How Leaders Can Inspire Greatness In Others

Inspire Greatness, jas leadershipIn the hustle and bustle of our jobs, it’s easy to overlook the importance of developing your team members, but it’s one of the most important facets of leadership. If you don’t make the time to inspire greatness, you’re missing out on one of the privileges of management.

In my experience, everyone is great at something. As a leader, it’s up to you to find out what that something is and make use of it. Begin by paying attention to what aspect of the task at hand your team members volunteer to do or what part of the task they tackle of their own volition. People enjoy doing what they’re good at, and using that talent to further your project is the logical thing to do.

I’ve been in environments where work assignments are either randomly tossed out or milestones are given to team members who aren’t the right people for the job. To me, that says that management is either unaware of the talent pool in the team or simply can’t be bothered to take the time to find out the talent that’s at their disposal.

Getting to know your coworkers and your staff — really understanding what makes them tick — takes an investment in time. In my experience, that investment always pays high dividends.

Ask your team members which tasks they’d like to take ownership of. Trust goes a long way in any relationship. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out which responsibilities they pick of their own accord. Given the power of choice, I have found that people will choose what they excel at, what they’re excited about or what they feel will challenge them. It may feel counterintuitive or daunting if you’re a structured, top-down manager to allow your employees to work in a collaborative manner on a new and important project.

It is key to ensure you create an inclusive team. Diversity is imperative for a superior outcome. If everyone comes from a similar background and a similar talent pool, what you’ll end up with is mediocrity.

Drop your insecurity — whatever it may be. If you feel the need to take credit for your team’s accomplishment, don’t. Brag on them to your boss and you’ll never regret it. If you worry about your manager speaking directly with a team member instead of going through you, step out of the way. Your confidence in their abilities reflects the effort you’ve put in to creating greatness one employee at a time.

I’ve encountered managers who were afraid to build the skillset and knowledge base of their team members based on the selfish idea that someone who is well trained will jump ship. If an employee works hard enough to surpass expectations, they should be rewarded and allowed to grow. If that takes the form of moving up the ladder or transferring to another team, it’s only further proof that you’re putting in the effort to lead them to greatness — and that’s your job.

How many times in your career have you been delegated a task, but no authority? How did that work out for you? Stay in touch with the feelings of frustration and resentment that situation causes. Trust your colleagues enough to empower them. There shouldn’t be enough time in your week to make day-to-day decisions for each team member. If you assume the best of others, you’ll usually be right. People have a tendency to step up to the plate when it is expected of them.

Communicate openly. Share your vision for the team, the project, the individual. Listen to what they need from you, and make it happen. If you make a mistake, admit it, and if you were wrong about something, apologize. Honesty is necessary for trust and growth.

Empathize with your team. Human beings have problems, and not all of them are work-related — but they affect the work product. Empathy is essential for inspiring greatness in times of uncertainty.

In his article “3 Things You Must Do to Inspire Someone to Greatness,” Steve Farber notes, “There is no law of physics, no universal rule that I know of, that says your success requires my failure, that your fulfillment requires my emptiness, that your happiness requires my grief. The human experience allows for everyone — literally everyone — to be fulfilled, enriched, enlightened, self-actualized or whatever you care to call it.” He explains his view on leadership as simply this: “The greatest leaders become so by making others greater than themselves.” This is a succinct expression of my own philosophy and one that should be more prevalent than it is.

I had the pleasure of speaking with an old colleague of mine recently. We’ve communicated sporadically via email over the years but haven’t worked together for over 17 years. At the time I was his manager, he was young, and I gave him one of his first corporate “breaks” — a job that was quite a reach for him. He was unsure of his ability to perform in the role, but I had a great deal of confidence that he could, with the right mentoring, excel. He did excel, and it was a tremendous feeling for me to have helped him achieve that goal.

In our conversation, he bemoaned the fact that no one had shown such belief in him since. I offered him my advice, encouragement and a few ideas that might help with further progress in his career, and I hope the effort bears fruit for him.

There are multiple people I’ve worked with over the years in a mentoring role, and I don’t regret one minute of time that I spent investing in their futures. I would be willing to expend time and effort to advise any of them if the opportunity arose. Inspiring people to strive for greatness is my personal “superhero power,” and I use it as often as I can.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

How To Tame Your To-Do List

Getting organized is tough. We all mean to do it. We all try to do it. Making lists, using planning software and keeping a business calendar in 15-minute increments all begin with the best of intentions. But much like New Year’s resolutions, the dreams of the perfect solution are rarely sustainable.

I’ve found that the problem with organization isn’t so much a lack of willpower as it is the unplanned chaos of the modern workplace. Even if you’re laser-focused, when Dan from accounting drops by your office to ask about your expense report from back in December, your plans go off the rails. Short of locking your door, unplugging your phone and boarding up your windows, what can you do?

One place to start is with an effective to-do list. It’s important to get rid of that long and rambling list that has every to-do task in your life on it. When you’re working on the Smith company sales pitch, you don’t need to be reminded to take Suzie to the soccer game and write that novel you’ve always thought about. No wonder you’re distracted.

I recommend giving each category of your life its own separate list. Use categories that make the most sense for you. Make a list for personal tasks, a list for your children’s needs and yet another for the tasks you need to accomplish at work. You’ll be amazed at the effectiveness of such a simple change.

Another useful tactic is to study the due dates for your projects. If the presentation for the international conference is three months away, don’t put it on your current to-do list. It will only distract you from what you need to work on now.

Limit your list to three to five major tasks per day. If you cram in more than that, you’re setting yourself up for failure and the discouragement that follows. When you have a long-term project, break it down into smaller steps that are achievable.

In his book To Do List Mastery: A Stress-Free Guide To Quickly Increase Your Productivity And Get More Done In Less Time, Allen Donaldson explains, “When setting the goals, take into account the time each step in a to-do list may require. If the to-do list is working toward a goal that is a year in the future, some steps may take a day or a week, while others may take months. Put these in a reasonable order and give them appropriate time lines.”

A common problem I see is taking on work you shouldn’t because you want to be seen as a team player, or because you find it enjoyable or you’re afraid to say no. Pull out your last performance evaluation, or schedule a short meeting with your boss. Determine what you’re actually being paid to do. Understand and internalize those goals, and refuse to allow your to-do list to become cluttered with low-level tasks you should be delegating. If there is a particular task that isn’t in your wheelhouse, outsource it. 

If you constantly find yourself getting off track because of interruptions, phone calls and unscheduled meetings, it’s important for you to take control. Make a schedule and stick to it. Let your team know that you are available at a specific time each day to help them or answer their questions. Put another specific time on your agenda to look at your emails and check phone messages.

Turn off email or instant messaging notifications and let your phone calls to voicemail. Otherwise, you may find yourself acting like Pavlov’s dogs each time you hear a noise and doom your productivity. 

If you have an overflowing email box, you’ll likely waste time combing through it. Consider having different email boxes to keep things simple. For example, send your blog subscriptions to a box you know you only have to check when you have some free time. Separate the wheat from the chaff.

Learn to prioritize. Determine which task for the day is the most important, and do that one first, even if it’s difficult or time-consuming.

Set time limits for each task. Allowing yourself too much time to complete a task can lead to procrastination. If you arbitrarily decide that a report can be finished tomorrow, you’ll be tempted to waste time doing something you prefer but isn’t on your list. Self-discipline is important for success.

Batch similar tasks together. If you are reopening the same program multiple times each day, you are wasting so much time. If you have two tasks that require using the same program, do them both consecutively. 

If a new task comes your way, schedule it. Don’t spend time dwelling on it and don’t stress over it. Schedule it on an appropriate day and time, and then go back to the current task on your schedule.

Set aside a block of time toward the end of the day to evaluate your progress and plan for the next day. Create a to-do list for tomorrow so you can begin your day with a predetermined plan to keep you focused on your priorities.

At the end of the day, spend a few minutes congratulating yourself for your successes, and don’t forget to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. It will give you satisfaction and motivate you to start tomorrow on the right foot.

Damon Zahariades, author of To-Do List Formula: A Stress-Free Guide to Creating To-Do Lists That Work! sums up the importance of taming your to-do list: “A properly-developed and consistently-executed to-do list system will improve your productivity as well as your quality of life. You’ll experience less stress and enjoy more free time to connect with those whom you love. You’ll also enjoy more freedom to pursue personal interests.”

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.


Build Trust For Effective Leadership

There are many ingredients necessary to be a successful leader. Although the qualities of intelligence, drive, and the ability to communicate a vision and excel in business are necessary, one value often overlooked or underrated is building trust. It is simple but complicated and, unfortunately, very easy to botch.

Simply put, if your team doesn’t trust you and your peers don’t trust you, you’re destined for mediocrity in ascending the career ladder. If you are unable to generate genuine confidence in what you perceive as your conviction, it may be because your colleagues have trust issues with you.

Perhaps you’ve made promises you couldn’t keep. You may have overestimated the ability of your division to meet its schedule for deliverables. Maybe you talk the talk but never walk the walk. You may think that your charisma and charm can overcome your inability to be authentic and honest, but you would be wrong.

In The Decision to Trust: How Leaders Create High-Trust Organizations, author Robert F. Hurley concludes, “Without trust, people are more anxious and less happy; leaders without trust have slower and more cautious followers; organizations without trust struggle to be productive; governments without trust lose essential civic cooperation; and societies without trust deteriorate.”

Employees want a leader they can trust — not only in good times, but also in bad. If you work hard to earn their trust, you’ll be amazed at what you get back in return.

In their book The 10 Laws of Trust, authors Joel Peterson and David Kaplan explain, “So why trust? Because it works, most of the time. Not only do people accomplish more in a collaborative spirit when seeking win-win outcomes than when setting up the paraphernalia of paranoia, but they’re simply much happier when dealing in a world of harmony and cooperation.”

When any person is considering granting anyone their trust, they need to see evidence of the competence, authority and track record of the individual involved. When we contemplate giving our trust to another, we have to believe we’ve accurately assessed the character of the person. Trust is rarely given blindly.

When your employees are sizing you up, trying to decide whether to trust you with their ideas, loyalty and best efforts, they will be judging your behavior, actions and authenticity. The easiest way to win them over is to actually be the person they want to lead them forward to success.

Your team needs to see you in action with legitimate and consistent efforts to improve yourself, your division, your team and the organization as a whole. You need to be dependable, capable, competent and logical. You also need to be empathetic with your associates, as well as show understanding and honestly display your own humility.

The truth of the matter is if your group doesn’t trust you, there is no way you’re going to get their greatest effort. If your idea of leadership involves reigning by intimidation, threats and retribution, you are going to get nowhere fast. Even if your team initially submits to this style of management, it can’t be sustained. Employees will desert you left and right at the first opportunity.

In his book The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line, David Horsager describes the difference: “The lower the trust, the more time everything takes, the more everything costs, and the lower the loyalty of everyone involved. By contrast, greater trust brings superior innovation, creativity, freedom, morale, and productivity.”

If you’re committed to increasing the trust your team feels for you, you have to know that trust is earned. You need to commit to being consistent in your thoughts, actions, behaviors and decisions. You must practice effective communication. Pay attention to what other people say and do. When you’re speaking with a colleague and endeavoring to create a trustful bond, make eye contact and practice active listening. Don’t let yourself be distracted by your phone, your computer or anything else. Be present. It’s difficult to trust someone who won’t look you in the eye or can’t even remember the name of your newly arrived baby.

Learn to show empathy. If your employees get the feeling you don’t care about their issues, setbacks, successes or challenges, why would they even consider trusting you? However, if you show genuine concern, provide solutions and celebrate their achievements, you create an honest, strong connection with them.

It is important that you dependably lead by example. When your colleagues actually experience you refusing to play the blame game, taking responsibility for your actions, and being trustworthy and transparent in your dealings, you will reap the benefits of a morally energized group. Jump-start the process by taking steps to trust your team first. It’s so much easier to gain respect and trust when you give it first.

In a piece for Research Management Review (“The Importance of Trust in Leadership”), David L. Mineo states, “In conclusion, the trust that leaders place in those they lead allows both the leader and her/his followers to excel. It is not a momentary event but a series of investments over time that truly allows success.”


This article has previously been published on Forbes.

Saying No With Confidence

If you find yourself stressed because you’re consistently spending your nights and weekends at the office instead of spending time with family and friends, you’re not alone. Even when you’re working from home, you can get caught up in the never-ending work cycle. Being overworked in today’s business environment is so common, it’s almost par for the course. It shouldn’t be, and the good news is that it doesn’t have to be.

Learning how to reasonably and confidently say “no” can make all the difference in the world. Many of us, especially women, have a very difficult time with boundaries in the workplace. The dilemma for women is described by Linda Celestino in an article for Fortune: “Women in leadership roles who say no tend to be perceived as cold or ruthless, while men are referred to as strong and capable.”

The fear of not being seen as a team player, or even fear of reprisal, keeps employees chained to their desks, and that creates a very unhealthy situation with no work/life balance. With no time for self-care, rest or relaxation, there is no time for recuperation, and that is a straight line to burn yourself out.

Add to that the stress of the fear of losing your job during a global crisis, and you create a depressing scenario. According to a recent Gallup poll, “a record-high 25% of employed U.S. adults think they are likely to be laid off in the next year.”

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. There are several ways to say no to extra work in a positive manner that will help recover your sense of well-being.

If you have difficulty discerning the types of things that are reasonable to say no to, here are some examples of scenarios to take a pass on:

• When the project is something someone else could accomplish better and in a shorter time frame and has no growth potential for your career path

• Assignments that will not contribute anything to the responsibilities and goals laid out by your manager

• Low-priority projects with impractical deadlines when you’re already working on a high-priority job

• Everyone’s most dreaded time sucker — the unnecessary meeting — is definitely a no.

When it’s time to say no, avoid details. In the book How to Say No without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, More Joy, and What Matters Most to You by Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch, they explain, “The more specific information you supply, the more likely the other person will be to: a) try to figure out a way to ‘solve the problem’ so that you can actually do the thing he wants you to do (which of course you don’t want to do), b) decide that your reason for saying no isn’t good enough and be miffed about it, or c) catch you in a lie (if you’re lying).”

Another helpful tactic is to buy yourself some time when you get ambushed with a request. Explain that you need time to consider the invitation and give a set time when you’ll get back to the requestor. Take a look at what’s already on your plate and what your calendar looks like and weigh the cost versus the benefits of taking on the job. When you’ve analyzed the impact it will have on your current workload, make a decision and communicate it to your colleague.

The decision doesn’t have to be a firm yes or no. If it’s a project you don’t have time for but you’d really like to sink your teeth into, negotiate to see if there is something you’re working on that can be reassigned, leaving you time for a new opportunity. If the assignment isn’t a good fit for whatever reason, offer reasonable alternatives. Perhaps you’d be happy to work on one aspect, such as presentation graphics, but don’t have time to do the research. Ask if that part can be assigned to an associate. Good negotiation skills will help you build a reputation as a team player.

If the request comes from your boss herself, instead of getting annoyed over the extra workload (after all, shouldn’t she already be aware of your overflowing to-do list?), take a deep breath and ask for a time the two of you can briefly meet. Take a list of all your current assignments and your calendar showing the deadlines you’re already committed to. Ask her to help you prioritize. Explain the consequences for the division and the company if you fail to meet any of your current commitments.

Be mindful of the language you use and don’t vent your frustration. By staying calm and confident, you should be able to negotiate your way to offload some of your workload, or, alternately, avoid taking on the new assignment. It’s worth the effort to keep your sanity.

To sum it up, in The Art of Saying No: How to Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time and Energy, and Refuse to Be Taken for Granted (without Feeling Guilty!), Damon Zahariades notes, “Once you possess the ability to say no with confidence and grace, and do so with regularity, you’ll notice changes in how others perceive you. They’ll have more respect for you; they’ll place a greater value on your time; and they’ll come to see you as a leader rather than a follower.”


This article has previously been published on Forbes.

Embodying Corporate Culture

It’s easy to cover the corporate break room and hallways with bold statements and inspiring pictures and then claim your corporate culture is not only alive and well, but thriving. That may go over well in an executive planning meeting when discussing inexpensive ways to rally the troops. But does it actually provide any motivation to the groups on the front lines of everyday business?

The short answer is no. If your company thinks something that simple equals “mission accomplished,” I encourage someone from executive management to walk the halls. Simply observe the rolling eyes and shaking heads of the general population while they try to eat their lunches, and the ineffectiveness will be readily apparent.

In the book Culture by Design, David Friedman explains, “It’s not simply posting the vision and mission. It’s about what you and your leadership team are teaching your people day after day after day. And if you don’t know what you’re teaching because you’ve never defined it clearly enough, you’re not likely to be able to do it very effectively, and certainly not very consistently.”

Learning to embody your company’s corporate culture — to live and breathe it with sincerity — takes a genuine commitment. If you don’t practice it every day in what you say and what you do, your employees notice.

Corporate culture must be supported by a strong foundation of staying true to your stated principles and the way you do business — not when it’s convenient, but most especially when it’s not convenient. It must guide your business decisions and show that from the C-suite down, your corporate culture is the guiding force behind your organizational ethics.

Authors Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein in their book The Corporate Culture Survival Guide describe it this way: “Culture is not a function, a result, a lever, an outcome, a tool. Culture is the multifaceted learned structure and practice of the people who lead and people who follow, people who work together and build a history that shapes the future.”

Your consistently reinforced core values should ultimately define your business. They should impact every aspect of hiring, the employee review process, the reward structure and even the disciplinary process.

If the application of your core values and corporate culture are confusing, dysfunctional and haphazard at best, you will find that the gaps between what you desire (the stated culture) and the actual behavior (the cultural reality) are deep and wide. Inconsistency is the enemy of efficiency.

However, when the corporate culture is organic and rooted in the goals of the organization, its approaches to customers, employees, investors and the community at large will be systemic. The shared beliefs, approaches and values create a sustainable model, especially when the desired qualities are consistently exhibited by upper management.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, “Only when employees know what is expected of them, have what they need to do their job right, are a good fit for their role and feel their manager has their back will they feel invested enough to connect with proclamations of mission or values — no matter how inspiring these might sound in the head office.”

One of my colleagues, Val Williams, MCC, offers this advice to aid in maintaining corporate culture during times and situations that require employees to work from separate locations. “Identify the top three descriptors of your culture and ask your people to brainstorm with you on how to demonstrate those aspects of your culture to each other virtually.” Let them know it’s important to preserve this valuable driving force even during intervals of change.

It’s important to keep the core values you expect your employees to live — day in and day out — in sight. They need to have constant reminders of the principles the organization stands for to bolster their alignment with these ideals. Corporate newsletters and visual reminders, such as company swag awarded for living the values and demonstrating them at every opportunity, are as important as engaging, uplifting communications from the C-suite.

All the uplifting corporate culture bullet points and core values mean absolutely nothing if your employees aren’t empowered to embody them equally. If the management team is trusted to make executive decisions when the situation demands it, but the customer service agents and mailroom employees aren’t, then those platitudes aren’t anything but pieces of paper on the wall. Display the courage it takes to ensure you align what your organization cares about with the way your organization is run.

Jodi McLean, in her post “Corporate Culture Case Study: Do Your Employees Embody Your Corporate Ethos?,” speaks on empowering her employees to make emergency decisions that align with the company’s core values by providing them with the tools they need in advance. “It may not always be the right decision in hindsight, but our corporate culture embraces decisive actions made with aggression, and we are never penalized for the wrong decision made for the right reasons.”

Can your organization make the same claim? Take a leap of faith. If you’ve done everything possible to exemplify every aspect of your corporate culture with honest effort, believe that your employees are willing to step up and demonstrate those principles as well.


This article has previously been published on Forbes.