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 on November 25, 2010
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Getting the time to do good stuff

Face of Big Ben

If you want the time to do good stuff, stop doing stuff you’ll never do well.

Partly attitude and partly system, here’s a plan for doing good stuff:

Push back

Don’t just say Yes every time something crosses your mind, your desk or your In-box. Giving yourself an easy time when accepting requests (especially from yourself) guarantees a hard and frustrating time under a big ticking clock as you try to deliver.

Avoid arm length to-do lists, missed deadlines and low quality by being honest about schedules, commitments and priorities.

Prioritise your list

I remember an executive saying, seemingly without irony, he had seven number one priorities, (no surprise at the end of the year then). Rank everything that you put on your list.

If you’re working for others or in a team, prioritising is team-work. This is important for skippiness!

Finish what you start

This can mean getting to the finish line (yay!) but sometimes it means stopping what you started before the end because you (and your team) realise it’s a waste of time or it’s just not coming together.

It’s often a close call; there’s a fine line between pushing through adversity and bloody mindedness. Seth Godin wrote a whole (little) book, The Dip, on deciding if or when to quit. There’s a Change This version here.

What about you?

How do you make sure you’re working on the good stuff? How do you push back and help out at the same time?

Neatly filed under Managing on November 3, 2009
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Everything I know is wrong

Running feet

In the last five years I’ve run well over 6000 miles in marathon training. Over that period I’ve been completely sidelined with injuries for over 30 weeks and have run with niggling problems for maybe a third of the time.

There are two things I should point out about that last paragraph: motivation is not a problem, I run every day it’s remotely possible; and, these kind of stats are not unusual for a marathon runner.

Over those five years I’ve used 16 pairs of running shoes and a set of specially made orthotic insoles. Without going in to the glorious marketing-speak of individual running shoe models it’s a fair assumption that my equipment choices have made running easier and less stressful on my body. Right? Or, without all those shoes I’d be injured even more. Right?

Maybe not.

Over the summer I read Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, which promotes the idea that humans have evolved to run, and running shoes aren’t good for us. Apparently:

“there’s no evidence that running shoes are any help at all in injury prevention. In a 2008 research paper for the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Dr Craig Richards, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, revealed that there are no evidence-based studies — not one — that demonstrate that running shoes make you less prone to injury.”

My assumption: I need running shoes. The reality: I don’t need running shoes.

Everything I thought I knew is wrong.

What assumptions do you have, impacting your organisational life every day, that stand on no evidence?

The Science of Motivation

Here’s a possible example. In his recent TED Talk on the Surprising Science of Motivation Dan Pink highlighted the ineffectiveness of extrinsic motivators, such as bonuses, most of the time. Despite much of this research being 50 years old, many (most?) managers still rely on the wrong headed ideas of how to get things done.

The key lesson:

“There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does […] If we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks we can strengthen our businesses […] and maybe, maybe, maybe we can change the world.”

What to do when everything you know is wrong

So much for running shoes and extrinsic motivators. What do you do when something comes along that challenges your assumptions? Instinct may be to turn away and go back to the devil you know. Try this instead:

Stop – just think about it for a moment, is it even remotely possible that what has always seemed true, is maybe not the whole truth? Does this new thing nudge up against problem that just seems a part of the woodwork? Be open to possibility.

Look – dig into the the data. Strip away all the personality of the issue, what does the cold steel of a few facts show you?

Listen – who else is talking about this? Can you trust them? Ignore the doomsayers, trolls, the collapsoconomists and anyone with a vested interest in the status quo. Somebody, somewhere is looking at the edges of this thing. Find them.

Listen again – this time to your gut.

If you do all this and the world looks different … act.

My running world looks different. I’ve ditched the shoes for now. I’m not running marathons barefoot yet (although some people do) and I’ve had to make friends with a my blisters, but I am running again. And funnily enough … I feel stronger.

Neatly filed under Managing,Skippiness on September 24, 2009
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Coffee ready

Steaming Coffee

I have a Jura coffee machine at home. I bought it because I love coffee and the Jura is a fantastic machine that makes GREAT coffee that is consistently, wonderfully, perfect.

When I turn the Jura on, it goes through a little routine that heats the water and cleans things out. It takes about 45 seconds. And then, it is … ready. I don’t have to guess. I didn’t have to read the manual to discover that readiness follows the heating-rinsing routine. The machine tells me. The little LED display goes from Heating, to Rinsing, to Ready.

And every morning I think – as I press the button and breathe deep – wouldn’t it be lovely if everything was so well behaved, and told you when it was ready for action. The idea, the plan, the presentation, the product, the team, the soufflé.

Sometimes it’s obvious. Most of the time, not.

Take the guesswork out. Test. Get out of the building, and test.

Put together your best version of the answer. Take it on the road. Talk and listen. Test.

What do you think? Is it ever too soon to test?

Image copyright: captainmcdan via Flickr

Neatly filed under Managing,Skippiness on June 18, 2009
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“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Calvin Coolidge, 30th US President

Neatly filed under Managing on June 11, 2009
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