happens just before you go on stage. 9/11 is a good example for this for many of us who were working that day.
  • The Speaker before you may deliver some bad news that leaves a lot of unanswered questions in the minds of the audience members.
  • You might have an accent that the audience stereotypes to mean a certain mindset. E.g. Australians in New Zealand. Americans in Canada.
So, what would you do in each situation?

Here are four approaches that help deal with situations like those listed above.

1. Name the elephant.
One of the quickest ways to shut down a problem is to name it plainly and accurately. You state what's on peoples minds and you have better chance of getting onto something productive or possibly managing the issue. "I know what I might be thinking in your position, another Australian telling Kiwis how to do it better..." "I just want to say from the outset, I have learned so much at this conference seeing the innovative ideas many of your local awards winners have used to increase sales. My notebook is full and I can't wait to get back and try some of them in my office."

2. Give up control to gain it.
In tough situations I like to list the 7 points I planned to speak about and ask the audience if we only had time for 3, which 3 would they choose? Then go around the room asking them to vote. You then mix up your sequence so it serves the request of the room. Of course you need to know your presentation in idea chunks or modules to do this. The audience feels like they designed their own speech, you of course are delivering what you planned to but doing so in a flexible way. I heard it said once that a person's degree of happiness is directly proportional to their degree of control. In this case you can turn tough crowds around as they get to exert a little more influence on the agenda. This is particularly useful when something has just been taken away from the audience or they are used to making decisions.

3. Respond with a story.
Developing a bank of stories you can draw on at a moments notice is definitely a skill of world class presenters. A perfectly placed story that responds artfully to what has just happened or the prevailing mood of the room is an antidote to negative situations.

4. Plan to be spontaneous.
Anticipate what might go wrong and prepare in advance for these situations with off the cuff one-liners. A waiter walks in front of you while your speaking and you might say ‘don't worry it's just a stage your going through' (direct and yet satisfying), you fall off the stage onto the floor you might say ‘OK I will now take questions from the floor', a mobile phone goes off you might say ‘If that's my mum tell her I am working damn it.' You may of course find better humour than these seemingly lame ‘o' punch lines. It's not the size of the laugh that counts it's the sense of cool you bring to a potentially tricky situation.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on the potentially hazardous stuff that could come up. Some people seem to be superstitious about even considering what might go wrong, it's as if by doing so they make it possible. So, grab your rabbits foot, cross your fingers and start to hope for the best while you prepare for the worst. You may never need it...but if you do, you'll be glad you spent some time building in a plan for evacuation in 'the unlikely event of emergency.'


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Choirs or Super bands?

The challenges with building SUPER teams!

From the outset let me state I like choirs, I have nothing against choirs, choirs are good! (I hope that's clear enough). BUT, choirs are not made up of superstar stand alone singers, they are not the genius musicians that come together to form ‘SUPER bands' like U2! And this is my focus in this newsletter. Few SUPER bands stay together for ever. Those that do are truly special and go onto to become iconic, symbolic custodians of the time and poets of the evolution of man..heavy stuff!

You see my real problem is the emphasis on teams. I am not convinced the techniques for building teams work when you are dealing with SUPER talents. Sure they help standardise the norm, lift the common average and ensure consistent results with inconsistent performers, but should the same rules apply to your extraordinary individuals? And as an extension, what would happen if you could build a SUPER team composed of outstanding performers? Do the same team building rules apply?

Choirs are mostly (not all and many are amazing) made up of some pretty average talents musically who simply enjoy coming together to make a sound better than they can achieve by themselves. Choir members get a social need fulfilled by being part of a team. The sum is truly greater than the parts, there is no ‘I' in team and 1 + 1 = 3. That's all true and history validates it; the Romans did it with soldiers, the industrial age did it with factories, Unions did it with industries. The Seaforth under 8‘s soccer team will do it.

We are stronger together. Indeed the togetherness is what the team building programs of the 80's worked towards but do they still count?

YES, if you are building choirs.

But what if you need something more? What if you need the rock stars of your industry or your company to work together? Is it possible to build super teams? And if so what do you need to do differently?

Hollywood have it right. They get the best actors, with the best director, with the best writers and other remarkable specialists to come together and achieve amazing projects. They build 100 million dollar businesses in under 6 months. Often you see them coming together time and time again. It's meritocracy not democracy.

Business needs to build smarter teams, dare I say Super teams, that don't pander to the lowest common denominator but rather manage the complex and unique challenges involved in keeping the true talents together.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So, what is Thought Leadership?

As a leader in the 21st century, it is necessary to really think about what leadership means and more specifically, Thought Leadership.

The world has changed fundamentally in the last 10 years and dramatically in the last 6 months. A subtle shift in power and information accessibility has flipped the models for leadership in the organisational and entrepreneurial arenas.

We used to be about systems, process, structure and hierarchy. We now see an emerging requirement for inspirational, creative thinking, consultative styles and effective partnering. We see crowded marketplaces, information overwhelmed clients and a massive loss of trust in the media.

All of these trend indicators point to a new way of being the leader in business and life, and any manager, business leader, innovator, anyone charged with the responsibility of positioning themselves, their business or project to thrive within the next 5-10 years and anyone in an advice or strategy role needs to know what it takes to be a Thought Leader.

Thought Leadership requires the leaders of today to know about nine essential skills…

You need to know what your own uniqueness is. It is necessary to know what your personal value proposition is to effectively differentiate yourself to the internal and external clients. This is the key to talent management. (Who are you?)

You must have the ability to quickly unpack what you know so others can share your expertise and the benefit of your knowledge. In a developed world it's the thinking innovations that matter. (What do you know?)

Be aware of and share the foresight of the major trends redefining what it means to lead a business into the future. (What is going on around you?)

Know how to position yourself, your business or your organisation so people know exactly what you do and why they should do business only with you. (What do you do?)

Develop communication skills that help you get your point across in an engaging, relevant and meaningful way. (How do you share ideas?)

Learn how others think, their mindsets, and use this knowledge to create more effective consensus and/or cut through in your world. (How do others think?)

Know how to pitch you, your business or your ideas more effectively. (How do you get it out?)

Execute on your great ideas and bring them to reality. Go beyond simple creativity and deliver the results. (How do you launch a concept?)

Sell your vision and influence others so they engage and enrol with your ideas. (How do you sell the vision?)

It is imperative for the leaders of today and tomorrow to step up and into their Thought Leadership.

How does your Thought Leadership shape up? Which skill do you need to strengthen?