At one point I decided I wanted to exercise more regularly. I was convinced that my failure to exercise thus far was caused by a lack of resources to help motivate me and was unrelated to self discipline. I found a user-friendly app with a nice variety of exercises and stretches. I downloaded it excitedly and was glad to have a resource to assist with my goal.
As it turns out, it’s really easy to ignore a small icon on your phone. I used the app exactly zero times.
Note to self: External resources don’t automatically make you succeed. Developing self discipline requires an internal commitment.
Most of the time I make decisions by weighing out the known pros and cons with the hope that one side will weigh in much stronger. When the winner is unclear, I have to take a different approach. A decision making process I find highly effective in project management is to put myself in the shoes of the key stakeholders connected to the project. I systematically think through what insight each of the invested parties can provide that I couldn’t otherwise see. Here’s a few sample questions I’ve asked myself and a brief description of what I hoped that perspective might tell me.
1. What is my gut response as a person who will stamp my name on the final product? If I'm going to be associated with something, I want to be proud of the end result. Does one of the options have a finer level of craftsmanship?
2. How would each option feel if I were a sales person conducting a demo? Some factors might be revealed only during a high-stakes moment. Would one of the options turn off potential customers right away?
3. How would I respond to each option if I were a decision-making customer? Options that look the same on paper might vary greatly to the person who will use each one. What would it feel like to use or experience each option?
4. Would my response change if I were a non-decision-making customer? The decision-maker may be most concerned with price or durability while a recipient might be more concerned with features or ease of use. How would each option feel if I were forced to use them?
Usually by the time I’ve walked in the shoes of the above groups, a winner becomes clear. If not, I think of other shoes to try on.
I once returned from a party carrying a large box. It was late at night, so I set the box by the back door to deal with in the morning. The next day, I didn't feel like moving the box. I left it by the door. Fast forward four weeks, and the box was still at my back door. Before you start calling me lazy and other names, I should mention that I stopped seeing it. For two days I told my brain to ignore the box, and then after that, my brain obliged by no longer reporting its existence. I moved along merrily without seeing or caring about it. That changed when I started preparing for out-of-town company. When I surveyed the house to determine what needed to be tidied, I instantly saw the box. I put on the perspective of "home inspector" and easily saw the out-of-place item.
Pause for a moment to take this in. Different perspectives allow you to see different things. It sounds so simple, but the implications of this are enormous. What exists in your own life that you can't currently see?
I once had a team member who was struggling in a particular area, so I was on the lookout for a small-scale success where I could compliment him on a job well done. I hoped that catching him “doing something right” would build a foundation for future success.
One day during a team meeting, he surprised and impressed me with some relevant and pointed questions. It was exactly the type of active engagement and critical thinking I value in my team members. A small-scale success had presented itself.
After the meeting, I knew I wanted to say something to my team member to thank him for the discussion points he’d brought up. And then, I’m embarrassed to say, my mind took over and talked me into circles about whether this was a good idea. I started wondering whether praising good behavior was too much like praising a pet. And whether encouraging a particular behavior was being too manipulative. And whether an “attaboy” would even be received well.
I completely failed. I wanted to communicate appreciation in the workplace, but I overthought the situation way too much and let too much time pass. I let the fear of not communicating right prevent me from communicating at all. I tried to make it perfect and as a result did nothing.
In retrospect, I could have said something as simple as, “Thanks for the questions you brought up in the meeting. I think that led to a fruitful discussion.” My message didn’t have to be grandiose. A simple, sincere ‘thank you’ is better than a never-delivered one.
A few weeks after a new team member started, I asked her how the onboarding process was going. Thankfully she was willing to tell me that she'd been frustrated by a lack of documentation in places. She was eager to contribute and happy to consult available resources to figure something out, but more than once the resources were outdated and others were missing entirely. Her candid response compelled me to evaluate our documentation with a pair of fresh eyes.
New team members arrive full of energy and ready to make an impact. They aren't carrying any baggage, and they have fresh ideas and enthusiasm. There's something really special about the eagerness they bring. As a leader I need to ensure this spirit doesn't get crushed.
I once had a team member who was weaker than his teammates in a particular area. It stemmed from a poor behavior choice, not a lack of knowledge or skill. My initial thought was to email some guidelines on expected behavior to the whole team. What I realized, though, is that the rest of the team didn't need the guidelines. They already knew intuitively. Why punish the whole group with a new policy?
It was tempting to roll out a set of rules and congratulate myself on improving the situation. But what would that have accomplished? I wouldn't have increased the motivation or interest level of my team member. I wouldn't have inspired him or helped him see how his actions affected others. If a team member is struggling, there is likely a root problem that won't be addressed by a new set of rules.
Note to self: Attack the cause instead of the symptom.
If there's such a thing as a "wake-up call," then there should also be a "wake-up smack" and a "wake-up bucket of ice water dumped on your head." A book gave me the latter. Until recently, I was convinced that I understood how job satisfaction affects performance. It seemed logical to me that happy and content employees would be more productive.
But then I read The Truth About Managing People… And Nothing But the Truth.
Author Stephen Robbins asserts that higher productivity leads to higher job satisfaction, not the other way around. (See Truth 13 on p39-41.) I've been thinking about it backwards.
I spend a lot of my energy as a manager focusing on team member satisfaction. I try to ensure that my team members are content. I want them to have a warm environment, I want them to enjoy interacting with each other, and I want them to feel valued as individuals.
I don't think this is wasted effort, but perhaps I should focus more on attacking things that impede productivity. Places where procedures make it difficult to accomplish things. Places where outdated tools slow things down. Places where projects bottleneck at a single person. If I spend more energy removing roadblocks, my team can surge ahead.
The more I think about it, the more I agree with Robbins' assertion about productivity coming first. I know for myself my favorite workdays are ones where I get immersed in something meaningful and make a substantial contribution to something. And my favorite projects are the ones where a group of people battle together to achieve a goal. In both of these, the feeling of accomplishment comes from having done something.
Note to self: Ask yourself each day what you can do to increase the likelihood that your team members finish the day feeling productive.