Feel Successful to Be Successful

Happy singers

Everybody knows that happy people do good work.

It might be true but it’s misleading too. Happy people and good work are correlated but they aren’t cause and effect. In fact, research shows that it actually works the other way around, people who do good work are happy.

Any manager who believes that to get good work out of their staff means making them happy first is looking down the wrong end of the telescope. Managers should focus first on making their staff successful — helping them grow, appreciating their work, making them feel responsible — and they’ll be happy.

Not an end it itself

But neither happy staff or good work are ends in themselves.

The result of all this good work and happiness is better experiences for customers.

Happy people doing good work put more effort into creating better products and providing better service. It doesn’t take Sherlock to work out that customers love the results: products that sing, beautiful design, effortless functionality, smiling service, attention to detail, total presence, focus. You name the measure, anything positive scores more highly with a happy, successful, engaged, and motivated workforce.

Which is good, but still it isn’t the nub — happy customers aren’t an end in themselves either.

All the happiness that’s floating around is useless without the success and sustainability of the business itself.

Start the ball rolling

Leaders shouldn’t challenge themselves just to make customers and staff happy (I’m sure you can do both if you try. Every time). The real challenge is to do it whilst making more money than you spend — which, by the way, lights up owners with success and happiness too.

So here at last is the point: successful sustainable businesses are made with happy and successful customers benefiting from happy and successful staff.

How to start the ball rolling? Make your staff feel successful.

Of course you have to pick your moments, but in general the trick is to do whatever it takes. You might have to set the bar a little low in the beginning, give praise for even the smallest thing and highlight effort rather than results. Whatever it takes.

But when the ball is rolling, use its momentum to climb those hills.

Neatly filed under Leading,Skippiness
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Why Asking for Help can be Great for Business


Does it have to be the leader who comes up with new ideas?

It’s certainly part of the job.

Somewhere in every leader’s job description is something about formulating and managing strategy so it’s definitely in the mix, but must it be their job and their’s alone?

No matter how good a leader you are, there’s one cliché you can’t outrun: nobody is as smart as everybody. And nobody can have as many ideas as everybody can have together.

That’s just maths.

The equation? Great stuff is more likely when you have more people dreaming up great stuff.

So if you’re looking for a source of red hot ideas on how to improve service, cut costs, sell more, or any other kind of innovation … don’t just look in the mirror.

Go to the front line, ask a question, and get your pen out.

Most employees deal with more problems, complaints, issues and snafu’s in a day than you’ll hear about in a month. They’ve been struggling against the system for years and are chock full of ways to improve everything from the voice mail message to the value proposition.

If only you’d ask.

And that’s a BIG point.

A my-door-is-always-open policy never really works. People are too busy, too shy, or just don’t think their idea is important enough to cross the boundary – even if it’s as simple as sticking an envelope in a suggestion box.

Innovation isn’t a waiting game. It’s farming — sow the seed that ideas are important, provide a climate that encourages them to show their heads and grow towards the sun. Reward anyone who helps them on their way.

In other words, you have to ask for help and then show — through action and attention — that ideas are worth nurturing. That ideas have value.

The upside is plain to see. Highly engaged employees actively looking to innovate and serve customers better.

As a leader, you probably can’t stop yourself having ideas, but remember that you’re not alone.

Don’t wait. Seek out and encourage your colleagues, cultivate the ground and shower the best ideas with follow-through.

Neatly filed under Leading,Managing,Skippiness
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Why Not to Make All the Decisions

Arizona decisions

Boiled down to it’s essence, leadership is about looking at the lay of the land and making decisions. From which emails to answer to which investments to make, via hirings and firings and meeting agendas.

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as the right decision, just a good one — most of which are equal parts analysis, advice, time pressure and honesty, all shaken together with a jigger of gut.

It’s that jigger of gut I’m interested in here.

How do you hone it and how can you help others do the same?

Decision Muscles

Decision making is a muscle. There’s no tissue involved but to get movement you have to contract it all the same. And more contractions make for stronger muscles.

But good decisions don’t come from muscle-bound hubris, they come from careful practice in the school room of experience where you learn lessons along the way. Lessons like: nothing is really black-and-white, everything is a compromise, and any decision is better than indecision.

It’s an old, old story. The fresh young thing asks the wise and successful owl, “How did you achieve so much?”

“Good decisions.”

“And how do you make good decisions?”


“And how do you get experience?”

“Bad decisions.”

Learning Opportunities

Being a dictator may be the fastest way to move things along and it’s certainly the easiest way to slow things down, but that kind of control comes at a cost. Every decision you take is a learning opportunity lost to somebody else.

Of course, some decisions are yours and yours alone. But they’re rare.

More often than you think, somebody else is better placed and better served to make the call. You can give guidance if you like, walk them through options and tease out their thinking, but if you want your people to grow you have put them in play and let them learn.

They’ll make mistakes and choose paths that you wouldn’t. They’ll gain experience too.

A jigger of gut isn’t made of instinct. It comes from exercise, practice and time on the field. Whenever you can, step out of the game and ask somebody else to make the call. You’ll probably get a good decision, and you’ll certainly get a stronger team.

Neatly filed under Leading,Managing
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Don’t Be Afraid to Get Out and Push

Vintage Car

Leaders spend a lot of time in the driving seat.

Even when you’re in great shape — with maps studied, routes chosen and provisions packed — the demands of just making progress throw up an endless stream of forks in the road and decisions to take.

The best place to be? Behind the wheel, correcting the course and carrying on.

And what works for you works for project teams too.

Each project comes with its very own driving seat, and anyone big enough to sit there deserves your support. Most of the time that means keeping out of their way.

Get Out and Push

But what do you do if a key project comes to a juddering halt?

A bit of coaching can go a long way, but when a good team digs itself axle-deep in stuckness, you might have to get out and push!

That’s not a euphemism for taking over.

Putting your full weight behind a project doesn’t have to mean jumping in with size twelve boots. Far better to volunteer your strength, put your back into the job, and give them the boost of motivation that comes from attention.

When I say volunteer, I mean exactly that. Tell the team how important they are to the project and how important the project is to you, then simply offer your services as an additional resource to get things moving again, “What can I do to help?”

If they ask you to get on a plane. Pack your bag. If they need funding. Find some. Political shenanigans? Pour oil.

The Universal Adjuster is Baby Steps

The trick is to show your commitment and get the cogs turning without taking over, undermining anyone or knocking good people out of the way. Nobody wins if you do everything yourself.

The universal adjuster for stuck teams isn’t a hammer, nor is it deep analysis and grand schemes. The answer is baby steps. Little actions that make small but discernible progress. Almost anything you do will rock the wheels, and if you string a few actions together, things will start rolling.

Neatly filed under Innovating,Leading
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Get Involved When Things Go Right

Love, Philadelphia

There are times when every thing’s going well. Everyone’s doing their job, you’re doing your job, wheels are turning. Lovely.

And then a fire breaks out.

You jump into the fight to dowse flames and smash problems.

When Thing Go Wrong

Getting involved when things go wrong can be time consuming and draining, yet it’s a perversely thrilling part of leadership. (Don’t tell anyone I said this, but it’s kinda fun.)

Get sucked in too often though, let it become your standard operating procedure, and your team will see you as a professional fire fighter hanging on to a hose — more mess-cleaner-upper than makes-things-happener — and they’ll be right.

But leadership isn’t a fire truck and it’s not about hotspots.

It’s a bus on a journey to some place new.

Sure, every vehicle needs a fire extinguisher and someone who knows how to use it, but it’s only for emergencies. When you gotta use it, you gotta use it, but most of the time you should concentrate on the road ahead.

When you focus your attention on things that drive the bus along, not only do you put more time into making the most difference, you’re also showing everyone what should be at the top of their to-do list.

Get Involved When Things Go Right

A great way to shift emphasis is to get involved when things go right.

Look for anything that contributes forward motion and celebrate every success you see. I’m not saying overdose on awards or go party mad, just sprinkle a little fairy dust to make the good stuff sparkle.

  • Go see a customer who’s just signed up for more business. Ask what your company is doing right. Spread the word.
  • Sit in on a project meeting. Stay quiet. At the end of the meeting say you’re excited about the project and they should keep at it.
  • Talk about progress whenever you can. “Let me take one minute to update you on …”

Leaders must always be prepared to haul on some breathing apparatus and step into the heat, but the most effect you can have (and the most fun to be had), is where things are going right.

Neatly filed under Leading,Skippiness
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