50 books by 50

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I have always loved to read. I was “that kid” who took her book with her everywhere –reading on the bus, in the doctors office, at the dinner table. Today I still love to read but struggle to find time to read and feel torn between reading for work and reading for pleasure. Apparently I am not the only one struggling with this. According to a recent LinkedIn post by Amit Somani only .5% of people in the world read more than 3-5 books a year. So I decided to set a goal to read 50 books by age 50. That means I will need to double my reading rate and sustain it for two years. How I am going to do that? Good question! Here are some of the tips I plan to employ -and how it relates to leadership: Decide what supports the goal, learn from others, and follow your passion.

What supports the goal. Most of us have worked at a company with a WIG (wildly important goal) that was something like double sales by 2020 or increase our customer base by 30%. Aspirations are great but without clear plans to support them, won’t be more than a bumper sticker slogan.  With any kind of goal it is helpful to ask questions like these, from the Huffington Post article 5 Leadership Goals:

  • What have we tried to achieve in 2017 that we must accomplish in 2018, and how will that be rewarding to you (and your team)?
  • What targets are we hitting — and which ones are we missing due to our own actions as executives?
  • Is there anything I can do to get out of the way of — and, indeed, accelerate — our success?

These questions are insightful whether you are trying to improve quality, reduce turnover, or increase your reading. In my case, reading is rewarding, so what I will accomplish this year is setting a target of reading at least 20 pages everyday. I will accelerate my success by setting a firm bed time and creating a routine of reading every night before I go to sleep.

Learn from others. Whatever goal we are trying to achieve, we can pick up ideas and insights from others. I currently have over 500 books on my Amazon reading list. So one way to prioritize those books is to see what others recommend as their top reads. President Obama posted his reading list, as did Daniel Pink, Richard Branson, and hundreds of other thought leaders. Pick one or two that you already know and love and challenge yourself to follow the recommendations of someone outside of your normal go to group. Share your challenge internally and find out what your peers/other functions are doing that relates to your goal. My internal inquiries led me to read Lean Turnaround and  Four Disciplines of Execution  as my first two books this year. Ironically by starting with a discussion about Four Disciplines, I am now leading a training session on 5 Choices,  and am collaborating with senior leaders on our shared priority of driving productivity through improved people leadership.

Follow your passion. I love the quote, “If it is important to you, you will find a way. If  not, you will find an excuse.” That definitely applies to me and the goals I set for working out, at work, and now reading. The gap isn’t really time- we all have 24 hours in a day. It’s how we use and prioritize our time. Goals that ignite us are easy – creating a new leadership program, developing the acquisition strategy, defining a new customer segment. Goals that are outside of our expertise and interest are usually the ones that we keep deferring. In my earlier post Improve Through Improv I talked about tapping into- and trusting- the talents of the team to achieve your goals. Leveraging people’s strengths and passions is a natural accelerator.  So in my quest to read 50 books by 50 I give myself permission to pass on the books that don’t fuel my fire, to quit the books that aren’t engaging me, and to seek books that are aligned with my personal and professional passions.

Rachel Anders said, “The journey of a lifetime starts with the turning of a page.” Whether you are reading or on the journey to achieving a different goal, deciding what supports the goal, learning from others, and following your passion will help you get to your destination more quickly, and make it a more enjoyable ride.

The 3 Rs: Reading, Running, and Relaxing

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It’s that time of year again. Red leaves. Orange pumpkin spice latte. Yellow school buses. All signs of fall and the return to school. Every year I feel both jealous of and motivated by these students. While most of us can’t lobby our workplaces for the summer off, we too can take this opportunity to focus on learning, committing to goals, and trying new routines.  I firmly believe that to be your best self at work you have to take time for yourself, and that setting up personal routines can help your professional productivity. I encourage you to explore the 3Rs this season: reading, running, and relaxing.

Reading. How do you stay current on your industry? On your competitors? On leadership? These “important but not urgent” questions often get buried under our emails and meetings. So here’s your chance to push reset and find some time for yourself. Drive time is a great time to listen to an audio book. Pop in some earbuds and listen to one while walking, cleaning, or at lunch. Here’s another idea- spend 20 minutes less on email and instead devote that time to learning. In an earlier post Refresh Your Training Menu, I cited LinkedIn and Flipboard as great sources for blogs and Get Abstracts as a site that synthesizes business and leadership books in to 3-5 page summaries. That 20 minute investment can pay big dividends in your career and is a great habit to try on this season.

Running. Or Walking, biking, dancing– any kind of heart pumping moving. As this Harvard Business Review article states, regular exercise is a part of your job, if in your job you are expected to concentrate, remember information, and be creative. There is a direct link between exercise and work performance – and we all want to be great at our job, right? Start with 30 minutes three times a week. Determine if morning, lunch, or evenings works best for your schedule and your body.  Set a goal. Then post that goal so your friends and family will ask about your progress. The alternative is to commit to processing information slowly, forgetting details, and staying stagnant. So don’t look at exercise as taking away from your job – see it as part of your job.

Relaxing. This is a habit I am still working on. I am the yoga student who starts planning her grocery list mid downward dog, and whose mind constantly wanders during meditation. But I know the importance of stillness and aspire to move from mind full to mindful. The app Buddhify really appeals to me- it has a collection of short meditation and many of them are designed to do while you are doing something else- brilliant! I also like the Do Yoga With Me website that offers free yoga lessons at all levels and multiple lengths. Another recent challenge in our house? Shutting off our phone after 8:00– and instead linking in with the faces in the room vs. on the web. Find that space where you can reconnect with yourself and what really matters to you. It will lower your blood pressure and help you center.

As CS Lewis said, we are never to old to set another goal or dream another dream.  We are all busy, but just one less TV show, meeting, or Words with Friends fest will pay huge results. This fall, lets all be students of the 3Rs and commit to reading, running and relaxing.

Motivate Without Authority

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In most organizations you have to know how to get things done by working with others. There are often times where you don’t have direct authority for a team or a budget, but you are accountable for the outcome of the project. Most companies focus on teaching the skill how to influence without authority in these situations. The emphasis is learning what is important to your stakeholders and demonstrating how you can bring that value to them. I have taught and trained on this concept many times over the years and do believe that learning how to navigate organizations and relationships is essential. But I recently asked myself, why do we call it influence without authority and how are we inherently framing up relationships with that language? The definition of influence is “the act or power of producing an effect without the direct exercise of command.” Synonyms for influence include impact, determine, guide, and control. Now contrast that with the definition for motivate, which is “to stimulate (someone’s) interest in or enthusiasm for doing something.” Synonyms for motivate include inspire, stimulate, encourage, and excite. I’d like to coin a new phrase and discussion about how to get work done in organizations: Motivate without authority. In this definition the emphasis is on connecting to the customer, embracing autonomy vs. authority, and inspiring through your actions.

Connecting to the customer. Engagement surveys over the last three decades have shown that meaningful work is the single most important element to employees. Purpose is a huge intrinsic driver and one of the most powerful ways to create meaning is to connect people with the end user. At Deere & Company, farmers who buy tractors are invited to visit the factories with their families. Assembly line employees are then invited to meet the farmers, hand them their tractor key, and watch them start their tractors for the first time. Olive Garden restaurant managers regularly share letters from customers with their teams and thank them for creating a great guest experience. Instead of influencing your team, show them how the new project/process you are talking about will meet the customer’s needs and drive meaningful work.

Embrace autonomy vs. authority. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but most of us have very little authority over others. But instead of bemoaning that fact, how can we embrace autonomy? Appreciate the reality that each group you want to motivate likely has different, perhaps competing, schedules, priorities, and resources. Instead of trying to control the outcomes, think about how building trust can make your team much more efficient. Often our desire for authority comes from a lack of trust. Ask yourself if you trust the team, then ask yourself if others can/should trust you based on your behaviors. Reflect on your motives and competencies and see if/how they might be impacting your team dynamics. Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust offers a list of 13 behaviors that can build or erode trust and provide some great ideas on how to motivate without authority.

Inspiring through your actions. Forbes conducted an interesting research project. They looked at a list of the 1,000 most inspiring leaders and analyzed how they inspire those around them. They came up with a list of six different skills used by these inspiring leaders:

  • Visionary—providing a clear picture of the future and being able to communicate that to the team.
  • Enhancing—creating positive one-on-one relationships along with team relationships by being a great listener and connecting emotionally with people.
  • Driver—displaying a focused pursuit to make the numbers and complete things on time and generally being accountable for personal and group performance.
  • Principled—providing a powerful role model of doing the right things in the right way.
  • Enthusiast—exuding passion and energy about the organization, its goals and the work itself.
  • Expert—providing a strong technical direction that comes from deep expertise.

I think the two skills that are most often overlooked on this list are being principled and leveraging your expertise. Many people inspire through their vision and their enthusiasm, but it is equally impactful to motivate others by showing in your actions that you are principled and have a valuable expertise. Whatever your natural style is, show your team that you are authentic and that you are committed. They will not only be influenced, they will be inspired.

Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” I believe we grow commitment not through influence or authority, but through motivation. By connecting teams to the customer, embracing their autonomy, and inspiring others through our actions, we can motivate others without authority and build lasting commitment.

Refresh Your Training Menu

Stuart SaladYou are planning a dinner party and want to serve today’s most popular dishes. You do a little research and get to work on your menu: homemade cream of celery soup, potato chip tuna casserole, and broiled grapefruit for dessert. Right on trend- for the 1950s. If you served that today, your guests would, at minimum, be surprised. But many of us in HR are still serving an out of date training menu: 3 days of content delivered lecture style with big clunky binders for participants. Our customers consume content in a totally new day today. They also curate and create content daily. It’s time for us to update our approach to learning and focus on what our busy leaders and employees can digest. This is not to suggest we should abandon workshop sessions that provide the time to go deeper on content and apply new learning. It is to suggest, however, that it’s time to expand our learning menu by serving bite sized learning, adding new ingredients, and trying some new recipes.

Serving Bite Sized Learning. Our employees and leaders are interested in their development. The challenge is that development is “important but not urgent” and is competing with throngs of “urgent and important” and “urgent and not important” emails, calls, and texts. We can help our teams find time for themselves by serving bite sized learning that has 10-15 minutes of content. There are so many great resources for this, including business and leadership book summaries from Get Abstract, hundreds of free videos and discussion guides at Lean In, innovative speakers and ideas shared through Ted Talks, and curated content from sites like Flipboard. These can also be great reinforcement resources to send out after a training to follow up on the learning.

Adding New Ingredients. A great Ted Talk I recently watched was titled Three Ways to Spark Learning. In this talk, Ramsey Musallam talks about how being a science teacher, a dad, and having a health scare gave him some new insights about learning. His take always are that curiosity comes first, we should embrace the mess, and practice reflection. Imagine you are leading a training on performance reviews. Your leaders come in, eyes rolled, expecting a lecture. But this time you take a new approach. Instead of telling them that performance reviews are great, drive engagement, and create performance records, you start by asking “I wonder how we could make the performance review process easier?” After gathering their ideas, you acknowledge that performance reviews are messy- both in the execution and in the delivery. You then offer some ideas on how to make the best of everyone’s least favorite process. You end by asking the leaders to reflect on their last performance review discussion and what they will do differently this time. You can still include tactical information they need to know and do some skill building in the class. But by adding some new ingredients to your facilitation, you just might spice up the discussion and the learning.

Try Some New Recipes. We encourage learners to take risks and try new approaches. But we don’t always this advice ourselves. Here are two creative approaches to learning to consider: a flipped classroom and an unconference. Flipped classrooms are common in education. The concept is that instead of lecturing when the kids are in the classroom then sending them off to do their homework on their own, teachers provide video/online lectures to watch at home, and use class time for discussion and projects. The same approach can be used in adult training. Send out pre-work and use more of your classroom time for discussion, questions, and application. If you are feeling really brave, try an unconference. The concept is very simple. At an unconference, there is no agenda. No topics or speakers have been pre-selected. Instead, attendees review a list of all possible content and decide what they want to hear about. Most unconferences includes less common approaches such as Big (or Little) Question sessions where someone asks a question he/she want to know the answer to and engages the group in a peer  discussion. Show and tell sessions give participants the chance to share a cool project/update and use that as a springboard for discussion. There are also more traditional lectures and/or group discussions options offered. This approach may be more stressful for the facilitators but almost always increases attendees’ engagement and participation. 

Julia Child said, “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing.” Julia Child also included recipes for cream of celery, potato chip cassarole, and broiled grapefruit in the Joy of Cooking in the 1950s. But she continued to evolve her craft, grow with her audience, and innovate new dishes. How can you refresh the training for your organization?