Ask great questions

Ask great questions

If you want to know a simple move to come across to others as more likable, engaging, and enjoyable to be around, you need to understand one fact; most people love to talk about themselves. That’s not a negative about the other person, most people find personal value in sharing with others. 

I’ve leveraged this knowledge several times in the past by going all in on asking a lot of great questions during my first few interactions with the person. It helps build rapport, fast-tracks relationships, and helps accelerate your career.  Today we’ll look at how great questions can serve your relationship-building skills and help you discover problems before they escalate to become larger issues. 

Ask great questions by listening

You’ll always want to start off with questions that get the person to open up and begin sharing information with you. Some good starting points include:

  • Open-ended questions around a shared purpose. This could be around the reason for the meeting or gathering. (What has been your favorite session at the conference so far? What are your thoughts on the CEO’s announcement last week? How do you think the recruiting season is going?)

  • Inquisitive in thier personal endevors. Questions that center on a person’s interests, hobbies, or passions are great starts to open a number of doors to further the conversation.  (What gives you energy, What are you working on outside of the job that gets you excited?) 

  • Listen to their reply for opportunities to dig further in or highlight a topic. (You said _______, tell me more about that.) This will continue a line of discussion until you have exhausted your questions or the topic naturally wraps itself up. 

The secret to a great facilitator is their ability to navigate a conversation by listening to what is said and then asking follow-up questions. It may almost seem effortless as they guide the group through self-discovery or the right path forward. That should be your goal as well. Listen for the right points to send the conversation deeper while doing it in a way that seems natural. It shouldn’t feel forced, inauthentic, or clumsy. 

Simplify your questions


There are going to be times when you have all sorts of thought-provoking questions in your head or you may really excited to hear more or receive additional details. As a result, you may bundle your questions without even realizing this. 

I was recently at a conference where a local well-known entrepreneur gave the morning keynote address and had a Q&A at the end. There was no shortage of questions from the audience! One attendee asked something along the lines of, ” What made you want to do this, what continues to inspire you and what are your goals for the future?” Those are all great questions, but the speaker had to pause and took a moment to process the bundled questions, ultimately missing one of the questions altogether. 

When you find your mind trying to bundle a bunch of questions, sort through them and pick up the most important 1 or 2. Ask one, and then the other as a follow-up if it’s still appropriate. You’ll keep your person engaged and get higher-quality answers as a result. 

Shoot for the deep but be satisfied with the surface


Mining the depths of a person’s thoughts, motivations and insights can be invaluable to getting a better understanding of the person and the topic at hand. Remember that not all conversations will go into the inner crevices of your mind and soul. Think of those deep conversations as cave diving. The surface-level conversations that you have are the safety gear and support systems so that you can safely travel down below. 

In conversations with some of my closest friends, we’ve discussed some very deep and personal topics. We’ll also talk about video games or running beforehand or afterward. Don’t be disappointed if a conversation doesn’t go as deep as you had hoped. Surface-level conversations carry value as well and provide a sense of trust and safety to go deeper into another conversation. 

Don’t be afraid to ask a question

Be brave and ask those questions that may make you look naive. It is better to approach it on the front end and learn valuable information as opposed to playing along and being left in the dark in directions or walking away with the wrong information. 

If the idea of putting yourself out there makes you nervous, address that as well to help you get through the conversation. I’ll often say something along the lines of, “Forgive my ignorance here, but can you tell me what _______ means?” or “This may be a naive question, but can you help me understand _____?”

Typically the other party is going to affirm that your question is in fact not dumb, and will be happy to help give more clarity. There is also a chance that someone else has the same question, but is too afraid to ask themselves. 

Keep those questions coming! Great, thought-provoking questions, help you and those around you grow in knowledge and trust. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Tips to strengthen your active listening skills

Tips to strengthen your active listening skills

We all want to be heard, valued, and appreciated.  Part of being heard and valued is actually letting other people fulfill that want and need. In order to effectively work with customers, co-workers, and even friends and family, you’ll need to leverage active listening skills in order to receive the whole message accurately and build trust with others.

Here are some tips to help you grow in your active listening efforts.

Clear the distractions


Think about all the distractions that you have going on around you on a daily basis. Your computer is pinging you with emails and instant messages, your phone is constantly nudging you and smart watches are pulling at you for a quick look. On top of all the technology barriers, are the real-life issues that you go through; maybe it’s a tough conversation that you need to have at work, relationship challenges in your personal life, or health issues that you going through.  Distractions everywhere!

All of those distractions are barriers when it comes to actively listening to clients, co-workers and friends, and family. Here are some tips to eliminate the distractions around you:

  • Lose the electronics: Put away all of your electronics so they won’t be a distraction for you. That means taking the phone off the table, closing the laptop or tablet, or setting your CPU to sleep mode. When I traveled a lot in operations, I would enter my visit on the laptop while having my wrap-up conversations with the leader. I thought it was a great use of my time in being to log the visit while still giving the person the time to share what they wanted to. What I learned is that I wasn’t getting the true vulnerable information that I needed to hear, because they felt like I was distracted. I still entered in my visits before I left, but I made sure I listened to the important stuff before opening up my laptop to do work.

  • Use your eyes to help your ears. If you are easily distracted or prone to be a very detailed focus person, your eyes can work against you while trying to actively listen to someone else and most random things that catch your attention will draw it away from the person sharing information with you. Try to focus your eyes on the person while they share. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier with time. If locking eye contact is far out of your comfort zone, try it in small segments and then focus on something else close by.

Utilize your skills for active listening


Active listening is all about listening with the intent to learn. Here are five areas to consider in order to be a better listener to others.

  1. Be attentive and lose the distractions!
  2. Ask Questions: Ask open-ended questions to show your level of engagement and probing questions to dig further into the topic being discussed.
  3. Reflect back: Paraphrase what you are hearing to confirm your understanding and reflect back on the feeling and tenor of emotion being communicated to you.
  4. Get clarity: Don’t be afraid to ask for further clarification as needed.
  5. Summarize: Summarize the conversation so the person feels good about their message being received and you have confidence in taking away the right message.

The benefits of active listening


Although all of your effort is going towards the other person, there are benefits that you will both receive as you strengthen your active listening skills.  

  • It opens the road to building trust. Actively listening to someone shows that you genuinely care about them, their thoughts, and their opinions.
  • Increases your approachability with others. When people see and know that you are truly listening, it makes you more approachable as a person and as a leader.
  • Saves you time (and money). Having great listening skills helps ensure that you get the information right the first time. It also cuts down on needed follow-up and clarification later.
  • Helps cut off problems early. Taking the time to really listen to someone helps you pick on the small but important aspects of the conversation. You’ll have a better opportunity to dig into what is being said, and what is not being said and pick up on subtle clues from the person’s non-verbal communication.

Active listening doesn’t have to be hard once you’ve rid yourself of the distraction and are making an intent to be involved in the conversation. Show others you care by taking the time to listen.

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Make alignment a part of your leadership strategy

Make alignment a part of your leadership strategy

Getting alignment with others can be something that you either look forward to or dread depending our your personality and the personality of the person that you need to interact with. Honestly, depending on the day and tasks ahead you can fall into both categories in a matter of hours. I know that I sometimes feel the same excitement and dread at the same time as well on occasion. 

No matter whether you love to work with a person or a group or you just don’t get along with someone else, it’s essential to arrive at some shared alignment in order to be effective in meeting your goals and the shared goals of the team. 

Understand your audience


One of the first steps to gaining alignment on a project, task, or strategy is to understand your audience. Solidifying your understanding of your audience will smooth out the process if done well and will throw in all kinds of roadblocks and frustration if not accounted for properly. Here are some tips to better connect with them as you gain alignment with others:

  • What is their communication preference? Get a good understanding of how the person performs to receive their communication and how they best process information. In one of my regular team meetings, I have a great associate that needs to see a visual to understand the details of where we are going. Others prefer to talk it out together. 

  • Who really needs to be there? Sometimes a leader will say that they want to be involved only to later learn that someone else on their team is the right person. Other times the opposite is true. They delegate the meeting out, only to ask you for updates and add last-minute additions and preferences. Let the leader know your observations and ask for further clarification if you see a misalignment in this area. It’s not your job to fix the dynamics of another team, but you should work with them to get the right person in the proverbial seat to help get the alignment that you need. 

  • What level of involvement do they want? This is where you may have some tension, especially if you are one to be agile and quick to act while another party wants to have oversight or be heavily involved in the decision-making process. Be willing to compromise here to the best of your ability and ask your leader for guidance if you are struggling in this area. Honor the person’s role and avoid turning the tension into something personal. At the end of the day, you likely want what’s best for the team and organization. 

Be aware of your own work preferences and tendencies


We all have personal twerks about us and many of those will help or hurt you as you try to gain alignment with others. For me, when leading meetings, I have a tendency not to say much. I want to hear from others and I want them to feel like they are heard and have a voice on the item that we are all aligning on. This certainly helps us get to an agreed-upon solution faster. 

I also have a tendency to pour in my focus and effort to knock out a project very quickly by myself. As a result of that speed and efficiency, I will sometimes neglect to include others or just give them a high-level status of what I am working on. Sometimes it’s not a problem, and other times I have to go back and spend time getting a party up to speed or even make changes based on feedback. 

Having a good understanding of your preferences in work style and how you function and communicate to others will help you see how you need to adapt your style or capitalize on your strength. 

Make the success about others and not yourself


It’s a great feeling to know that you accomplished something that will greatly impact others in a good way. Remember that alignment has everything to do with others and nothing to do with yourself. As a young leader, I would see these accomplishments as personal wins, I got what I wanted. As I matured, I saw the joy of shared success and seeing others celebrate the win just as much, if not more than me. 

Take the personal drive for a win out of the equation and be sure to recognize and celebrate the shared success as you gain alignment with others.

The bigger the team and company, the bigger the need


If you are an entrepreneur leading a small team, or maybe you are a team of one…. there’s not much alignment needed, right? Look at yourself in the mirror, make your decision and move towards the goal! As the team grows, and the physical footprint of the company grows, so does the need for alignment. 

For example, the need for alignment is critical to have any kind of success at a $100 Billion company. The complexity to gain that alignment can be very challenging. You may find yourself in an organization so big that you don’t even know who the stakeholders are perhaps until it’s too late. In large organizations, take the time to understand the playing field and who the players and key stakeholders are. The strength of your networking will pay off here as you connect with others to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table. Some tips as you work to gain alignment in large organizations include:

  • Be willing to slow down. Get everyone up to speed and include them on the journey. the larger the organization the more people will likely need to be involved. 

  • Compromise when possible. Your priorities may not be the same as others, and in large organizations, it’s likely someone that you need to align with will not share the same priority or perspective as you. Remember the larger goal and be willing to adapt your plan and strategy for others. 

As you personally gain more authority and influence, your need to gain alignment instead of going at it alone will increase as well. Remember to include others, adapt to others’ needs, and share the success together. You’ll be an effective leader that successfully impacts more people than ever before. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Tips to be a great coach

Tips to be a great coach

If you ask people to describe themselves as leaders, a word that often comes up is coach. 

How you coach can define what the working relationship will look like with your team. Great coaches typically have people that stay longer, find more purpose in their work and produce higher results. Here are some tips to help you become a great coach worth following and landmines to avoid setbacks and traps.

Avoiding landmines in coaching


There are times when either we come at the conversation wrong, or it takes a turn that we weren’t expecting, and we find ourselves making the coaching personal in nature. When you center your coaching on yourself you have lost focus on the reason for being there – to help the other person grow. 

  • Stay away from comparisons to others: It seems simple enough to say, “You aren’t doing as well as Sally,” but you’ve just made the conversation about Sally and the person you are coaching. This line of dialog can quickly derail a conversation and cause more long-term harm than good. Instead, focus on the behavior or problem and coach that accordingly. It doesn’t matter what others are doing or not doing. The conversation should stay on point with the topic at hand. When I am coaching a group of leaders about their team, I typically think of the people we are discussing as books on a shelf. We pull one down, open it up and discuss it, and then put it back on the shelf, this way there is a clean mental break between people. I also avoid visuals that show groups of people together until the very end. 

  • Keep the distractions away: Everyone is busy. For the best coaching to happen, you and the other person need to be as distraction-free as possible. That means silencing phones, stepping away from the CPU, or moving away from a loud area, so you can both be fully focused on the conversation. The one that typically gets me is my smartwatch. It’s meant to help you not reach for your phone as much, but people will pick up when you glance down at your watch and misinterpret that you mean that you are not interested in what they have to say. 

  • Avoid Interrupting: Deceptively simple, but harder to live out, avoid interrupting as the person is sharing information or their thoughts. You may want to jump in with an immediate rebuttal or “fix” to the comment but hold back and let the person finish sharing. This will help keep engagement levels higher during the conversation.

  • Running diagnostics as coaching: You’ve encountered the diagnostic approach often at work. “Have you tired A? What about B? Have you tried C or D?” This is a great approach when it comes to problem-solving but is less effective as coaching. Your goal should be to ask open-ended questions that invite the person to come up with their own ideas.

Tips for great coaching


Here are some tips to keep your coaching conversation on track and impactful with the other person. 

  • Start from their perspective: Before you have the coaching conversation start your line of thought from their perspective. It may seem counterintuitive but listen more than you talk as you coach others. Without listening with the intention to learn and understand, you’re unlikely to understand the full perspective needed in order to help the person reach the best outcome.

  • Be prepared: The slogan of the Boys Scouts is a great one when it comes to coaching. Come prepared to coach conversations with data, information, and feedback from appropriate parties. Without structure and information, the coaching conversation can devolve into just a casual conversation that the person quickly forgets.

  • Be honest and caring with feedback: It’s imperative to give someone honest feedback when you are coaching. They deserve to hear the truth, where they currently stand, and what the next steps are to move forward. Share takeaways and feedback honestly but remember to do so with care. Honesty can sometimes hurt, but the blow can be softened with a caring and empathetic approach.

  • Use questions to your advantage: Lean into open-ended questions to help the person grow in their problem-solving skills and as an outlet to strengthen their own internal motivators.
  • Ask questions from a curious point of view to understand the other person’s standpoint.
  • Ask great questions, but don’t ask endless questions. Once you get into the right area for the next steps, begin to help the conversation to a positive conclusion.
  • Avoid asking questions to an answer that you already have with a little room for variations, (think compliance, safety, etc.) In those circumstances, it’s better to give the person the answer immediately instead of making them jump through a bunch of proverbial hoops to arrive at the same answer you had in the first place.

Be the coach to others that you’ve always wanted for yourself. Be timely, actionable, caring, and specific as you help your people reach their fullest potential.

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

How to keep your new hires around

How to keep your new hires around

Companies have a turnover problem. We see it everywhere and it’s only compounded along the record number of job openings as well. Signs at local businesses that people don’t want to work anymore (Show 292 4 phrases to remove from your vocabulary), the well-documented crisis in nursing shortages, and other examples tell the story of the importance of keeping your people around for the long term. 

A Harvard Business Review study showed that people are most likely to leave in their first year. Most companies of course don’t need HBR to tell them that; they feel the churn of the rotating door of talent in some of their most critical roles. Today we’ll discuss ways to keep your people engaged so that they stick around to the first year and far beyond. 

Understand why 


The first step in building out a plan is to understand the reasons why the largest groups of people are leaving. I’ve spoken with and advised organizations that will inherently point to compensation as the reason why. While money and benefits may be a factor, it will never be the only factor at play in the reasons behind leaving. Invest the time on the front end to understand what some of the true reasons are.

Where to look

  • Learn from those that wrapped their first year recently. What kept them around? What were their struggles? What do they feel like they missed? This will be one of the most valuable places to gather this important info.
  • Learn from the leaders of the population that you are solving for. What do they see? What are some of the common skill gaps of new people? 
  • Talk to peers, partners, and others to affirm or add context to what you learned from the first two groups. 
  • Poll those that left. This is a great practice to have in place as long as it is in conjunction with some of the other fact-gathering activities. Often times ex-employees won’t give you the full reason or they may over-exaggerate a point based on a bad personal experience. 

Leverage your findings to build out a plan

Regardless of industry, you’ll typically find a combination of compensation, support to be successful in the role, a sense of connectedness to others, and purpose in their work to be some of the major reasons that you may need to care for. 

Now that you have the power of that knowledge to know where to go, you need to consider how to get there. Look at how your vulnerable population works. Are they office based with strict performance and time expectations? Perhaps they are mobile; always on the move. Maybe they are mostly working from home or in a hybrid work environment.  

For your program to be successful it must meet the person where they are and resonate with who they are, what they need, and how and when they need it. Using the three examples above, if you created one program to try to care for them all, you would inevitably fail at all three. Leverage multiple layers into the program to help meet people’s different learning styles and communication preferences. I prefer to include virtual meetings, mentoring, one-on-one coaching, and self-paced learning (using audio, video, and practical exercises) 

Assess data and storytell


Access your program at the 90-day, 6-month, and year mark to see what adjustments need to be made. I don’t think that there is a single program that I have launched over the years that didn’t change in some regard by the end of the first year. Let go of control and ego to listen and learn from your mentors, advisors, and people that are going through the program. Make those needed adjustments to further refine the experience of your people and increase the engagement of those mentors, and advisors that are making it happen. 

The six-month and year marks are great times to pull retention data to see how your efforts are actually impacting the business. Partner with HR to get an understanding of what the full costs are when hiring for an open role (Comp, backfill expenses, recruiting expenses, loss of productivity, etc). Multiply that dollar amount by the number or percentage of people that were saved as a result of your program. This is a great way to show the bottom line impact of the hard work and clears an easier path to gain more resources to expand or enhance your program. 

Your onboarding program doesn’t have to be an overly complicated plan in order to get great results. Focus on understanding the why behind the reasons for leaving, build a solution that meets the person where they are, and follow up on potential changes. Be sure to celebrate those well-deserved wins along the way!

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Addressing underperformance the right way

Addressing underperformance the right way

As leaders, or leadership teams, start to think about how to handle performance on their team for the first time, they often focus on who they deem as underperformers first. As a result, you’ll see leaders begin targetting their underperformers openly or subvertly. Mark Zuckerberg warned his employees that they were “turning up the heat” on underperformers and added, “You might decide this place isn’t for you, and that’s OK with me.”

Not exactly inspiring for an employee or for the leader that has to carry out the direction from their CEO.  Great talent wants to be involved with great leadership and if you handle underperforms the wrong way, you may get rid of your least effective people, but your best people may bail on you as well.  It’s important to tackle underperformance professionally and consistently if everyone. 

Be clear on expectations from the beginning and make them realistic


Your expectations and goals for every employee should be crystal clear. Ask yourself:

  • What do they have to do to be considered effective in their role?
  • What are the expectations on their behaviors and how they conduct their work and interact with others? (Look to your values here) 
  • What resources do they need to be successful?
  • Are the goals realistic to meet?

This clarity helps immensely as you lead others. Setting a consistent cadence of conversation also helps. Performance conversations are less likely to bubble up or to be a surprise for anyone, which reduces drama and stress in the workplace. Think about how a conversation would go if there were no ambiguity in what the person needed to do and you were checking in with them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. 

If a person is struggling to meet expectations ask them for their input on the why. The goal may not be realistic to hit under the current situation or there may be outside factors that are influencing the work that you hadn’t considered before. 

Always talk to the person before taking action


I’ve shared over the years about my interaction with leaders who just wanted to let go of people without having a conversation. I get it; they are frustrated with their limits and just want to move on. A mature leader knows that you’ve got to have those crucial conversations with others.  They will actively listen (Show 303), and attempt to understand the root cause of the issue. 

Trust is very important to help this conversation land in a positive place. When the person feels psychologically safe they will be more likely to open up and share why they are struggling. 

Shows to help with trust building

Build a plan with a clear path to rehabilitation


There are a few types of underperformers and the approach to these people changes depending on what their root issue is.

Blockers: These are people that do just enough to get by, but how they do their work is not aligned with expectations. They are also typically resistant to any kind of change that impacts them.  Help these see the impact of their decisions on themselves and others. Frame up the challenges in a way that matters to them. They likely highly value respect and honor towards themselves, helping them understand how their actions are counter to that value as they deal with others. 

Inconsistent Contributor: These are people exactly as the name describes – inconsistent. Perhaps it’s in the work that they do or you are not sure what version you are going to get of that person on a daily basis. Dig in here to understand the root cause, tighten up your cadence of check-ins and get agreement from them that they understand expectations. Call out the inconsistently plainly. It is also helpful to provide extra support and resources to help get them back on track; this could be a mentor, learning opportunities, or additional headcount support. 

Detractors: These people may not be a great fit for the organization or in the extreme case, they are all out sabotaging the team’s success.  Make sure that you have partnered with your upline leaders and HR partners here as you walk this path. Have a solidly written performance improvement plan with dates on expectations. 

Potential Gems: These people may have been great and could be great again, but today they may not be in the right role. In these circumstances, help the person find a role internally that better aligns with their gifts, talents, and aspirations. They want to do their best and likely love the organization, but perhaps they took on a role because someone asked them to, or they didn’t realize the full scope of what the role would entail. 

Overall your underperformer will likely fall into the inconsistent contributor category with detracts and blockers being more rare and potential gems being the rarest. 

Address your underperformers with empathy and care as you help them back on track with expectations. Remember that they are people too and still deserve to be treated with professionalism and respect.  Addressing the underperformance the right way ensures that you and the other person have the best chance to turn things around. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be a scuba diver

Be a scuba diver

I love scuba diving. Between the calmness of the water, the unique experiences, and how you tune in different parts of your body that you normally don’t pay attention to, it’s a wonderful activity to participate in. 

Last summer, I attended a Scouting leadership conference at the University of Tennessee. During one of the sessions, we taught scuba basics to scouts in the Olympic pool there on campus. It was a great reminder of the leadership principles that we can model after scuba divers. 

Prepare before you jump in


The first thing that you do before exploring underwater is a proper gear check. Does your mask work correctly? Does your tank have air and are the gauges and hoses working properly? Does your vest inflate and deflate as it should? Do your fins feel right? it could be a bad day for you if you just jump in without doing the safety checks first. 

We face the same caution in our professional and personal lives, especially in areas where we are very comfortable. The ability to improvise is a great trait that serves you well in both your work and home life. The issue comes when you overuse that skill. You’re likely to come across as less professional, and your guests aren’t served as well or even consistently. More importantly, in some situations, you can be putting yourself and others in danger. 

Don’t shortcut the prep time and attention to detail that needs to happen to be successful in your role. 

Go slow to enjoy things


Time just seems to move slower underwater. There is so much to see and take in underwater! If you jump and simply swim around as much as possible, then at the end of the day there is really no difference between scuba diving at a coral reef or an Olympic swimming pool.

Life moves fast. In a few short months, we’ll dive into our time management series that gets at a core challenge: How do we manage time for ourselves and others when everyone is so busy? Run! Run! Run! is how many people operate their day (I’m guilty of this at times as well). One of the most important lessons that my mentor taught me early in my career was to slow down and spend time with my people. The work will always be there, if you finish a task another one will be right behind it. Your people however will not always be there. It’s one of the few guarantees of work. Slow down to enjoy and invest in your team. Admire the hard work and progress that the team has made. Taking time to slow down, also gives you a better appreciation of your job and the role that you play. 

Keep close to your team


When diving, you should always have a partner, and your group should always have a team leader that keeps a headcount of where everyone is. Nearly all accidents happen in part because a person was on their own. 

There is certainly a balance that needs to happen between micromanaging (Show 314, 315) and undermanaging (Show 325)
In the middle of that spectrum is a leader that gives their people the space that they need, but also the support that they want in order to be successful. 

  • Have a regular cadence of check-ins that makes sense for you and the other person. 
  • Listen and learn about things going on outside of work. 
  • Observe how they interact and accomplish their work. 
  • Coach in the moment instead of letting things escalate. 

Keeping close to your team is important for the health of the team and the individual. 

Panic = more problems

Sometimes things can get weird while diving. Perhaps the air regulator malfunctions, you get turned around or disoriented, or you have an unexpected encounter with wildlife. The worst thing that you can do as a diver in those moments is to panic because it only agitates the situation further. Divers are trained to remain calm, signal for help, and surface in a timely fashion if it is safe to do so. 

It is guaranteed that things are not going to go your way every day. In those moments of chaos, others will look to you to set the tempo and demeanor. Panic and surely they will as well. Remember to remain calm, and let the initial emotion wash through you as your brain needs a moment to catch up and then react. Your initial reaction is often not the best one. 

Be like the scuba diver. Prepare for your week, take some time to slow down and enjoy the work, spend time with the team, and don’t panic if things go off the rails. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be a rower

Be a rower

I love the sport of rowing. It’s exciting to watch the boats as groups of 4-8 rowers work in unison to get the small vessel, sometimes only as wide as your waist, to the finish line. It’s not uncommon for these races to come down to the wire with a second or less separating the leader from other contenders. 

From the training to the race, there are quite a few things that you can model in your leadership based on rowers. 

As Mike and I have taken the journey to get stronger and better shape, one activity that we both have picked up is rowing (on machines in our homes). It’s a fantastic full-body exercise that can be as challenging as you want it to be. 

Rowing is also a great sport to watch and participate in, with races usually coming down to a second or less 

Focus on the present when things get real

All the training is well and good until things get real and the situation doesn’t go as planned. When you think of Olympic-level champions, you may not think of Canada, but they won Olympic Gold at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. 

One of the rowers, Adam Kreek, does a great job of telling an engaging story of their win that day. They raced enough to know that it would take the team 220 strokes to get to the finish line. He tells about the millions of strokes that were put in during the training just for it all to be reduced down to 7 strokes. Don’t worry about the other 213 strokes. Their coach had them put in 7 solid strokes, all out, and then refocus for 7 more. 

There are a lot of distractions going on during the short amount of time that the race happens. (the crowd, the other boats, your teammates, your pain, etc) Adam shares how a distraction got the best of him for just a split second causing him to lose control of his oar. Both he and his called out to focus on the present. He was able to recover and the team moved on to victory. 

Adam’s loss of focus could have easily cost his team the gold. In the military, we are taught that a loss of focus at the wrong time can cost you and others their lives. When a situation gets critical in importance and timing, stress consistency in order to be successful, help your teams stay laser-focused on what is directly ahead of them. One of the teams that I work with were struggling with a project that could have long-term implications for thousands of people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issue was that the debate about the long-term was costing us work on a short-term solution that needed to be settled that week. My mantra became, “Let’s focus on what we have to fix today so that we can have a chance to influence the future.” Once they changed their focus to the present, we were able to knock out a solution in under 24 hrs. 

Embrace a group ego and shared leadership


I firmly believe in the power of servant leadership and the thought of others over self. At the same time, I also believe that there is power in group ego. One of my proudest accomplishments during the operations-focused part of my career was restoring a region that was previously the most respected and highest-performing area but had lost its way. I leaned hard into shared success and touted the pride and honor of being a part of our team. Leaders bought back in and began owning their part of our success. In just two short years, we did it, restoring sales success and lowering turnover tremendously through the process. 

The best rowers embrace the same mentality. Adam owned his error in the race. He called himself out and kept moving forward. That year at the Olympics, the Canadian team was catching all kinds of attention for what was regarded as unsportsmanlike conduct. The guys weren’t provoking anyone, but they were so sure of what they had built that they simply ignored the competition, because they felt the only true competition was themselves – to either win it or lose it. 

Do your people take authentic pride and joy in being a part of your team? Is it propped up in a superficial way or will it wether any proverbial storm? Here are some tactics to begin to instill that in the teams that you are a part of. 

  • Share the vision of where you want to go. Help them see the Why and the future state that you are trying to move towards. 
  • Brag on each other’s progress. 
  • Share examples of how the team is influencing the larger strategy. 
  • Share feedback that you are getting about the team
  • Share customer stories about the group. 
  • Celebrate and spread the news as others reach their career goals as a result of being on the team. 

Create a team of leaders


The Canadian coach would tell Adam and the team that rowing was 90% athletic skill and 10% leadership. He lived that out as the team collapsed during the Olympics prior to their gold medal run.  

The team had the first half of shared leadership down – a strong vision of the goal and how to get there. They lacked the power of the second half – they heavily relied on their coach for inspiration, direction, and accountability. Once they leaned into the power of leadership in each other, they unlocked a whole new level of potential. They no longer needed the coach to call out opportunities. Each was brave enough to do it themselves. The team’s point person ebbed and flowed depending on the situation and individual strength of the other rowers on the team. 

Serve your team by building a group of leaders that is not dependent on your singular focus and vision. Your team will be better served, more adaptable, and have higher success as a result. 

Sometimes success comes down to the inches and the details of the work that you and others do for your shared success. Adam’s team won the gold medal by a little over one second, which equates to 220 inches. How many strokes did it take the team from beginning to end? 220! They beat the next-best team by one inch per stroke. 

Build pride in your team, help everyone own their responsibility, lower the focus down as things get challenging, and create shared leadership along the way. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be a dolphin

Be a dolphin

Dolphins are loved across the world for their intelligence, playfulness, and curiosity. You’ll likely be hard-pressed to find a person who has a grudge against dolphins unless you are John Oliver.  There are several things that we can learn from dolphins to apply to our own leadership and life walks. 

They put others above themselves


Dolphins are very social in nature. As opposed to sharks, who live a solitary life, dolphins live in and operate in groups, called pods, ranging in size from 5 – 30. They live, eat, and sleep together and will always come to protect others in their pod where there is danger.  They understand the importance of the group and will put themselves in danger in order to help others. 

Do you find yourself living and working a solitary life like the shark, or do you do your best to contribute and raise the value of the whole team? Spend some time today thinking about your contributions to the teams that you are a part of. Celebrate those partnerships and the impact that you are having! We’ve done a number of shows on teamwork including:

They openly share knowledge and information


Another great quality about dolphins is their willingness and ability to teach others in their pod. Older dolphins will focus on hunting skills and other activities and attributes for younger dolphins to thrive as they grow. 

It’s said that knowledge is power and that is certainly true. Some co-workers will leverage knowledge as collateral in their role, hoarding info for a sense of power and safety. The behavior is rooted in a sense of safety; if I am the only one that knows how to do a task, then I should be invaluable. 

Good leaders and partners know the power of letting go of knowledge instead of hoarding it for themselves. You often can make yourself more promotable by showing that you have developed your replacement as you interview for the next role. Openly sharing your skills and knowledge also provides you an opportunity to delegate tasks and responsibilities that free you up to do new and different things yourself. 

They shift leadership responsibilities


Dolphins are very social and even though they live in pods, there is no clear-cut leader based on seniority or dominance. Leadership is fluid and natural. The leader will change depending on the situation around them and the strengths and abilities of the individuals in the group. They are egoless in nature, willing to step up and lead when needed but also just as willing to give up the spotlight and let another member of the pod shine. 

I love this approach to leadership and often try to model it in my own life. Give those around you a chance to shine and lead when the situation is right. I will look for opportunities for the junior members of my teams and those I work with a chance to take on a part of the project or at speaking opportunities in front of a senior leadership group in order for them to get experience and recognition. The other bonus is that they often are the subject matter expert or they bring a whole host of knowledge and experience to the table that I do not have, which only makes the solution to the problem all the more stronger. 

They are playful & curious


You’ve probably seen videos, or even experienced for yourself, the playfulness and curiosity of dolphins. They are known to check out passing ships in the wild, they enjoy playing in waves, and all around enjoy their lives.

Life is full of change and it seems like we are always in multiple serious world events happening at the same time. Add that on top of all the challenges that happen to you as an individual and it can get overwhelming. Remember to enjoy the small moments that happen throughout the day. I’ve been in a season of constant meetings, so for me having a chance to spend a few moments with my sweet little dog between meetings is great. Also, be mindful to set a block of time every day to do something for yourself that you enjoy. That may be some exercise, a hobby, or watching a show among other things. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of time, anything to help break up your day and to give your mind a chance to engage in a different way is helpful. 

Be the dolphin by leaning into the power of teamwork, freely give your knowledge away, let go of ego while leading, and remember to take some time to have some fun along the way. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be the record

Be the record

Vinyl records have certainly made a comeback over the last several years and now account for over a Billion dollars a year in sales. New Vinyl factories are being built to handle the large surge in demand and more are jumping into the vinyl collecting community every day. 

My dad had a massive Vinyl collection, probably over 400 albums at its largest. It was a big part of my music history growing up and if you’ve been following the show for a while, you know that I started my own collection at the end of 2021. There are several things that we can take away from vinyl to apply and model in our own leadership walk. 

Greatness unlocked


The vinyl itself blows my mind when I think about it. Despite all the different widths and thicknesses that you can find them in, records are all the same – a round vinyl disc. The vinyl is carved with grooves and those grooves are read into unique music by the needle and speaker. That means that every song that has ever been made or will ever be made in the future is already on the disc – it’s just a matter of carving it out. 

Much in the same way, there is greatness in you as well just waiting to be carved out as you strive for your fullest potential. There are many ways that you carve out your unique songs and stories along your leadership journey. 

  • Life experiences that refine your character
  • Learning new skills by doing them over time
  • Continuing your personal and professional knowledge through training, classes, and even podcasts like this one
  • Interactions, both good and bad, with co-workers, family members, and others

Run at your own pace


Vinyl usually plays at one of three different speeds (33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, or 78 RPM) The grooves are cut into the record at this speed and typically impact the sound quality depending on the quality of the cut. When you play a record at a speed that it’s not meant to be played at it either sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks if it’s too fast or an octave-lowered slow jam if it’s too slow. It’s certainly not how you want to enjoy your music. 

Be authentic by going at the pace that you were made for and carrying yourself in a that is true to who you are. You’ve seen it before – a person trying so hard to be something different that they are and struggling as a result (See shows: Don’t try too hard #136 & Promote yourself the right way #159) Stay in your proverbial groove so that you are playing your song in a way that attracts others. 

They require care and maintenance


Neha and I have talked before about the process of maintaining our records. Her husband is a little more meticulous than I am, but I am mindful to keep mine in good shape so that will hold its value for a long time to come.  The maintenance can be intimidating at first though. I remember when I got my record player in the mail, it came with white cloth gloves to assemble it. That instantly made me know that I had to be extra careful! There are brushes, sprays, and washes to keep everything nice and clean, you also have to be mindful of how you store them as well. 

Isn’t it the same way as we attempt to take care of ourselves?

It can be quite intimidating and so much easier to put off for tomorrow, but we’ve talked many times about how time is the worst enemy that you will ever face in leadership and in life. Sure putting care off today, may not be bad but a day can easily lead to a week and then a month on to a year.  Here are some shows and resources to help you stay on top of your personal care:

Take care of yourself so that you will play well today and years from now. No one likes a warped or broken record. 

No matter whether you are working on your EP or your double-length LP,  remember to keep refining yourself as you discover those next big hits, find and stay in the groove that’s right for you and take care of yourself. You’ll be setting yourself up for long-term success both at work and at home. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Processing leadership guilt

Processing leadership guilt

I think all good leaders deal with guilt on occasion in their leadership and life walk. It shows that they have at least a decent moral compass, and while carrying guilt certainly is not fun and can impede your long-term effectiveness if it lingers, working through guilt can be a positive leadership exercise.

Guilt from all directions

Guilt can come from all directions in your life. Friends, family, co-workers and even you yourself can be an area that you feel guilt around. Guilt, at its core, is a feeling of sadness or unhappiness. You feel sad about how you treated or interacted with someone. Maybe you are unhappy with yourself for not connecting with someone close to you for a long time. Some common areas for guilt to manifest are around

  • Prioritizing between work/academic life and your personal life
  • Saying something or acting in a way that is hurtful to others
  • A feeling of letting someone down
  • Acting in a way that is contrary to your moral compass
  • Failing to meet your own high standards

Moving past the guilt


Think about the times that you felt guilty and later resolved the situation. It’s likely that you felt a proverbial burden lift from your shoulders. The result is that you positively impacted your own well-being and likely had at least a slightly positive impact on someone else’s well-being too. Here are some steps to take to help you begin to move past your guilt. 

1. Think about the origin of the guilt that you are feeling. Where is it coming from? Could it be from making a choice in competing priorities or somewhere else? Is the guilt based on reality or a story that you are telling yourself?

2. Hindsight can impact how you feel guilt based on information that you learned after the situation. Acknowledge that at the time, you made what you thought was the best decision or option. 

3. Take ownership of how the decision or situation impacted others. Determine what you have ownership and control over to take action. 

4. Connect with team members, family, or friends and sincerely apologize. This is a critical conversation as approaching the other party with authenticity and empathy can go a long way in the right direction while coming in confrontation or defensive will only set you back further.

5. Sometimes the other person will refuse to forgive you. This gives them quite a bit of power in the dynamic of the relationship….if you let it. Be ok with their position. You can only control how you act and react and have no control over the other person’s stance. 

6. No matter how it turns out, be proud that you took steps in seeking reconciliation and that you learned from the situation.

Avoiding guilt should not be the goal


When I started to get back on track with my personal health, I began taking mindful cooldown exercises after a workout. At the end of one of those sessions, the instructor had us sit down and quiet our thoughts. He then had us think about the things that were occupying too much time in our minds that day. Once we did, we then mentally acknowledged it and then let the thought go. 

It really stuck with me, as I thought about those situations that were taking up too much real estate in my head at the time. I pictured it almost like a train station. The thought comes pulling into the station, you wave at it, and then off it goes. It was a powerful exercise for me to gain awareness of just how much certain interactions and thoughts were holding me back.

The point is not to bother trying to avoid guilt. It’s inevitable. Instead recognize it in yourself, acknowledge it and move on. Guilt can actually be a good place to visit as you grow as a leader and person. It allows you to keep yourself accountable and learn from mistakes and circumstances. Living in guilt, on the other hand, is not healthy and can end up destroying your effectiveness as a leader and significantly impact your quality of life. 

Most leaders are harder on themselves than others. Think through the topic or situation that involves the guilt that you carry. If someone else was in the same circumstance would you judge them the same way? Remember that it’s ok to feel guilt and learn from it but in order to be your most effective you have to learn from it, put the work in to resolve it to the best of your ability, and then let go of the rest. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Fuel your friendships – Part 2

Fuel your friendships – Part 2

“How did this happen?”

This was Max Dickins asked himself as he thought about proposing to his girlfriend and realized that he didn’t have any close friends that she could ask to be his best man.  Max considers himself to be an outgoing guy with decent manners, but as he began to go through his contacts he realized that he had plenty of colleagues, acquaintances, and work friends, but no close personal friends. He also realized that he was using his girlfriend’s social network as they all hung out together. 

Maybe you are a little like Max. Your work is the main social connection and any connections to others in your personal are really due to other people’s friends. Perhaps you don’t have close friends that are truly your own. 

Hope’s not lost! Today we continue with our tips to help fuel your friendships. (See part 1 here)

Cadence


A good cadence of connection has always been my life raft when it comes to close friendships. All the other tips are easier to do when there is a good rhythm in place. I’ve also found that when that rhythm gets off, everything else is harder to do as well, action takes more action, time takes more time, etc. 

What that cadence looks like is all up to you and your friend to decide. Mine have looked quite different depending on the person, the shared connection, and life stage. Some included

  • Meeting twice a month to train for a team adventure race
  • Attending a weekly Men’s Accountability group
  • Going on twice-weekly rucks with friends
  • Weekly band practice
  • Quarterly lunches together

Other activities that keep a good cadence:

  • Monthly outdoor activities
  • Book clubs
  • Dinner parties
  • Fun group chats
  • Game nights

There are so many ways to connect and ingrain a good cadence of connection with the other person. 

Imagination


What your friendship becomes is only limited by your imagination. Yes, they can make great accountability partners (EP 191 How an accountability partner can help you on your journey) But can your friendship be more? I know couples that are close friends with each other that go on vacation together and help raise all their children together. Another one gave a kidney to his friend. A different pair go speaking engagements together. 

Sometimes we think of friendships as that ultimate cheerleader, cheering us on from the sidelines as we triumph and encouraging us when we struggle. Your imagination will keep you out of that dynamic and you are an active part of each other’s lives. 

Grace


All the things before this one; Time, Situational Awareness, Action, Cadence, and imagination are all great…. but no one is perfect.  You can’t live up to all of those expectations and nor will your friend. 

Grace is a true gift that you should freely give to close friends. It may be easy to write off someone you don’t know very well when an interaction goes south. Your close friends shouldn’t be that dispensable. They are worth your forgiveness and grace. You can show them grace by:

  • Letting go of grudges, jealousy, and slights against you
  • Extend your hospitality to them and those close to them
  • Don’t wait to be asked for help
  • Be a good listener, even when it’s difficult (ep 303)
  • Be graceful in how you communicate
  • Give without expectation 

Be flexible with each other and remember that sometimes the seasons in your life will dictate a change in the dynamic of the friendship. Be graceful with each other as your friendship flexes during those times. 

The story about Max is what led him to do a lot of research specifically about Men and friendship, and wrote a book called: Billy No-Mates: How I realized Men Have a Friendship Problem. Max sums up his advice for growing friendships as, “Show up when you’re asked. Go first when you are not asked, and keep going even when it’s hard.” He ended up with two people in the best man role by the time his wedding came around. 

Gain and nurture your close friendships. They’ll be there when you need someone the most. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Todays Show in art form
Fuel your friendships – Part 1

Fuel your friendships – Part 1

I can honestly say that I have been blessed with some amazing friendships over the years.  My closest friends have been there to celebrate the great times and to support me during the hardest times of my life. 

Great friendships always bring out the best in you and the other person. They are the funniest, generous, and caring, in their own way, with those friends that they are closest with. Here are some tips to fuel great relationships. 

Time


The first step could be the most powerful and likely the largest hurdle to any friendship; time. Friendship takes time and for many adults, time can be in short supply, especially without good time management skills. 

In order to build a friendship that lasts, it takes a time investment. One study estimates that it takes 40-60 hours with someone to turn that person from an acquaintance to a casual friend. Invest a total of 80-100 hours to elevate the casual friendship into something else. 

The time gate is also the reason you find many of your friendships where you spend lots of time anyway like, work, school, church, and extracurricular activities. Sometimes that time investment is over a long period of time, think about someone you may see during your extracurricular activity (softball, soccer, volunteer, etc) vs someone that you became fast friends with because of life circumstances. 

If you want impactful friendships and relationships it will take some kind of time investment on your part. 

Situational Awareness


Typically as you get older, your social circles begin to settle and tighten. Routines aren’t a bad thing and you are actually being exposed to more future friendships than you may realize. 

Fueling new friendships takes paying attention to your environment and discovering new friendships in unexpected ways. It’s now a normal occurrence to hear stories of people becoming friends in online games and becoming best friends in real life. Look in the online forums that you frequent. Who have you bumped into while on your errands and out and about in your town? Perhaps there is someone in a different department at work that you find interesting. There are lots of places that are in your normal routines for that next friend. 

Neha is a great example of that for me. We initially met a few years ago as we volunteered at the Atlanta Chapter of the Association for Talent Development. At first, that time investment was slow, but it sped up as we got to know each other more and discovered several shared interests. Now she’s celebrating a year and a half as our podcast co-host. 

Don’t limit your situational awareness to just new connections. Look around at some people who perhaps have entered your circle of influence for a little while now. What connection may be good to take to the next level?

Action


Time and awareness hold little value if you don’t take action to advance the friendship. Action does take a dose of courage. You need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone at times to put yourself out there for the other person. The beginning stages of a strong friendship can seem a bit like dating. You see something in a person and you may need to step out to make a connection to get things started.

Not all action is created equal at the beginning of a friendship. Some may just easily happen with a little extra effort. I’ve made lots of friends by being paired up with people in both military and civilian training environments. The action hurdle is lowered when you are together morning, noon, and night. 

Outside of time, action may be the hardest part of keeping a strong friendship going. Friendship can be work. It takes thought, intentionality, and effort. All that effort may seem hard or discouraging, but remember the joy and connectedness that you, and the other person, experience as a result. 

Friendships won’t grow without action, and that’s ok for a large population that you encounter. Nurture those relationships that you want to have in your personal and professional life. The benefits of friendships include:

  • A stronger sense of purpose and belonging
  • Reduced stress and increased happiness
  • Higher self-confidence and self-worth
  • Support systems during challenging times
  • Guardrails during major life choices

Bonus Tip – Reconnection


Perhaps you’ve had strong relationships in the past and for whatever reason, you both drifted away. This is a natural part of life and is a natural conclusion for some friendships as the dynamics between the two change. Other times there is an opportunity to reignite those friendships.

A years-long pandemic certainly impacted many relationships across the world. I was not immune to this and found many of my friends that I used to spend my time with were not as close anymore, because of the isolation caused by the heights of COVID-19. I would encourage you to not give up on those relationships if you feel like there is still value in the friendship. Reinvest some time, and take action to re-engage. 

Next week, we’ll continue to look at the ways to fuel your friendships by talking through grace, imagination, and cadence. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Todays show in art form
The power of microadventures

The power of microadventures

Have you thought to yourself or said to someone else, “I just need to get out and do something?”  I know I do at times! Micro-adventures are a great way to get away, reset, let go of some stress, and learn a little along the way. 

While there is a lot of value in those big getaways and moments you’ve saved up for or have been working or training towards, micro-adventures are a great way to keep the benefits of going out and discovering new things a part of your regular schedule. 

Small impact on your wallet


One of the great advantages of micro-adventures is that they can have a very minimal impact on your wallet. Sometimes we get hung up in creating these epic, memories-of-a-lifetime, adventures. Don’t get me wrong those are great and have their place as well. I’ll always remember my time going hang-gliding over the Appalachian mountains or scuba diving in the Georgia Aquarium, but we shouldn’t rely on those big tent pole moments and have boring lives in between. 

Look for new adventures in your surrounding city that can be a good getaway for you and friends/family members. A few places to look to get you started may include:

  • Local parks, nature areas, and reserves
  • Walking trails
  • Low costs adventures like letterboxing and geocaching
  • Check your local community calendars for events
  • Visit area museums and historic places

One of the reasons that my wife and I fell in love with the city of Atlanta, is that we are regularly going on adventures to that explore the city’s culture. Some of my favorite adventures that we’ve been on this past year include a record store crawl, hitting all the major stores and many lesser known stores in a day. We visited a major outdoor art festival and purchased some local art. We’ve also attended many musical events. Our goal is to see a show at every established music venue in the city. 

Get creative and find some new ways to go on a micro-adventure. 

A great way to relieve stress


No doubt that your work/school life and personal life stack up. Sometimes stress builds up because of a large work project or deadlines and other times stress can build up due to drama or other factors in your personal life. What’s worse is when those seasons from both aspects of your life collide at the same time!

Micro-adventures are a great outlet to get out of your normal routine and give yourself some much-deserved stress relief. The key to helping these small adventures have an impact is in how you approach them. I typically leave all the junk that I am dealing with back at the proverbial door or parking lot. if you choose to bring your baggage with you, you’ll certainly not be as engaged or have as much fun on your outing and the stress relief benefit could very well go out the window. 

Be mindful to be fully engaged in your adventure. Fully take in this new experience that you have gifted yourself with. Remember that you can always pick up the baggage once you are done, (or not) but it’s your choice whether it goes with you on not. 

Micro-adventures can be a great learning opportunity


Sometimes intentional, and other times by happenstance, it seems like I’m always learning something new on my own micro-adventures. On a recent hike up a local mountain with my cub scout group (Which only cost me $5 to do), we had so many learning moments. My wife has a plant identifier app on her where we learned that grapes grew at the top of the mountain. We learned from our scouts what they had been doing over the recent school break and once we descended, we lucked out and got to experience a war re-enactment. The kids got a chance to ask questions about the time and how the area was different at the time of the battle. 

I’ve heard people share great stories in record shops, learned about the history of the community in museums and festivals, and got a better understanding of my city during the many racing events that I’ve done. 

Be on the lookout for those teachable moments as you go on your own adventures. Some will be obvious based on the experience that you choose, while others will be much more subtle. What looks interesting around you? Who looks interesting to you? Take your time and soak up the environment around you. There are likely many learning opportunities all around you just waiting to be noticed. 

Micro-adventures can be that bright spot you have during those rough times, or something great to look forward to in the good times. Be intentional to set aside time to break out of your normal routine and explore your local area.  You’ll be glad that you did and you may just pick up something along the way that makes you a better leader. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

What to do when you are thrown under the bus

What to do when you are thrown under the bus

Being suddenly thrown under the proverbial bus is one of the worst feelings there is in a working relationship. It’s the sense of being betrayed by someone that you likely had some level of trust built with for their own gain. Perhaps you were blamed for something that you didn’t do, or they broke your confidence to share sensitive info, or perhaps they embarrassed you in front of others to make themselves look better.  Whatever the reason, you’ve likely experienced it a time or two or you will most certainly experience it as you continue your professional journey. 

You’ve been thrown under the bus, now what?


The thing about being thrown under the bus is that it always comes unexpectedly and suddenly. Perhaps you align with your work partner only for them to say that they totally disagree with your position after reading the room. That initial sting can send you swirling in many different mental directions at one time. 

In the moment:

  • Let your EQ save you: This is another great work example where a strong EQ  (EQ series starting at Ep 145) will swoop in and save you from any further damage. Do your best to instantly react, especially in a public setting. Let the emotions wash through you and then begin to react in a way that reflects well on you. In some situations, you may only have a few seconds while other times, you’ll have more than enough time. 

  • Save face by taking the high road. It’s ok to say that whatever the other person said or did was a surprise to you and that you need some time to process and reflect. Offering the take the conversation offline in a meeting environment can take the heat off for now and keep the meeting moving forward as well. 

After the incident:

  • Accept that this has happened and move forward:  It can be hard to obsess about the incident… besides, you’ve likely been wronged and it can feel very personal as you continue to unpack in your mind how everything unfolded. At the end of the day, there is nothing that can be done to take the incident back. It happened. Mentally acknowledge that it happened, remind yourself that it does not lower the value that you see in yourself as a person, and begin to move to the next steps for closure and growth. 

  • Get to the truth and root of the incident: Instead, of trying to find solace and validation with others, approach the other person who threw you under the bus after the incident and ask what happened. It’s fair for you to seek clarity and understanding of the reasoning behind their decision. Be mentally prepared because this conversation can go many different ways:
    • They may reveal their true colors and were never an ally to begin with
    • They may have acted impulsively and are regretful
    • They may not have the self-awareness to even realize what they did was wrong and hurtful

  • Don’t retaliate: It may be tempting to volley back resentment and anger or even worse, plot your revenge against the other person. Remember your values (EP 357 EP 358) and avoid this at all costs. You’ll have more productive ways to deal with the person based on the things that you learned from the experience. 

Learn and grow from the experience


The shock of a break in trust can be difficult to overcome, in fact, it’s one of our highest searched subjects on the internet. Trust is certainly one of the lessons that I learn during the times that someone has thrown me under the bus – specifically how far my trust can go with the other person going forward. I would rarely fully write the person off, but I certainly reframed the relationship and became much more mindful of what I said or did around the person. 

I’ve had others share with me that the lesson that they learned is that they trusted others too much. While I get where the person is coming from with this kind of statement, my experience has shown me that that kind of attitude and become the building block to a fundamental change in their leadership behavior in a negative way. You can’t stop trusting others because you’ve been burned. 

Another way to gain insight from being thrown under the bus is to reflect back and understand some of the behaviors that may have been indicators that the person was capable of what they did. Some of those include: 

  • Trying to take credit for things that they did not do
  • A lack of reciprocating information about themselves
  • A lack of showing vulnerability in their role
  • Statements like “It’s not personal”

Being thrown under the bus is never fun and can really hurt, especially if it comes from a friend or close colleague. Represent yourself well during the stinging moment, seek clarity, learn from the incident and move forward. You’ll build a character trait that will serve you well as you continue on your professional journey. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

4 elements of a great story

4 elements of a great story

Storytelling is an art that a great leader and speaker know about. There’s a reason why you remember the illustrations that others share in their presentation and how you’ll often remember the stories and analogies from a minister’s sermon before you recall the points of the message itself. People love stories!

I certainly leverage the power of storytelling in my own leadership. Being a good storyteller helps you get your message across, become more memorable to others and raise your influence level across the team. We’ve previously talked about the types of stories (EP 124)  that you should have at the ready. Today, we’ll look at 4 elements that make a great story. 

Stories don’t have to be long and elaborate


I’ve certainly been known to dial in a little bit of exaggeration or emphasis in a story to drive a point home or to land a punchline. Stories don’t have to be incredibly long, in fact, shorter stories are typically more memorable.  Here’s an example of a story that Mike talks about in our book recommendation shows:

Two friends started a computer company. One person was a brilliant engineer, and the other had a passion for marketing and design. Together, the two Steves created Apple in Steve Jobs’s garage where he lived with his parents. Together, they revolutionized the industry and made computers easy to use for the average person.  Later, Jobs was kicked out of his own company after a failed boardroom coup. A decade later he came back to pull the organization back from the brink of bankruptcy and made it into the organization that many millions love today. In 2022, the brand founded by two guys in a dad’s garage became the first U.S. company to be valued at $3 trillion.

117 words are all it took to share the story of Apple and it includes all four elements of a great story. 

It needs Structure


There are some great stories out there that have been buried by a meandering storyteller. Maybe you know a person like this; they just seem to go on-an-on with an illustration or example and the story never really ends.  There is a great episode of The Office where their branch manager Micheal (ep 289) finally has a great story to share and he just kills it by dragging it on and on until people lose interest. 

All great stories have one thing in common: they have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning sets the stage –  It’s the backdrop of the situation and introduction to the characters. The middle shines a spotlight on the conflict or obstacles and the end resolves the conflict or shares what the outcome was. 

Think about the stories that you want to share with others and visualize how the story plays out. Does it contain a definitive beginning middle and end? If so then you are already well on your way to a potentially memorable story. 

It should have Characters


Speaking of The Office, one of the main reasons that people love that show (or really any show) is because of the characters. They are memorable and unique, and oftentimes we can see a little bit of ourselves in those characters that we love the most. 

There are times when the concept of your story may be more abstract. Perhaps you are trying to capture your Mission, Vision, and Values. These abstract ideas can be embedded in your stories but the people or characters are the ones carrying the message. When I worked on a project where a company was relaunching its Values, we created videos where the executives came in and shared stories of what that particular Value meant to them or how they’ve seen it played out in the organization. We almost exclusively used the power of characters and stories to convey the message of the Values to those associates. 

There needs to be Conflict


People love good conflict in stories. It’s what keeps people engaged as they wait to hear what is next. Remember conflict doesn’t always have to be physical or violent. Other areas to think about in conflict include:

  • Time – a natural enemy to all people!
  • A breakdown in resources or communications
  • An unexpected twist to a well-thought-out plan
  • Nature or other physical barriers
  • Yourself
  • Technology
  • Society or government
  • Personalities

There are conflicts going on around you on a daily basis and it’s very likely that the basis for your story may have more than one conflict. Choose and highlight the one that best accentuates the point that you are trying to make to keep people focused and engaged. 

It needs Resolution


Every story needs to end. Give your story some closure. What was the point or lesson learned that you want to share? People enjoy hearing how someone overcame the odds or obstacles and to understand how the person or situation was transformed as a result. 

In many business-related stories, the story simply wraps up with a solution to the problem or conflict at hand. 

Craft great stories that include all the elements above. Practice and refine them with friends and family and then add them to your proverbial roll-a-dex to pull out at the right time in the future. There is quite a bit of power in storytelling as a communication tool and relationship builder.  Tell a compelling story that pulls people in and inspires them. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Living the Values at Home

Living the Values at Home

Living your personal values leads you to live an authentic life that you will enjoy and be proud of, but it certainly isn’t always easy. I’ve had to let some great professional opportunities, old friends, and other valuable things go because they didn’t, or no longer, aligned with my values. 

Today we’ll all look at three areas to consider as you think about your own personal values and how you can leverage them to be a great leader in your own personal life journey. 

Understand what your personal Values are


When you live out your values at home and in your community, you have a strong sense of those qualities, behaviors, and beliefs that are truly important to you. It’s not uncommon to have a lack of clarity in our own values. Perhaps you’ve never really thought about it, or perhaps they are very broad – think “respect, kind, friendly” If you think about corporate Values, the best are short and to the point but they cover a very specific position. (Instead of the general term Justice, they may have Embrace Accountability) That focus helps you create a strong moral compass to latch on to. 

If you need assistance in narrowing down those behaviors and traits that are important to you do this exercise over a week. Take time to write down a few things that:

  • Made you feel good or gave you a sense of satisfaction
  • Made you sad or gave you pause or regret
  • What others did that you admired or inspired you
  • What others did that you would not want to emulate
  • Made you feel useful, impactful, or valuable

This list should naturally bubble up some themes for you of behaviors, traits, and aspects that you are drawn towards as well as those things that you don’t want to be associated with. Now take those themes a step further and think about the root of those behaviors. You likely just found some of your personal values. Write them out and don’t limit them to just a word or two if you need more. Mine are more statements that a single word that you’ll find in many organizations. Some of mine include:

  • Put others above yourself
  • Embrace accountability in what you commit to
  • Do what’s right for others even when it’s difficult

Leverage your Values in your decisions

Your personal values drive should drive a lot of your decision-making. They help you in deciding what kind of job to take, what company to work for, who you befriend, what kind of content you consume, and more. Your values influence the small decisions throughout the day, (Who you follow online, how you spend your breaks, etc) and the big ones (Your long-term companion, how and where you invest your money, etc) to really everything in between. 

When you get to those decisions that don’t seem easy – maybe they are complex, or really large in impact – Take a moment to pause and ask yourself how they align with your Values. Is this a good match? Is this what I want to be associated with? 

You can probably recall a circumstance where you felt remorse or regret because you made a choice that was not consistent with your values. Don’t beat yourself up too much about it, it happens to all of us. Instead, learn from it and keep moving forward. 

Check in to ensure that those you associate with are still aligned

Similar to our show Can you turn into a bad boss? (EP 348) It’s rare to make up one morning and decide to ditch all of your morals suddenly. What can happen though is a slow drift away from your internal values until a person finds themselves aligned with things that they never thought that they would be.  There are many ways that the groups, associations, and people that you know can pull you away from your values without you knowing until it’s too late. 

  • Mob mentality – The act of neglecting a person’s own feelings, instincts, and logic to adopt the behavior and actions around them. 
  • Political groups – Groups that change their agenda as time passes. You may have been aligned at some point, but like mob mentality, become loyal to the group so much so that it overrides your own individual sense of values. 
  • Friends – People are always changing and life events only compound those changes. Are the friends that you associate yourself with still adding value to them or have they become toxic to your well-being? 
  • What are you consuming? – The internet is an echo chamber of its own making with many apps and sites pushing and nudging your content based on what you take an initial interest in. Be aware of the technological tug that may be pulling you in a direction you don’t need to go in, or perhaps excluding the direction that you should be heading towards. 

Do a check-in with yourself from time to time to ensure that the categories above and other areas of influence for you are still aligned. While it may be difficult, letting go of those things that draw you away from your values will be a worthwhile effort. 

Related shows Are your morals for sale (Ep 166), Profiles in leadership – Joan of Arc (EP 221)How to handle toxic people (Ep 205), You have nothing to prove (EP 244)

Lean into the Values as you lead yourself, your friends, and your family. You will feel a higher level of satisfaction and value in what you do day in and day out, and you’ll like be building lasting relations while making a difference in others as a result. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Living the Values at Work

Living the Values at Work

I have built a career by tieing my work ethics, leadership priorities, and expectations around company values. Sometimes it was easy as others were aligned, to begin with, sometimes I was a hero as I entered a bad culture that desperately wanted change, and other times I was painted as the villain as I asked others to embrace change and held people accountable to how they did their work. 

Living the Values at your organization isn’t always easy, but it certainly is rewarding long term and had always helped me accelerate my own career opportunities along the way. 

Learn the Values and their place in the organization


When it comes to your organization’s values, dig in and get an understanding of what they are. The popular way that many companies express their values these are often through single words (empowerment, creativity, trust, service, etc). Although 1 or 2-word values are easier to remember, they really don’t say much or give real clarity to what they mean. Look for supporting documentation that unpacks what each one means to get a true sense of what the organization stands for. 

Once you gain that understanding, commit them to memory and look at how the company integrates (or doesn’t) the Values into programming, pay practices, and accountability. In other words, do they truly stand on their Values, or are they something that people look at during their orientation and never revisit?  Regardless of which side your company falls in putting its Values into action, understanding and aligning to the Values will help you stand out and accelerate your career. 

Make the Values your calling card


Forward-thinking companies will often refer to work that you accomplish in two ways: The What – Your level of performance as it relates to your job description and The How – How you accomplish your goals. It’s always encouraging to see companies that go all-in on the how with some even going as far as to say that they are equally important in evaluating their people and their ability to do more on the team. 

The How is all about Living the Values. As you continue to lean into how you carry yourself and your alignment with the company’s overall values, you’ll begin to build a reputation, and a very good one, that then becomes your calling card. People know what you expect when you enter the room and the high standard that you bring with you and those that you influence. 

Living the Values accelerates your career


If you put individuals side-by-side that are equally skilled, what would make you choose one over the other? If you’ve got a hiring leader that is worth following, they will always choose the person that is strong in how they get their work done. Here are some ways that Living the Values accelerates your career. 

You build stronger working relationships: It doesn’t matter whether you are an introvert or an extravert, a person that Lives the Values in the workplace will always have better relationships than someone that does not. You’ll be known as a partner, colleague, and friend to an ever-growing extended network across the organization. If you’ve company doesn’t emphasize your Values as it should, then people may not make the connection, but they will know that there is something different about you and that they just enjoy being around and working with you. Your life will be easier as you have people with different skills to help support you and your work that relies on others’ involvement will be easier to arrive at positive conclusions. 

You’ll likely become a connector for others: It’s been said that a person that is a connector (Someone who makes networking connections for others) advances the quickest in an organization. it’s one thing to develop people in a silo, and quite a different thing to connect people together in order to make their work-life more effective or even to help them advance their own journey.

The strength here is from leveraging those working relationships in a way that brings value to everyone. Your values will lead you to do this in an unselfish way. You’ll give away great talent for the betterment of the organization, it will help keep any leadership ego in check, and you’ll naturally lead in a more servant leadership-like way. (EP 131 Characteristics of Servant Leadership & EP 132 Servant Leadership in Action for more)

You will be a role model for others to follow: I love being a culture champion. It’s so rewarding to see how teams blossom and thrive as they collectively embrace a shared positive culture. As I grew in my journey from an individual contributor to a leader of many, I took pride in being able to be a role model for others and influencing change for the better. 

If you are in a tough culture, be a beacon of light for others by how you lead yourself. If you lead others, model the behaviors that you expect of them. When you say to them to Live the Values, they need to see what that looks like and means in the real working world.  Many people strive to leave a lasting legacy behind them. It’s a sense of larger purpose in what we do. You can accomplish that in a larger and more meaningful way as you model those values for others to follow. 

You’ll be given more influence and responsibility: Those that lead themselves by the company’s values will almost always attract more influence power and additional responsibility. This is a great way for you to have a chance to shine in an authentic way that can help others.

For those Baton Carriers that are in their sweet spot and don’t want to (and shouldn’t) continue advancing, know that more influence and responsibility is a good thing for you as well. Remember that you know your limits (Ep 140 for help here) and share those if you feel like you are being stretched too thin. 

Lean into the Values as you lead yourself on your career journey. Your team will thrive, you’ll continue on an upward trajectory of your choosing and you’ll leave a lasting impact behind you. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Inclusive Leadership – Part 2

Inclusive Leadership – Part 2

Check out part one here!

The journey to becoming more inclusive is so rewarding on a personal level. There is personal joy and satisfaction as you see yourself grow and mature and this area is typically ripe for personal and professional growth.  

Today we are going to focus on actions that you can take as an individual and as a team to ensure that everyone feels valued and has a voice, feel valued, and want to stay around for a long time. 

Actions to take as an inclusive leader


It’s hard to have an inclusive team if you are an inclusive leader yourself. Even if you are that type of leader, your leadership will fall flat unless others see, feel, and understand it from you. Here are some personal actions to take as an inclusive leader. 

  • Seek out differences. Curiosity is a trait that many organizations look for in great leaders. It shows that they have a growth mindset and are unlikely to fall into a sense of arrival in their career. Curiosity also lowers overall risk across the leadership board. Get to know those that are on the edge of your network. Spend time with those that you interact with quite a bit, but don’t know so well. Look for the quiet ones in the room and take time to understand their perspective. Seek out individuals that are different that you to gain a larger worldview. 

  • Be present and tell your story. To lead a potentially large change, you need to be present in that change. You’ll gain more buy-in from those that you are looking to convince if they see that you are invested and involved yourself. Tell a compelling story and why it is important to you. Share the impact that your own personal journey has had on you and share the success stories of others (If they are ok with that) to help others see the vision. 

  • Understand your own inclusive shadow. Being an inclusive leader holds little value if you are the only one that thinks you are inclusive. Seek feedback from those that are different from you in their opinion. Do they see you as an advocate and supporter? Check-in with those that you trust and value as well. Doing this helps you find those blind spots that you have. It’s like you are both underestimating and overestimating different parts of how you lead yourself and others. 

  • Learn your impact. At the end of the day, what is your impact on others? Are you being emulated by others? Do you see some effort or behavior change that you didn’t see before? Are you being welcomed into more diverse groups that you were not previously a part of? Are people looking for your direction when it comes to inclusion? Seek a mentor or advisor on who to keep improving. 

Whether you are trying to change a small team or a very complex organization, you are more of an influence than you often give yourself credit for. Strengthen your own leadership skills in this area, so that you can lift others up. 

Actions to take as an inclusive team and organization


Thinking about your current state around inclusion may be daunting as you think about future possibilities. Start small. Here are some actions that you can take to help your people, team, and organization be more inclusive. 

  • Recognize that it is a journey, not a race. When you tackle inclusion, you are taking others through a journey where they likely will need to challenge their own biases and self-awareness. That’s a huge change in and of itself, without even considering the programmatic, and potential policy changes that need to be made. Keep at it and don’t get discouraged by early setbacks. 

  • Include the most impactful leaders. Many people automatically assume that the top leaders are the most impactful. They are in terms of strategy, but your middle managers are the ones that bring that strategy to life. Prioritize these leaders as you begin the journey. Include them in the process and leverage this group for advocates and early adopters. This will increase your likelihood of lasting change and accelerate your efforts toward your goal. 

  • Leverage data to tell your story. I absolutely love using data to tell the story of what the opportunity is and to celebrate the progress that has been made around an issue. Leaders can often rely on their perception or feelings when it comes to inclusion, “I feel like we are a pretty inclusive group and everyone is treated the same and welcome.” Dig in and gather data on the current state of the team. The data will often write the story itself around what the opportunities are. Be sure to listen to the show today for some examples of how to leverage data in a real way when storytelling. 

  • Pay attention to diverse associates and customers. Your diverse population has a higher likelihood of leaving the team when they don’t feel like they belong and are being heard. Tap into their life experience and their professional experience in the organization to understand what some of those nuanced and obvious points are that the group needs to work on. Also including them on the journey assures them that you aren’t simply paying lip service to change, but that you are truly invested in a new future together. 

Being a more inclusive leader has several benefits. You’ll be a more effective leader, the legacy you leave behind will be stronger and your company will be more relevant and profitable as a result. Take the steps today to help others become wildly successful in their roles. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Inclusive Leader – Part 1

Inclusive Leader – Part 1

I’ve had the honor to be a part of some really great life-changing projects, events, and situations in my career. When asked about my proudest moments as a leader the stories typically go down a road of inclusion and helping break barriers for others to succeed in new ways. I simply love helping others meet and exceed their own personal and professional expectations. 

Being inclusive not only accelerates your career, it also enhances your business and elevates others in the process.  Today, we’ll dive into a couple of different ways to think about inclusion, how to care for it, and some of the common traits that are found in these types of leaders. 

Inclusive leaders think about diversity in terms of demographics


The initial place that many people go to when they think about diversity is demographics. This can be a great starting point for a larger journey for you, your team, and your organization. 

From a forward-facing perspective, your team should mirror the customers and community that you are serving. Reflect on those two groups. Does your team look similar or do you have some work to do? I once had a leader that recognized the gap on their team but didn’t know how to fill it. They weren’t getting a diverse group of people coming in on their application process. My advice to them was to connect with that community of people and meet them where they are instead of expecting them just to show up at your door. Mix up your recruiting efforts; how you publicize an opening and change your approach. 

From an inward-facing perspective, look at the make-up of the team or organization. are there more women at the bottom of the chain and more men at the top? At what point does the dynamic flip? Run the same exercise from a cultural perspective. It can be an extremely eye-opening exercise that brings some strong data points as you begin to tell the story of the journey that needs to be taken. 

Inclusive leaders think about diversity in terms of inclusiveness


An inclusive leader knows that being fully inclusive is more than a photo-op, or just getting the right mix of people on board. It’s the power of diversity of thought that really pushes productivity, creativity, and retention rates forward. Companies that rate high in diversity of thought also lower their risk of turnover by 30% (Deloitte Study 2018).  

In order to foster, nurture, and grow an environment of inclusiveness, focus on these four things:

  1. Fairness and Respect: People need to know that they will be respected in their work and that their opinion matters. They also don’t want to see signs of favoritism in projects or teams. People want to feel like they have an equal chance to be wildly successful in their roles. 
  2. Feeling like they are valued and belong: Associates won’t stick around long if they don’t feel like they can be their true authentic self. It’s not good for them or for your team if they feel like they have to put on a face or hide who they are. They desire to showcase their unique self and feel a part of the larger team. 
  3. Safety: In order for your people to be their most innovative, vulnerable, and open they need to feel safe. They desire a sense that what they share will not be used against them, impact them in a negative way, and are supported to openly share. 
  4. Empowered to grow: Once they feel safe, and respected and they know that they are valued, helping them gain a true sense of empowerment and then supporting that empowerment into real action is the next step on the journey. 

Combining the sightline to demographics with the power of diversity of thought makes for a compelling team that will be highly effective and one that others will want to be a part of. 

Traits of an inclusive leader


All great inclusive leaders share some common traits among them. Here are some areas to think about as you work to become more inclusive. 

  • Curiosity: Curiosity in a leader is a great all-around trait to have because it ensures that they stay relevant as times change and have a personal and professional growth mindset. Curiosity leads an inclusive leader to seek out different ideas and experiences from others. 

  • Cultural Intelligence: This is an understanding that your worldview is not the same as others and the ability to seek other perspectives for a larger understanding. I recently saw this in action at a local government meeting where one group dismissed another’s concerns. They felt that since the subject at hand wasn’t offensive to them, then by default it shouldn’t be offensive to anyone else. It was an obvious show of a lack of cultural intelligence. 

  • Collaboration: This leader is aware of gaps in representation and is proactive to help fill those holes in meetings and projects. Are the right people at the table?

  • Commitment: Being an inclusive leader often requires a culture change, and that is something that takes time. These leaders are committed to a long-term vision, instead of seeing it as a check-the-box project that you move away from. 

  • Courage: Along with commitment comes courage. It will take courage to step in a call out a situation, the current landscape, or have a difficult conversation with a co-worker. 

  • Self-Awareness: We all have biases. Have the self-awareness to know what some of those are or where you have a tendency to let your guard down or go on auto-pilot is important to lower those blind spots. 

Self-evaluation time! On a scale of 1-5, how would you rank yourself in each one? (Some categories may be difficult to self-evaluate) Ask a close partner or advisor about how they would rank you in each category to get a good understanding of opportunities for your own personal growth. 

No matter where you are in your career or organization, you can become an inclusive leader and have a lasting impact on others. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH