Be the Coach Your People Deserve

May 17th, 2019


Ken Blanchard called feedback the “breakfast of champions,” and rightfully so, because we all need feedback in order to grow and develop to our fullest potential. When done properly, coaching those on your team and giving them quality feedback is one of the highest return uses of your time; however, when it comes to giving feedback, many leaders today are more of a critic than they are a coach. They point out what’s wrong without offering the individual any coaching that would allow them to adjust and bring better performance day in and day out.
Criticism without coaching doesn’t elevate people – it frustrates people. What follows are some key principles of coaching, and some steps to make sure you’re the coach your people deserve, and not just a critic of them. But first, let’s first define and recognize what it means to be a critic, and what it means to be a coach, so you can better assess your style of giving feedback.
A critic is defined as “one who expresses displeasure or an unfavorable opinion about someone or something.” Simply put, criticism without coaching is merely expressing displeasure and leaving it at that – not exactly the balanced feedback “breakfast” necessary to grow, develop, and invest in the people on our team.
A coach on the other hand is defined as “someone who gives private teaching, a trainer or coach.” Make no mistake, a coach will also express displeasure concerning poor behaviors or performance, but the difference is that he or she will also provide instruction on how to improve.
With a better understanding of what it means to be a critic, and a coach, let’s look further at the differences between them.

  1. To improve performance, a coach will provide feedback concerning poor performance, and immediately follow it up by redefining a performance expectation.

The coach will do this both conversationally and sincerely, without getting personal, profane, loud, or reminding the offender of their past flaws and faults as the critic does.

2. To improve performance a good coach will show the person what good performance looks like if necessary.

By redefining the performance expectation with the individual, you’re setting the standard. By modeling and demonstrating the good performance that you’re looking for, you’re setting the example.

3. To further reinforce his or her point, the coach will explain why it’s important to perform the task or duty in the manner prescribed.

A great demonstration of what you’re looking for, by itself, is not enough to help coach the individual to greater levels of performance. This is why the best leaders in any field explain the “why” behind it. They understand that people are more likely to apply the “how,” and live with the “what,” if they first understand the “why.”

4. To test the individual’s comprehension of the feedback and the example demonstrated, a coach will ask the person to perform the task again to demonstrate their understanding of the proper technique.
The only way you can know for sure that people get it is to test them, and let them show you that they’ve got it.

5. If the person requires further training to be able to perform the task or create the desired outcome, the coach will provide the resources necessary to support the person.

Strong cultures understand that talent doesn’t arrive fully developed, and that a ferocious dedication must be made to training, coaching, and mentoring employees. Identifying and resourcing a team member’s growth by providing tools, experience, mentors, training or additional practice are key ways the coach supports and helps build the skillset necessary for the person to perform well.

6. Once the performance improves a coach will reinforce the change or improved behavior.

This is because behaviors that are reinforced and rewarded are more likely to be repeated. But remember, the longer you wait to reinforce the behavior, the less impact it has. Reinforce often and quickly when you’re trying to influence behavioral and performance changes.

7. If necessary, the coach will establish consequences for the performer if the poor behavior or performance continues.

If you want to change a behavior, you must change the consequence for that behavior. As the saying goes, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

8. Even when establishing consequences, a good coach will affirm belief in the performer and his or her ability.

This is because the coach understands the consequence being established is something they’re doing FOR the person, not TO the person, as the sole objective of a consequence is to improve performance.

In summary, a critic is good at finding and pointing out faults or flaws; and, while a coach does likewise, his or her primary objective is to create the structure and tools necessary to eliminate the flaws. The coach is not just a “finder” but a “fixer.”


With these points in mind, are you more of a critic or a coach? If you were to randomly survey team members on your coaching and feedback abilities would they agree? If not, or if you’re unsure, the good news is that you can fix that by bringing more focus to applying the principles shared here, and adding value to your people, so they in turn can add more value to the organization.


As a parting thought, if you have good people who are being hamstrung by criticism without coaching, don’t expect them to endure or stay in your ranks for long. They won’t put up with the abuse, nor should they, making it all the more important that you step up and be the coach they deserve – and that you not wait until it’s too late to do so.


Leading with Level One Accountability

April 19th, 2019

There are four levels of accountability in any organization, and within the departments of that organization. And while each department, and the organization itself, is normally a blend of all four levels depending on the time of the month, the leader of that department, and other factors, there is one level that will dominate. As I share the four levels, evaluate which most dominates the area you spend most of your time, and what steps can be taken to improve accountability there. Whichever level dominates will tell a lot about the leader, culture, and team members in each department; and, if you want to improve performance, you’ll need to improve the level of accountability therein.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. In high-performing cultures, accountability is everyone’s job. This is because lack of accountability from one person may affect performance, the employee experience, and the customer experience throughout the organization.
  2. Accountability isn’t about punishment; although, it may eventually require consequences. The real and true objective of accountability is to improve performance. Because of this, holding others accountable means you care enough about people and the team overall to swiftly and firmly address issues that affect the team’s performance, and the individual’s future.

The Four Levels of Accountability

  1. Level Four: No accountability.

At this level there is no accountability — no meaningful consequence for poor behaviors or performance. The more often Level Four persists, the weaker the culture, morale, momentum, the brand, and results overall become.

Example: someone comes to work late, violates a core value, fails to follow a process, misses a deadline, fails to keep a commitment and the like, and nothing happens.

Without question, the more present Level Four accountability is within a department: the weaker the culture will be; the more morale will suffer; the greater results will be more erratic, and the more the leader’s credibility will be seriously impaired.

  1. Level Three: Top-Down accountability.

Top-down accountability is when a supervisor addresses poor performance or behavior. It is necessary, it’s a positive thing, and it is the leader’s job, but it is Level Three because there are two levels better than this. While it’s a significant step up from Level Four, it is not what you find dominating the highest performing cultures in business or athletics.

With Level Three accountability it is always the manager who addresses performance issues. For instance, a technician comes in late, and his or her manager will address it. Again, while this certainly is necessary, it’s not optimal as the boss can’t be everywhere and see everything. Thus, many poor performances may be un-checked as a result of reliance on Level Three accountability.

  1. Level Two: Peer-to-Peer accountability.

Peer-to-peer accountability is when equals within the same team hold one another accountable. It’s far more effective in improving performance and is a key indicator of high performing cultures. For instance, when a technician comes in late, the boss doesn’t have to address it because the other technicians will handle it in their own manner: “Come on man, you’ve got to get here on time. We’ve got a goal to hit and we all need to step up to do it.” A conversation like that from a peer, or peers, will have a far greater impact on influencing performance than Level Three accountability. While no one wants to let the boss down, there’s a lot more positive peer pressure not to let teammates down.

Note that in the example I gave, a peer confronting another can be done good-naturedly, respectfully, and conversationally. It doesn’t have to be done, and shouldn’t be done, with disrespect as that creates a distraction that actually hurts performance.

  1. Level One: Self-Accountability.

Self-accountability means no one has to hold an individual accountable because that person does their job, follows the process, lives the values, and does so consistently. And he or she doesn’t do these things because they’re bribed, begged, or threatened; rather, they do so because that is who they are as human beings, and they have a higher standard for themselves than anyone else could ever have for them. We all have had people on our teams over the years that required very little or no accountability at all. Level One is where the best teams live. While Level Two is really strong, Level One is the summit. Some team members are Level One simply because that is how they are wired, and it reflects the high standards they have for their own life. Other teammates are at Level One because the positive pressure created at Levels Three and Two incentivized them to “up” their performance.

As odd as it may seem, whichever level is currently dominating your department or organization, has a ton to do with how you’re hiring. It really does start there. If you’re hiring people without high personal standards who don’t care about others, and are content to just have a “job” and do just enough to get by, you’re going to spend a lot of time at the lower levels. But even after you do hire well it’s no guarantee that you’ll have the optimal levels of accountability. The leader of that department still must: create clear expectations; train others to hit those expectations; give others consistent feedback on their success or failure concerning said expectations; consistently hold people accountable for executing those expectations; and model the personal excellence that frees him or her to hold others accountable without being seen as a hypocrite. As always, the culture rests heavily on the leader, and the ensuing results become his or her report card.

Here are a couple parting thoughts to move forward with this information:

  1. Which level best describes where you stand in your organization from day to day, not just at the end of the month or when your back is against the wall? Which level dominates in times of prosperity?
  2. Do you have people on your team who care enough to confront peers concerning their performance? If not, why; and, how can you change that.

The “Wow” is Worth It!

March 20th, 2019

Author Joe Calloway described a “brand” well in his book Never by Chance: “A brand is defined as a trademark or distinctive name, reputation, or capability that identifies and differentiates a product or service from the competition, for better or for worse.”

Every company has a brand, that’s not the question. The questions are: Does your brand positively differentiate you or render you to commodity status; and, does it elevate or diminish the value people see in doing business with you?

To delve deeper, a brand isn’t primarily about your logo, jingle, or creative graphics; these things may explain or reinforce your brand, but they aren’t your brand. Nor is building a powerful brand for your dealership accomplished through big ad budgets and slick promotional campaigns. Building a powerful brand happens when you create a culture that supports consistently creating “wow” customer experiences, and by hiring and training the right people at all levels within your organization who are capable of consistently delivering said experiences.  In other words, by focusing more on the “reputation, or capability that identifies and differentiates you from the competition” aspect of the brand definition mentioned previously, than on a logo, trademark, or distinctive name to communicate it. And as a leader it’s your job to make sure this gets done daily, and that chasing greater excellence in this regard is a priority for every team member.

Following are supporting thoughts and strategies to help refine your focus on intentionally building and leveraging the power of your brand.

1.    The bottom line is that your brand is defined by customer experiences. You may declare what your brand is, but a customer defines it based on his or her experience with your company or product. In short, whatever a customer thinks about when they hear your dealership mentioned—and that something will be based on either a personal experience or one they’ve heard about from others—is your brand. You can say what you want about who you are, but your customers believe what they experience…and THAT is your brand.

2.    In case the prior point wasn’t clear enough, let me rephrase it slightly: Nothing is more important than customer experience when it comes to brand management. Thus, if you want to improve the strength of your brand, you must elevate the quality of the experiences you’re creating for both team members and customers. That starts with hiring the right people at the outset, setting clear expectations for the experiences you want created (experiential standards), and training team members to deliver that experience while holding them accountable for doing so.

3.    A key to customer experience is consistency of performance. The more consistently great the experience is between departments, the stronger the brand. The greater variation you have between departments concerning the customer experience, or between your various locations, the weaker the brand. One bad apple in this regard, will afflict the whole batch.

4.    The best answer to the question, “Who on our team would create the most outstanding customer experience? is “Any of them!” If you can’t give that answer, you have work to do. Lots of it.

5.    The best way to influence a great customer experience is to create a great employee experience! You can rest assured that if your team members aren’t having a “wow” experience working for you, they’re not as likely to create similar experiences for your customers. Incidentally, micromanagers, oppressive work schedules, lack of training, hiring recklessly, inconsistent management, hypocritical leaders, tenured non-performers and more all drain the “wow” out of the workplace for team members.

6.    Keep in mind that even team members who are far removed from direct customer contact have a “ripple effect” impact on the customer experience. This is because of the effect they have on other employees. Naturally, if a co-worker is negative, incompetent, corrupt, indifferent, and doesn’t keep commitments, he or she will diminish the experience of teammates, causing frustration and lower morale – all of which has the potential to trickle down and affect the experience a teammate is trying to create for a customer.

7.    There’s much more to say about building your brand but since the focus of this piece is on perfecting the customer experience, take some time with key team members to honestly evaluate these questions and address the answers you’re unhappy with.

•    Are the processes and protocols we have in place designed to just meet a customer’s expectations, or are they intentionally designed to get the “wow?” In either case, how can we do better?

•    Do we have variation in the customer experience between departments or locations? If so, why is that? How do we fix it?

•    How often do we talk about getting the “wow” in meetings, during one-on-one coaching sessions, beginning with the interview process, and during onboarding periods? Since you can help change a culture by changing the conversation, what more can we do to shine a brighter light on this key responsibility for each team member?

•    Do we realize that our frontline team members (porters, sales associates, service advisors, receptionists and the like) have more daily opportunities to create a customer experience than the management team? This is by virtue of the fact they come into contact with more customers than management. This being said, how much training have they had on creating “wow” experiences? What training could we implement to improve the customer experience, starting with the onboarding of new associates?

•    Do we have experiential standards for our organization that clearly define guidelines for the things we will always do, and never do, with a customer or when speaking with a customer? Are all departments and locations on the same page with these standards? If not, how and when do we fix it? (If you’ve attended my one-day How to Become a League of Your Own seminar you know the answer to that question).

•    Do you know how your experience is significantly different and better from those your competitor delivers: from meet and greet, to customer touch points, to your various processes, to the language you use, to follow up, to communication protocols for service, to what they do while waiting to get into F&I, and the like? If your answers aren’t many and compelling, you’ve got more work to do.

If this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is a lot of work. Incidentally, I never said building a great brand through “wow” customer experiences is easy; but, I can assure you it is worth it. And if your people and dealership are continually in price battles to be the cheapest so you can get the deal, there’s a better way: create improved experiences and the price becomes less relevant. People pay more for better experiences, and they return for more, and tell others to do likewise. Believe me, whatever it costs you in time, training, or dollars to build a “wow” brand…when all is said and done, the “wow” is worth it.

Bring Out the Best of Your Talent

February 25th, 2019

In his book, Talent is Never Enough, author John Maxwell says, “Too many talented people who start with advantages over others lose that advantage because they rest on their talent instead of raising it. They assume that talent alone will keep them out front. They don’t realize the truth that if they merely wing it, others will fly past them. Talent is more common than they think. Mega-best-selling author Stephen King asserts that, ‘Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.’”

Without question, our business, like any other, abounds with talented people who never come close to reaching their potential. This is because while talent is a great head start, it is no guarantee of performance. One must make right choices consistently in order to get the most out of the gifts one has. You can use these points to develop your own talent, as well as to coach those on your team to make daily choices that bring out the best of their own talent.

1.    Belief lifts your talent.

The first and greatest obstacle to success for most people is their belief in themselves. Once people figure out where their “sweet spot” is (the area where they’re most gifted) what often hinders them isn’t a lack of talent, but a lack of trust in themselves that becomes a self-imposed ceiling. To lift your talent, you’ve got to stop seeing yourself only as you currently are and begin to see yourself as you potentially could be; then, do all you can daily to close that gap.

2.    Initiative activates your talent.

Talent-plus people don’t wait for everything to be perfect to move forward. They don’t wait for all the problems or obstacles to disappear, or for fear to subside. They take initiative, because initiative creates momentum. And momentum is a leader’s best friend. Increase your inclination to initiate by realizing that desire, good intentions, and talent aren’t enough. Success requires initiative, and the greatest time wasted is the time getting started.

3.    Focus directs your talent.

Focus does not come naturally to us, yet it is essential for anyone wanting to make the most of their talent. Having talent without focus is like being an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you don’t know in what direction it will be. Increase your focus by giving up spending too much time with the things—and people—in your life that distract you and take your eyes off your dreams. If you know that you have talent, and you are energetic and active but still don’t see meaningful results, then lack of focus is likely your problem.

4.    Preparation positions your talent.

What happens when you don’t prepare? Things you hoped won’t happen do happen—and they occur with greater frequency than the things you hoped would happen. The reason is simple: being unprepared puts you out of position. Increase your preparation ethic by deciding to pay the price to prepare daily and accepting that preparation is not glamorous; and, that it’s often long and slow, but you cannot wait for the opportunity to appear before you start preparing. Prepare in anticipation of the opportunity, and when it comes you will be ready. You don’t get a second-chance to seize upon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

5.    Perseverance sustains your talent.

While talent provides hope for accomplishment, perseverance helps ensure it. Playwright Noel Coward commented, “Thousands of people have talent. I might as well congratulate you for having eyes in your head. The one and only thing that counts is: Do you have staying power?” Improve perseverance by having a vision that inspires you to keep moving, and grasp that the number one characteristic of a leader is the ability to make positive things happen – and that takes perseverance. Without perseverance, a talented person is little more than a one hit wonder.

6.    Teachability expands your talent.

If you are a highly talented person, you may have a tough time with teachability because talented people often think they know it all – which makes it difficult for them to expand their talent. Improve your teachability by changing your attitude toward learning. Learning is energizing and gives you an edge. It changes your thoughts, which improves your actions, which edifies your results. When you see learning in this light, you won’t be able to get enough of it!

7.    Character protects your talent.

Many talented people make it to the limelight, but the ones who have neglected to develop strong character rarely stay there long. Absence of strong character eventually topples talent because people are often tempted to take shortcuts. Hone your character by accepting that while many of your circumstances are beyond your control, your character is not. Character is the sum total of your everyday choices. Thus, great character is built by making right choices, one choice at a time, and it is destroyed one poor choice at a time. Talented, but low-character people aren’t done in by outside forces, they self-destruct through bad decisions.

Run a “Red Belt” Business

January 31st, 2019

Within our LearnToLead Elite Training Center adjacent to our Agoura Hills, California offices, I have a “Wall of Influencers”. On the wall are three separate photo displays where I’m posing with a substantial mentor in my life: John Maxwell, Zig Ziglar and Johnny Gyro. Maxwell and Ziglar are renowned writers, speakers, teachers and motivators. Johnny Gyro is not known in business circles, but as a ninth dan seven-time world champion karate master, represented in three separate karate halls of fame, he is well known in martial arts circles. As my instructor for the past decade, Master Gyro has taught me plenty about self-defense, but I’ve also found his insights into the martial arts keenly applicable in the business arena. Following are four tenets taught by this martial arts genius that can improve your leadership and elevate your organization:

1.    Speed is a disguise for technique.

Martial arts application: This is a caution to crisply and precisely finish each move before rushing on to the next; that moving quickly in an attempt to disguise flaws may fool the amateur, but never an expert. By moving fast and without good form you reinforce bad habits, and build a faulty foundation that will slow further development.

Business application: Beware of the tendency to immerse yourself in a swirl of activity each day to try and hide your limitations. Don’t mistake motion for progress, speed for direction or activity for accomplishment by understanding it’s not how fast or often you move, but the direction you’re heading that’s most predictive of progress.

Examples of how speed can disguise technique include failing to plan your day around the discipline of priorities and simply reacting and putting out fires instead; rushing through the interview and hiring process just so you can claim to have “hired three new ones” in spite of them being the wrong ones; making snap decisions in an attempt to appear decisive without hearing all sides; listening efficiently rather than effectively and giving quick, snappy answers before moving on to the next emergency of the moment; a situation mostly created by your inability to focus on performing the basics of your job with daily precision in the first place.

2.    End it quickly.

Martial arts application: When attacked by an assailant, end the struggle quickly; the longer it lasts the more likely it is something really bad will happen. To accomplish this you must hit vital targets in quick succession. Repeatedly punch an arm and the fight goes on forever. Deliver a scoop kick to the groin, a knee to the head, and palm strike to the jaw and the battle is over in four seconds.

Business application: When executing a strategy, don’t contemplate everything you can do to move towards a goal; you don’t have the time, energy or resources for that. Instead determine the fewest battles necessary to win the war and execute them violently, diligently, and with excellence.

3.    Stay hungry with a red belt mindset.

Despite the fact that there are ten degrees of black belt in the Tang Soo Do style, when one passes his first degree test he often becomes complacent, cocky, or can turn into a know-it-all. The rank prior to black, red, on the other hand is known for training hard, being coachable, humble and aggressive. A key to sustained martial arts excellence is continuing to think like a red belt, even after you’ve “arrived” at the black belt level; to act as a challenger even though you may be the champ.

Business application: Having a record month, being “number one” in the region, or completing your best year ever can cause you to lose the red belt hunger and start thinking like the prideful “been there done that”, black belt. Three keys to overcoming complacency are having forecasts that stretch you, continuing to work hard on your own skill development, and holding yourself and others accountable for the daily execution of key activities responsible for driving the numbers. When I present these principles in my “How to Master the Art of Execution” seminar I’m always told by attendees that the daily focus, and daily accountability, is what’s most missing in their daily routine, and within their business culture.

4.    What gets you “here” won’t get you “there”.

During the ceremony when I was promoted from first red to a first degree black belt Mr. Gyro told me: “You’ve worked hard and deserve this, but what this really means is that now you’re an advanced beginner; there’s still a lot to learn.” Two- and-one-half years later after passing my second degree black belt test he told me: “Only ten percent of first degree black belts become second degrees. Always remember that the focus, discipline, skill level and desire that gets you ‘here’, won’t get you ‘there.”

Business application: The responsibilities and operations of many leaders have grown significantly in the past few years; the problem is they’re running them the same way. They haven’t upgraded their skills, narrowed their focus or improved their levels of discipline, and eventually they’ll plateau or decline because you can’t drive a “Mack Truck” the same way you drive a “Chevy Volt”. Along these same lines, who gets you here isn’t necessarily who will get you there. Some leaders, especially those like I’ve just described, get outgrown because they foolishly think they can create greater production without improving their personal capacity to produce.

I originally had nine lessons to share in this piece, but have run out of space, so I may discuss the other applicable martial arts maxims in the future. For now, reevaluate these four and determine if there is application that can improve your leadership, the team, and dealership overall.

The Foundation of Accountability

January 18th, 2019

I’ve written and spoken extensively about accountability in the twenty years since we started our company, Learn To Lead: how to do it, why it’s important, the consequences for not doing so, and more. In my recent How to Master the Art of Accountability seminar attendees found it helpful when I identified and outlined the two non-negotiable pillars of accountability, and how to develop both.

Essentially, holding people accountable requires both the right skill set and the right mindset. Knowing how to hold people accountable, but not doing it reflects the wrong mindset. Wanting to hold people accountable, but not knowing how to do it indicates a deficient skill set. In this piece I’ll go over the fine points of each of the two non-negotiable pillars for holding people accountable.

Three Quick Openers on the Importance of Accountability

  1. Accountability protects the culture, morale, momentum, the brand, the employee experience, the customer experience and the credibility of leadership.
  2. While the cost of holding someone accountable may seem high or uncomfortable, the cost for not holding someone accountable is staggering and creates more cultural discomfort. The cost is also enduring, rather than a one-time penalty. In essence, the consequences for failing to hold others accountable create a form misery on the installment plan.
  3. Accountability isn’t an option for someone in a leadership position; it’s a duty. If you can’t do it or won’t do it, you’re unfit for leadership. It’s THAT big of a deal.

The First Pillar of Accountability

  • Holding people accountable requires you have the right skill set.

This includes setting clear expectations for outcomes, essential daily activities and core values. Without clarity there can be no accountability because the question becomes, “Accountable for what?” It also takes skill to effectively give feedback on performance, establish and enforce appropriate consequences, and know what to say when you confront a poor performer. These are not tools that come to you in a dream one night after you’re promoted from advisor to service manager, or from salesperson to sales manager. They must be taught, learned, and applied to perform one’s duty as an effective leader. Because of this need for accountability “how to’s”, the accountability categories of our virtual training library are always the most used by managers from all departments in an organization.

I should emphasize that part of the skill set for holding others accountable mandates that you develop a skillful style as well: it should be conversational more than confrontational. Holding people accountable isn’t a license to be a jerk, to become profane, to shout, or get personal. In fact, those tactics make you look like a leadership amateur.  Your approach should be direct, respectful, firm, and attack the performance rather than the performer.

The Second Pillar of Accountability

  • Holding people accountable requires the right mindset.

Mindset is defined as “the established attitudes held by someone.” If you don’t have the right attitude concerning holding people accountable you’re unlikely to do it with urgency or consistency. The right accountability mindset is established when you realize and believe that holding someone accountable isn’t something you do to them, but for them. Frankly, if you believe you’re doing something “to” someone you’ll be reluctant to do it, and will likely apologize for doing your job – making you the “bad guy” and the non-performer “the victim.” However, when you believe you’re holding someone accountable to help them, to correct their course, to facilitate their growth, and to make them more successful, you’ll execute this vital duty without hesitation or apology.

 

In an age dedicated to political correctness and committed to not doing something that would offend someone else, holding people accountable has increasingly become seen as harsh or unfair. But is it really harsh to let someone know what is expected, how to improve, where they stand, where they need to be and by when, or what the consequence is for failing to do their job will be? If you think about it, it doesn’t really get any fairer than that. In reality, what’s truly harsh is letting people live in a gray area, allowing them to fail, fall further off track, and permit things to get so bad for so long that you have no choice but to remove them; and, they never see it coming or have a chance to correct their course because you failed to tell them. While it’s true that holding an accountability conversation can make both you and the person uncomfortable, that very discomfort is what’s necessary for you both to grow and get better at what you do. What’s more uncomfortable is failing to do your job and having non-producers, or toxic achievers remain on your team, which is unfair to the rest of the team and jeopardizes your own job.

 

The bottom line is that the best time to start holding people accountable would have been several years ago. The next best time is now. Where holding people accountable is concerned, if you know what to do, why it’s important, and what’s at stake if you don’t do it, and yet still fail to do it, YOU are the one that should be held more accountable for subordinating what’s best for the person and team to your own comfort level. When you think about it, holding others accountable is a cornerstone of any leader’s job description, so expecting you to do you job and hold others accountable seems like a reasonable expectation. Developing the right skill set and mindset—the two non-negotiable pillars of accountability—offers you a road map to get the job done.

Signs and Symptoms of a Dysfunctional Team

December 19th, 2018

“Dysfunctional” is defined as not operating normally or properly; having malfunctions. Following are signs of a healthy and functional team, as well as their dysfunctional counterparts. Consider which characteristic most resembles the team you spend most of your time in your organization.

Two Quick Openers on Dysfunctional Teams:
1. Dysfunctional teams are often successful teams that in reality are missing their potential by immense margins. Ironically, the team’s successes mask serious dysfunctional aspects. Make no mistake though, the dysfunctional team is successful in spite of these dysfunctions, not because of them.

2. There isn’t a universal inoculation against dysfunction on a team; just about the time you get one issue resolved, a separate issue is manifesting. Because of this, no team can ever be considered as having “arrived” or as having crossed a definitive finish line. Eliminating team dysfunctions and replacing them with healthy aspects is an ongoing leadership discipline and responsibility.

Which is it: Healthy or Dysfunctional?

Have your managers place a checkmark by either A or B to indicate which tendency is present more than its counterpart and bring the results to your next meeting to discuss. If you fear the outcome of such an exercise, that’s the first sign you’re dysfunctional!

1.  An absence of conflict or dissent.

A. ___Healthy teams have productive conflict, where teammates can speak up and give a contrary opinion, challenge ideas, and address underperforming issues within the organization without getting personal or in fear of reprisals.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams have an absence of conflict. People just go along, even when they disagree or believe something is wrong or could be done better. They’re either afraid or indifferent.

2. Nothing can get done without the boss’ approval.

A. ___Healthy teams have people at all levels who can make changes or decisions (including those that cost money within pre-set limits) to take care of customers or improve their operations.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams have front-liners, and even middle managers, who can effectively do little or nothing concerning changes or decisions (especially if they cost money) to take care of customers or improve their operations without management sign- off. Even if they’ve been empowered to do so, they don’t feel comfortable using that power.

3. Bosses don’t move fast enough to implement suggested change to improve an organization.

A. ___Healthy teams have leaders who speed up change, encourage challenging the status quo and move quickly to act upon good ideas brought to them by others.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams have boss’ desks where all progress seems to go to die. The unspoken mantra seems to be “this indecision is final;” the boss has become an obstacle to progress rather than a facilitator of progress.

4. Meetings are marginalized as people are allowed to use computers or phones to get other work done while at the meeting. Meetings are for learning, sharing, brainstorming ideas, and discussing important topics. Engagement in these endeavors is weakened as others are at the meeting physically, but elsewhere mentally.

A. ___Healthy teams fully engage in meetings and aren’t allowed to use technology unless it’s somehow related to the topics being discussed at the meeting.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams have meetings where people are routinely present physically, but often checked-out mentally as they multi-task on technology.

5. Too many pointless or lengthy meetings are being held. If a meeting has no set agenda, routinely rehashes old topics, fails to add value or improve the organization, or discusses in person what could have been accomplished through technology, it is part of the problem.

A. ___Healthy teams have meetings that are focused and productive, and hold meetings for what can’t be discussed or solved without the meeting.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams meet to meet, have no agenda, get off track easily, revisit the same issues repeatedly, and routinely leave attendees wondering what, if anything, was actually accomplished.

6. Mediocrity is rewarded with too-generous pay, and excessive time and attention, while
top performers are routinely ignored or taken for granted.

A. ___Healthy teams are merit-based, and routinely give what’s best to the best and less to the rest.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams are pseudo-welfare states, where the strong are weakened to strengthen the weak; many of whom shouldn’t be on the team in the first place.

7. What matters is not what you’ve accomplished in a day, but how many hours you were at work that day.

A. ___Healthy teams acclaim, reward and recognize what gets done during the time one is at work more than the length of time one is at work. Accomplishment trumps activity.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams champion hours put in, and days not taken off, over what is actually achieved during those hours and days. Effort is acclaimed without enough regard to results.

8. By the time a non-performer is fired, it’s so painfully past due it’s become an ongoing distraction and cultural embarrassment.

A. ___Healthy teams remove perpetual poor performers quickly, professionally and humanely.

B. ___Dysfunctional teams keep poor performers so long that the number one question to leaders following their departure is, “What took you so long?”

9. Conspicuously posted vision, values, or mission statements serve mostly as décor, since many teammates have little or no idea of what they are, or why they’re important.

A. ____Healthy teams know, live, and are held accountable for these aspects of organizational clarity.

B. ____Dysfunctional teams either: don’t know them; know them, but don’t live them; know them, but don’t live them, and aren’t held accountable for it; or don’t know them at all, and don’t really care that they don’t know.

10. “Invisible elephants” are very real but disguised by an “attitude is everything” value system.

Further explanation: “Attitude is everything” is an unspoken value, especially in organizations where facts are inconvenient. In a dysfunctional family, there’s an invisible elephant – sometimes an addict or abuser – in the parlor, but no one ever mentions him. To appear sane, you have to pretend that the elephant isn’t a total train wreck or loser, and that is very difficult. Dysfunctional teams have invisible elephants, too. Usually they do things that might cause difficulties for people with enough clout to prevent their discussion. The emperor may be naked, but if you have a good attitude, you won’t mention it.

A. ____Healthy teams don’t have invisible elephants that create a sense of organizational denial.

B. ____Dysfunctional teams may have an invisible elephant but pretend it doesn’t exist. Thus, they persist and worsen.

11. History is prone to be revised to make management’s decisions look better than they really were.

A. ____Healthy teams admit mistakes, learn from them, and don’t repeat them.

B. ____Dysfunctional teams spin the truth, rationalize, and defend poor decisions all to save face and preserve ego.

12. Consequences for non-performance are vague, so leaders don’t paint themselves into the uncomfortable corner of actually doing what they said they would.

A. ____Healthy teams have clearly established consequences for non-performance that are applied throughout the organization as necessary, without partiality.

B. ____Dysfunctional teams leave consequences gray. When they are applied, it’s often random and inconsistent.

13. Rules are enforced based on who you are or who you know, rather than on what you do.

A. ____Healthy teams don’t bend rules or make excuses for toxic achievers, or tenured non-performers.

B. ____Dysfunctional teams pick and choose who the rules apply to based on tenure, nepotism, production, and other factors that shouldn’t matter.

Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy

November 30th, 2018

It’s common to complain that “this or that person stressed me out,” or that a particular situation creates undue stress in your life. It’s even more common that these “stressors” are external conditions or people under which we have little or no control. This creates a feeling of helplessness that affects both confidence and effectiveness. A hard truth is that much of the stress leaders endure in the workplace, or in their personal lives, is self-induced. It’s not a matter of conditions, but poor decisions that either create completely, or exacerbate, the impact of conditions as they arise.
There’s always going to be some degree of stress in life and at work (a sense of urgency to make something happen or solve a problem, deadlines that create renewed focus and resolve, standards that stretch comfort zones, accountability that creates the discomfort that fosters growth, and more) and I believe that can be very beneficial. Where stress starts to chew us up and spit us out is when it goes beyond those beneficial bounds and depletes us, and that’s where we are prone to make things worse by poor decisions. Following are a handful of thoughts and strategies to reduce the unnecessary, self-induced, stress that inhibits your performance, and can hijack both joy and health from your life:

1. Don’t be your own worst enemy.

Where stress is concerned, one’s personal leadership style is often the biggest culprit. If you don’t trust others and thus micromanage them; do a poor job of controlling your emotions; don’t delegate; lack daily focus; overreact to what’s incidental; can’t get over offenses and move on; and the like, then no one will ever have to defeat you. You’ll blow yourself up. It’s just a matter of time. Most all of the issues mentioned here are matters of developing a healthier mindset. If you haven’t read or listened to my book, Unstoppable, do so as it will help you in this regard. So will listening to my podcast, The Game Changer Life. Your business is only going to get better when you do, and real improvement begins with upgrading the quality of your thinking.

2. Learn to say “no.”

To reduce stress at work you’ve got to stop letting your mouth overload your back by taking on more than you have capacity to handle, or allowing someone to dump more of their work on you because you won’t speak up for yourself.

For example, when someone asks you to take on something that you know you don’t have the time to do, say something like: “This sounds like a worthwhile project. Unfortunately, I have a number of pressing obligations at this time that would prevent me from doing a good job with what you ask. But I appreciate your confidence in thinking of me.” Or, to save time, simply say “no.” “No” is a complete sentence.
3. Delegate to competent others.

Delegate or outsource your weaknesses and non-priorities to others. This is especially helpful when it is something that someone else – who is closer to it that you – can do as well as you, or will become more productive and valuable in learning how to do it and not having to wait on you to get it done. Certain nickel and dime decisions that others constantly wear you out with are a good place to start in this regard. It’ll make both you and them more productive and less stressed.
4. Stop winging it and start preparing.

Making your day up as you go along because you failed to structure it properly creates a reactionary leadership style that worsens stress. Remember: the more you prepare, the less you have to repair. Wise leaders don’t expect to improvise their way to the next level. They understand that failing to prepare is both lazy and reckless.

Consider this: it is estimated by time management experts that the ratio of preparation to time saved in execution is 3:1. In other words, 10 minutes of preparation saves 30 minutes of execution, one hour of preparation saves three hours of execution, and so forth. This makes preparation one of the highest returning investments in business and life! And not only does preparation build confidence as you face a day, it also reduces stress in the process. In fact, lack of confidence is a common culprit of stress.

5. Upgrade your skill level.

A key reason leaders feel overwhelmed or inferior is that they don’t have the skills to perform their job at optimal levels. This is why lifelong learning for anyone in a leadership position is not just a “feel good” idea – it is mandatory to sustain your success, build your confidence, and eliminate stressful situations for which you’re not qualified to handle. Getting outgrown by peers and by the industry is stressful. It’s also entirely preventable. If you’ve been outgrown it’s your fault. So fix it.
6. Become more coachable.

Even the most seemingly harsh feedback or coaching often has a grain of truth in it that can help you improve if you’ll set your withering ego aside and consider it. Before you get stressed out and dismiss your next critic – and then create more stress by rehearsing their “offense” again and again – look for that one biting bit of truth that will help you become a better leader, then make the necessary adjustment. This will also help you accomplish what was shared in point five.

7. Stop procrastinating.

Procrastination immobilizes you and stresses you out repeatedly…over the same issue. Developing the discipline to make yourself do what you don’t want to do, but know you should do, is a key to growing as a leader and eliminating huge amounts of stress. To pull this off you’ll need to develop the self-accountability to do what must be done even when you don’t feel like doing it; even when it’s not easy, cheap, popular, or convenient.

As you can see, pretty much everything listed here that may be ailing you and causing you undue stress is self-induced. In other words, it’s your fault. And that is really good news because when it’s your fault you can fix it.

Drive Drama-Babies from Your Dealership

October 17th, 2018

There is little that is less productive for a team member to engage in than drama, and to subsequently become a “drama-baby” in the process. In fact, there is little that equals drama’s ability to distract from priorities, waste time, drain energy, and make Alps out of anthills.
“Drama” is the result of immature acts, committed by small-minded and selfish people who are either indifferent or oblivious to the negative value they inflict on both culture and teammates. While any of us may be prone to fall into the drama trap occasionally by overreacting to a simple event or conjuring up exaggerated and gloomy scenarios unlikely to ever occur–and normally doing so based on limited information—the drama-babies I’m addressing in this piece are those who are known for it. When you see him or her walking down the hall you can almost smell drama and a headache. Some drama-babies have perpetrated drama for so long they don’t even realize they’ve become a cultural contagion of toxic behavior.
The following points are designed to create self-awareness and strategies to help stop drama in your workplace, and to curtail the development of drama-babies. While you won’t ever eliminate drama completely from entities populated by human beings, you can do more to model productive behaviors personally, and to leverage peer awareness and peer pressure to demonize and minimize drama throughout your dealership.

Three Quick Thoughts on Drama and Drama-babies

1.    To create context for this piece, consider that Urban Dictionary defines drama as: “A way of relating to the world in which a person consistently reacts to or greatly exaggerates the importance of benign events.” Drama-babies have a predictable knack for overreacting to everyday events, for choosing to be offended, and for making everything possible be all about them.

2.    Typically, drama-babies are those who are chronically bored, or who have an inordinate craving for attention. They covet sympathy and continually bait others into “rescuing” them in some manner: normally through inordinate attention, sympathy, counseling, or helping. The bottom line: drama-babies don’t really have much of a life, so they endeavor to create a false reality that feeds their fancies and dramatic appetites.

3.    Drama-babies enjoy manipulating others, oftentimes dragging them into their hyperbolic fantasyland to gain attention, or make their own dullard existence more interesting.

Five Evidences of Drama

Following are five evidences of drama in general, and of drama-babies specifically, followed by five suggested remedies. Be aware of these symptoms; watch for them; address them when they manifest; and encourage peer accountability to discourage dramatic behavior from top to bottom in your dealership.

1.    Having one supposedly serious crisis after another.

Example: Over time, drama-babies communicate an unlikely and immense trail of crises in their lives that may include exaggerated family, health, or relationship issues.

2.    Constantly telling other people about one’s personal or career problems.

Example: You normally know far too much information about drama-babies; every headache, heartache, and hemorrhoid is described in agonizing detail.

3.    Claiming to have experienced negative experiences that are highly implausible.

Example: They’ve been personally affronted, offended, insulted, dismissed, disrespected, or slandered by an array of haters and bullies they encounter in their everyday lives: in traffic; at the Wendy’s drive-thru; from law enforcement and flight attendants; in attacks by social media trolls or Russian hackers; and even the occasional stalking or kidnapping by little green men in UFOs.

4.    Making claims without sufficient facts, or lack of detail about supposedly serious events.

Example: Starting or hearing rumors and blowing them out of proportion; or, presenting with authority what they have minimal—if any—facts to base their claims on.

5.    A pattern of irrational behavior and reactions to everyday events.

Example: Someone took Sue’s Diet Dr. Pepper from the break room fridge and she’s convinced a teammate is set on destroying her. Or, John didn’t get the credit he thought he deserved for the project’s success so now he’s updating his resume because he “knows” he’s about to be fired.

Five Remedies for Drama
1.    Start with your own example.
Go to work to work smart, and focus on the aspects of your job you can control. Speak more in terms of what is positive, possible, and productive. Stop being consumed with what someone else is doing or getting and mind your own business. Don’t gossip and reject gossipers. Look for ways to add value, bring solutions to the table and positively impact team members and customers alike.

2.    Get your mindset right and keep it healthy during the day.

My book, Unstoppable, goes into extensive detail for how to develop this essential discipline. In a nutshell: limit your intake of garbage media, websites, and conversations, and replace it with a structured routine that inspires, motivates, and educates. And start it before you get to work in the morning. Get in the zone before you leave your house for the dealership.

3.    Keep yourself and others so busy with high expectations and the productive activities necessary to achieve them that there is no time for drama.
Remember that human beings, including yourself, develop to their potential within the confines of a structured and effective daily routine—one that leaves no time to initiate or listen to drama-baby nonsense.

4.    Conversationally, firmly, and respectfully address drama and refocus the perpetrator on something more productive, and encourage team members to do likewise. This type of peer accountability is essential to driving out drama. Set the example with words like:

“This is starting to sound like drama,
I’m getting back to something more productive.”

“This is starting to sound like drama,
let’s both get back to something more productive.”

“You can’t control it or affect it, so get back to something you can control and affect.”
“Let’s get back in the zone.”

“Let’s leave the drama zone and do something productive.”

“Let’s make today about performance, not excuses.”

5.    Stop pandering to dramatic people with constant hugging, coddling, pep talks and rescuing.

You teach people how to treat you, so if you respond to drama unproductively, you’ll encourage more of it. What you reinforce with positive attention, including drama, you can expect to see more of. And if YOU are a leader who engages in drama personally, you are giving those in your charge license to do likewise. Inevitably, if it hasn’t happened already, you will become the unofficial momma or papa of a whiney and miserable family of drama-babies in your department.

As a leader you’ve got to do better, and you’ve got to start now.

How to Lead from the Middle

September 26th, 2018

The challenges posed by leading from the middle were framed well by John Maxwell who wrote, “One of the toughest things about being a leader in the middle of an organization is that you can’t be sure of where you stand. As a leader, you have some power and authority. You can make some decisions. You have access to some resources. At the same time, you lack power in other areas and if you overstep your authority, you can get yourself into real trouble. Unless you are the owner or CEO, your power is on loan from someone with higher authority. And that person has the power to take that authority away from you by firing you, demoting you or moving you into another area of the business. If that doesn’t create tension, nothing will.”

When you learn to lead well from the middle you’re not as likely to stay in the middle; whereas leading poorly from a middle management position makes promotion less likely, and eventual obscurity more certain. Following are nine sample ways to lead from the middle of the pack in your organization: the sales manager serving his or her GSM well, and the GSM doing likewise to the GM, the GM to the dealer, and the like.
1.    If they have not already been established, ask your boss to clearly define performance expectations and parameters for making decisions. You’ve got to be on the same page as your boss concerning what’s most important, by when, and your permissible boundaries to make it happen. Don’t guess or wrongly assume. Without clarity you can’t aggressively execute what you’re responsible for getting done.

2.    Take initiative.  A key characteristic of effective leadership is a bias for action that translates to an ability to make things happen. Bring ideas to your boss, as well as solutions rather than just problems. If you see what needs to be done do it! It is better to be told to wait than to wait to be told. Once you understand what’s expected as outlined in the first point, take the initiative to figure out how it can be done; then execute.

3.    Execute your work with impeachable integrity. Don’t be another has-been in the business lore of high achievers who self-destructed because they got results the wrong way. The end doesn’t justify the means if you cut corners, violate values, or abuse others to get the job done. Effective leadership isn’t just about getting results but getting them the right way.

4.    Stop trying to fix your boss.  You can’t fix your boss any more than you can fix your spouse or any other human being. Besides, your job isn’t to fix your leader; it’s to add value to that leader. Supplement their weaknesses and adjust your attitude towards the leader in areas that cause friction for you.

5.    Develop a solid relationship with your leader.  You don’t have to be good friends, or even hang out, but there had better be some common ground of trust, respect, and mutual understanding within a relationship or you’ll be miserable most of the time— and eventually starting over again elsewhere.  The first reaction to working for an ineffective leader, or one with whom you don’t get along is often to withdraw from him or her and build relational barriers. You’ve got to work to counterintuitively fight that urge. If you make your leader your adversary, you will create a no-win situation. Instead, find common ground and do your part to go the second mile to build a solid professional relationship.

6.    Publicly support your boss.  Some managers foolishly do just the opposite: they publicly gossip and complain about, disrespect, or seek ways to undermine their boss. Discuss disagreements privately with your boss, and don’t talk to other people about your boss. He or she will find out, and you’ll also reveal character flaws to all listening to your rants that diminish you in their eyes. Others will also realize you may be doing the same to them or would someday if the opportunity arose. Andy Stanley said it well, “Loyalty publicly results in leverage privately.”

7.    Manage yourself.  You will not impress your leader for long with your ability to manage others if you cannot first manage yourself. This includes managing your attitude, emotions, time, daily routine, discipline, character choices and self-accountability.

8.    Accept responsibility for your results when they fall short.  Just own it—your results, attitude, decisions, all of it. In fact, if you want to earn even more respect and influence, take responsibility for more than your share. That sort of confidence and humility will draw others to you. When things go wrong, put away your black belt in blame and search for solutions not scapegoats. Be coachable, make adjustments, learn from shortfalls and mistakes, and grow both personally and professionally.

9.    Lighten your leader’s load.  Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is by doing your own work with such excellence and integrity that you’re the one your boss never has to worry about getting it done, or holding accountable, or micromanaging. Then go further by looking for tasks you can take off your leader; especially those areas where you’re strong but he or she isn’t. Be the “go-to” person every leader craves, values, and takes a special interest in.

Following these steps for leading from the middle creates a triple-win: you win because you’re more effective, fulfilled, and successful; your boss wins because with people like you around, he or she can grow to entirely new levels; and the organization wins as well, as both teammates and customers reap the rewards of effective leadership at the helm of any department. While no one in business should ever truly be considered as “indispensable,” you can come pretty darned close in your own boss’ eyes by living these nine mandates every single day.