Equip your crew with the right tools

The question What's in Your Toolbox? asking if you have the skil

As a young Boy Scout, I had the opportunity to lead a group of my peers as a Patrol Leader in the Flaming Arrow Patrol. We developed into a strong patrol, and became good friends. But when I was elected Senior Patrol Leader, it became apparent that I hadn’t ensured for proper leadership succession. In fact, at age 14, I wasn’t even aware of the principle.

On the first campout with the new Patrol Leader, everything was going well until they realized they had forgotten a spatula to turn their pancakes. Since they had already mixed the pancake batter, and were hungry, they came up with a novel idea: scrambled pancakes. The pancakes were stirred with a fork, just like scrambled eggs. The result did not look appetizing, but the guys were hungry, and ate it anyway.  Ask any member of Troop 592 from that era about scrambled pancakes, and you’ll have a good laugh.

And the Flaming Arrows never forgot to have the proper cooking utensils again.

 

The important lesson from the experience is that in order to perform a task effectively, the right tools are necessary. If an individual doesn’t have the right tools, their assignment is destined for failure.

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Although different tasks require different tools, there are some common tools that must me be available in order to succeed.

  1. Empowerment When given an assignment, whether it be installing a new faucet or leading a team, an individual must be given the authority to perform the task and to make the necessary decisions that will be faced along the way. Without this empowering, the task cannot be completed.
  2. Expectations If you cannot clarify expectations, don’t make the assignment. If I am installing a faucet, the basic expectations are: properly mounted, tight connections, hot water on the left and cold on the right. But what if the client has additional expectations that weren’t conveyed to me?
    In leading a team, some basic expectations will be obvious as well. But what is the ultimate goal? Do I follow a marked path or must I discover my own? If these and other questions are not clarified, the leader may not meet the unspoken expectations.
  3. Education A certain degree of training and orientation is necessary for any job. In any field, it may be assumed that the individual has a basic knowledge of the task at hand. But unlike the journeyman plumber who has installed thousands of faucets, and has access to a basin wrench and other devices to facilitate the job, the new leader may not even have a toolbox, much less the necessary tools to complete the job.
    Education ties in closely with empowerment and expectations. When a new leader is asked to lead a team, the supervising leader should determine the extent of the new leader’s knowledge and make certain to fill in the gaps.
  4. Evaluation How do we measure success? What tools do we use for this? How frequently will the measurements be taken, and how frequently will constructive feedback be given? Just as educators use rubrics to help define success for their students, the elements of success should be well-defined for the new leader.
    When a faucet is installed, the apprentice plumber will require more evaluations than the experienced journeyman will. The expectations at each step should be understood.
    When leading a team, sometimes the specifics are harder to define. But the new leader cannot succeed without understanding what will be evaluated.

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If a new leader is not equipped with the right tools, he may be doomed to failure. Whether it be a pancake turner, a basin wrench, or a thorough understanding of the assignment, the right tools are critical for completing the job.

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Are you giving your crew the right tools? A good leader will ensure that a well-stocked toolbox is available.

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How to Become a Light in the Fog

Dan Rockwell writes some great blog posts on leadership. This one resonated with me this morning, and I thought I should repost it. Thank you, Dan!

I’ve heard managers complain, “These people just don’t get it.”

Poor management is the reason people inside organizations are in the fog.

confusion is your opportunity to become a light in the fog

Impose the job of creating clarity on yourself. Stop complaining about people who don’t get it. Confusion in others is your opportunity to become a light in the fog.

Lean into confusion, not away from it.  Confusion is your friend.

Managers who embrace and then solve confusion move forward. Everyone else is lost in the fog, even if they’re working hard.

Ron Wallace, former president of UPS International has a plan for lifting the fog.

4 ways to become a light in the fog:

#1. State your expectations and then follow up.

“There is nothing more frustrating for motivated people than not knowing exactly what is expected of them.” Ron Wallace in Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver

  1. Describe the results you want.
  2. Explain the standards the results must meet.
  3. Define the deadline. (Is it flexible or set.)
  4. Set the budget.
  5. Identify resources.
  6. Relate any constraints (sacred cows to avoid).
  7. Establish the when and how of reporting progress.
  8. Outline how performance will be measured.
  9. Make yourself available to help.

#2. Translate expectations into deliverables.

Explain expectations. Don’t tell talented people how to deliver.  “You placed these people in positions because they know how to do it.” Wallace

#3. Hold people accountable.

“If you don’t follow through with both inspections and acknowledgements, it is easy for people to think that what they’re doing isn’t important.” Wallace

#4. Check your own progress regularly.

“The gap between a leader’s expectations and a follower’s actions is usually more about their relationship than it is about matters of substance.” Wallace

You find success by delivering results through relationships.

How might leaders/managers create greater clarity?

Original post can be found here: Light in the Fog

When Your Volunteers Aren’t Getting the Job Done

When a committee of volunteers falls short of expectations, it is frequently because they lack adequate training.

Two men try to reach across the divide

There are many organizations that rely heavily on the work of volunteers to carry out the goals and functions of the organization. In fact, many of us receive our first lessons in leadership as volunteers in some type of organization.

When an individual volunteers, or is asked to serve, it is usually assumed that he or she understands the ideals and goals of the organization and is willing to support them. Occasionally a handbook or guidebook is given along with a hearty “thank you for serving,” then they go to work. And we see varying degrees of success (or failure).

I have served in organizations where individuals, or sometimes entire committees, were not measuring up to the goals of the organization, despite their best efforts. Common practice dictates that when this is identified, it is time to change out committee members or chairs, or in extreme cases, disband entire committees. Their responsibilities might then be given to someone who is “better equipped” to get the job done.[1]

You may have seen this in your own volunteer service.

There is something wrong with this picture. Very wrong. Common practice is not necessarily best practice. You wouldn’t buy a new car and hand the keys to your sixteen-year-old without providing some serious training first.

If a volunteer or a committee is failing to do its job, then there is a leadership failure somewhere. Not just the committee chairs, but the leaders who oversee the committees,  have failed if a committee is not functioning as it should.

I believe that the following is important to a new volunteer, or even an experienced volunteer who is serving in a new role.

 

  1. Proper orientation. Assure that the mission, vision, and goals for the organization and the committee are understood. Ensure that the volunteer is aware of the organizational culture and history and understands his or her place within the organization.
  2. Job-specific training. A volunteer should understand his or her role in their particular committee. Never assume that because they volunteered, they already get it. Many positions and assignments have what are disparagingly called “oh-by-the-way” responsibilities. In a well-run organization, volunteers should understand what their positions entail before accepting the responsibility. This should be made clear at the outset. All too often, an “oh-by-the-way” is made known only after a failure.
  3. Outline expectations. The training should include explaining any expectations that come with the position. What is required of the member? How will it be measured? How often is performance evaluated?
  4. Mentoring. Just because a committee has experienced members as well as new people, it should never be assumed that mentoring will occur. Yes, many individuals will take this on by themselves, but this should be assigned by the chair, who should try to identify the best members to mentor a new member.
  5. Empowerment. The new volunteer should feel empowered to speak and to act as a part of his or her assignment. Frequently those with less experience hesitate to share new ideas or seek clarification out of respect to those who are “wiser and more experienced.” That should not be a part of any organization’s culture.
  6. Follow-up. It takes a few meetings or a few assignments to get a grasp on the assignment. Questions don’t often arise until after the volunteer has been involved for a time. Make sure that a respected and experienced member is assigned to provide the follow-up and address the questions.
  7. Re-train as necessary. Inoculations require periodic boosters in order to provide effective coverage. They are not good for a lifetime. In the same way, we should provide training boosters as frequently as needed.

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Naturally, training requires time and resources. It requires raising the organization to a higher level. Some leaders are better qualified than others to provide this training. In any organization, all will come with their own gifts and abilities. It is incumbent upon those vested with the leadership authority to ensure that skills and talents are developed and utilized, not only for the benefit of the organization, but for the benefit of the individuals who volunteer.

A good leader of volunteers does not set his people up for failure: a good leader sets clear expectations and enables his volunteers to achieve them.

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[1] I will admit that there are cases where a committee has performed its designated function or outlived its usefulness and should be disbanded. Sometimes this should also occur due to fiscal concerns. But in my opinion, it should never happen simply because there is a perception of poor performance.

Course Corrections Assist in Reaching the Destination Safely

Bombardier-CS100-Flying-Above-The-Clouds

There is a great deal of attention given to the terms “formative assessments” and “summative assessments” in education circles. “Feedback” is sometimes substituted for “assessment,” but the principle doesn’t change.

Let me illustrate with something familiar to most of us. When we fly from airport A to airport B, we note that the pilot gets us there safely and mostly on time, which we appreciate. Our recognition of the pilot’s achievement is the summative feedback: we are grading his overall performance based on the end result.

We are not frequently aware that even on the short flights, the pilot is continually changing course: adjusting the altitude or the direction of the plane. The plane commonly veers off course due to atmospheric conditions, but based on feedback from instruments, the co-pilot and air traffic control, the pilot brings the plane back on course and lands it safely.

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We don’t berate the pilot because he deviated from his planned course a dozen times or more; we praise him because he made corrections and got us to our collective destination. This is formative feedback: the intermediate evaluations that individually are low-stakes evaluations, but together, they produce a significant result.

 

In many organizations, an annual review is customary. In some of those organizations, this may be the only assessment that an employee receives from his leader. What a shock it can be to feel that one is on course all year, only to find that a five-degree course deviation eight months ago led to being significantly off course. Now a major correction is needed (unless a crash has already occurred) in order to return back to the planned path. Had intermediate feedback been given early on, the correction would have been more comfortable and less noticeable.

How can a leader give a beneficial formative assessment?

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The core of formative feedback for the employee consists of three elements, which can be expressed in three questions:

  1. Where are you right now?

The employee must have a sense of his destination. Expectations should be clarified, as well as checkpoints.

  1. Where do you need to be right now?

As above, if clear expectations are given, the employee should already know if he or she is off course.

  1. How can you (or we) close the gap between the two?

Very often an individual readily recognizes that he or she is off course, but has no idea how to return to the planned path, or must be encouraged to make the correction. This may be the good leader’s most important task!

 

The desired assessment should occur at three levels:

  1. Self-assessment

The leader should empower the employee with the necessary tools and training to self-evaluate. I previously wrote about the Dunning Kruger Effect, which describes the need for an individual to reach a certain level of knowledge and skill in order to properly evaluate their own performance (or others’ performance).

If the leader doesn’t recognize this, then he is failing as a leader. We cannot expect excellence if we do not train for it.

  1. Peer assessment

In team efforts, the employee should be able to turn to a colleague for a meaningful formative assessment. Again, this requires that both individuals have the necessary tools. Empowering the team is particularly critical to the success of peer assessments. They must know that this is acceptable. In a sense, this empowerment is a delegation of authority to all involved, and relieves the leader/manager of a portion of his burden.

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  1. Leader (manager) assessment

Finally, the leader assesses. If the team has a proper understanding of the tasks being evaluated and the intended results, this assessment will confirm the judgment of the individual and their peers. This can be a powerful morale builder for everyone. It also becomes a checkpoint for the leader to assess his efficacy in directing the project.

 

Of course, all of this necessitates that the leader have a presence among his team. The principle of MBWA (management by walking around) lends itself well to providing formative feedback. If a leader remains isolated and doesn’t offer correction until disaster strikes, then trust, confidence and morale will be undermined.

I am not suggesting that the leader micromanage. This is not desirable. But the leader should train, empower and monitor personally in order to see that his team reaches their desired destination; that they achieve their individual, team and organizational goals.

 

A good leader will provide frequent navigational assistance to his team because he wants to see them reach their destination safely.

Leaders Nurture Talent

Develop Talent

As I see it, one of my primary responsibilities as I teach dentistry is to help my students to develop their talents. They come to clinic with a limited skill set, and limited confidence in their ability. Before they are ready to be turned loose on the public, they must expand that skill set, develop clinical judgment, and become confident in their own judgment, because I will not be looking over their shoulders for very long.

I have discovered some keys to facilitating this process:

  1. Get out of the way
  2. Don’t provide all the answers
  3. Expect excellence
  4. Correct with kindness

Get Out of the Way

Herbie Hancock tells a story of his auditions with Miles Davis and his band. Hancock, then a neophyte keyboard player, reported that Davis started off a tune, and then disappeared. The band continued playing. The next day the same thing happened. After a few days of this, Davis invited Hancock to join the band. Hancock didn’t learn until years later that Davis’ disappearing act was intentional. He knew that young musicians might be intimidated by his presence (I would have been), so he eliminated that distraction so they could perform at their best.

It isn’t easy to find just the right amount of supervision. Especially when my students are treating patients, I need to create the right mix of hovering and independence. As they progress and prove themselves, I hover less.

Those we lead need to feel some freedom in order to grow. Too much attention produces anxiety, and stifles creativity as well as growth. Of course, supervision also ensures accountability, and that is vital to our success in any setting.

Don’t Provide All the Answers

Another lesson Hancock learned from Miles Davis was his teaching method. Miles would rarely give a complete answer when a younger musician asked him specific questions about music theory.

I had to train myself not to be the “answer man” when I taught. When a student asks me what to do in a certain situation, my response is usually “tell me what you think.” I will frequently ask “what are the options/” and then “which do you prefer?” It is a rewarding experience to watch students reason through an approach to a problem and to see the light come on as they realize the best solution. We know that when an individual reasons out a problem, he remembers the solution better than if the answer is just handed to him. I also try not to ask these questions in a threatening tone.

Of course, if your crew isn’t adequately taught and trained beforehand, this can be a recipe for disaster. But with the proper background, questioning can lead to additional growth and confidence. Your team will learn to think for themselves, and you will be able to validate their correct thinking.

Expect Excellence

If you have listened to any of Miles Davis’ recordings (Kind of Blue is my favorite, by far, especially the complexities of So What), it is obvious that he had very high standards. He was willing to teach, but he only surrounded himself with top-notch musicians. The results are unmistakable.

As I work with my dental students, I also have the opportunity to work with the best of the best. Admission is extremely competitive, so the standards are high. Some of our expectations are written; some are conveyed verbally. My highest expectations and aspirations for my team of students are unspoken, but they feel it, and most want to measure up.

Along with the basic graduation and licensure standards, I expect consistent improvement from each student, and encourage them to become the best dentist they can be. Some of our goals are individualized, based on each individual’s potential.

In most of our teams, we won’t have the cream of the crop: there will be a diversity of talent and ability. That’s fine. Our challenge as a leader is to personalize expectations so that each individual is competing with himself. This tends to build collaboration and a better team spirit. And there is nothing wrong with team members lifting each other. Of course, there are some areas where the team members should be competing with each other (sales), but the team effort is important.

Business development - Closeup of hands holding seedling in a group

Correct with Kindness

We all lead humans. Mistakes are inevitable. Miles had it easy in that sense. In rehearsals, he could stop everyone and start over. In dentistry, we don’t often have that luxury. Things don’t always go as anticipated, or a student neglects to get advice when he or she encounters the unexpected. In order to develop the talents properly, correction must be given.

On occasion it is necessary to express disapproval and to respond vigorously and quickly. At other times a quick sidebar can be held, out of earshot of the others. But if mistakes are allowed to continue, change is unlikely.

We have been encouraged, following a procedure, to help the students to evaluate themselves, in order to promote clinical judgment. I have found that asking questions is the best way to encourage my students’ self-evaluation skills.

In our teams, the same questions can apply. Questions I frequently ask are:

“How do you think that went?”
“What could you have done better?”
“What will you do differently next time?”
“How could I have eased the process?”
“What did you learn today?”

Questions I do not ask include:

“What were you thinking?”
“Why didn’t you follow directions?”
“Why didn’t you stop and ask for help?”

I prefer to close the discussion with encouragement to do better (perform, make decisions, communicate, etc.) the next time. Sometimes an assignment is given to review technique or practice before attempting the procedure again. In some cases, we will redo the procedure the next time in order to bring it up to standards.

Positive feedback is vital to improvement. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Every artist was first an amateur.” A good leader should provide the necessary support to transform his team into true professionals.

Hard work, commitment, and talent will help to make it happen.

If I Could See Clearly Now

A good leader sets clear expectations.

One of the challenges of leadership is in motivating others to achieve goals. But this is essential in making progress in your organization. It is especially important that the two people be on the same page as they work together. Brian Tracy said “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.” With that in mind, why would a good leader fail to share his expectations with those who report to him?

Some things are critical to your success.

  1. Set specific, relevant goals. Vague goals do not help anyone achieve the desired end. I have written before about the time during an annual review when a supervisor told me I needed to be more proactive. When I asked for clarification so I knew what to focus on, I was told “just be more proactive.” I pursued that goal for a year, but not in the direction my supervisor had wanted. I still don’t know exactly what was wanted.
  2. Set deadlines and checkpoints. A good goal must have a target date. And frequently there are intermediate steps that should be checked. Sometimes it is just good to have a progress check. These should be discussed together so that expectations are clear. There is nothing worse than being called in to account for progress on a goal without warning, and being chastised because you are not on track. Just as runners measure their split times at given points, leaders must also take measure periodically and give meaningful feedback to their team members.
  3. Make sure that the metrics for measuring progress are clearly understood. Thomas S. Monson has said “Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” But both sides must be using the same measuring stick. I was once called out (at an unscheduled checkpoint) for falling short on a goal. By the measurements I used, the numbers had doubled from the previous year; I thought I was making good progress. But that wasn’t how my supervisor saw it. Be clear on what you are measuring and how you will measure it.
  4. Praise progress, and don’t focus on shortcomings. Dale Carnegie taught to begin with praise and honest appreciation, then to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. The phrase that has stuck with me for 40 years is “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” He also suggested that the leader give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  5. Never ever blindside anyone in an evaluation, not even in a crisis situation. This goes along with the clearly defined checkpoints and clear metrics. If you must call an additional intermediate meeting, give the individual some indication of what will be discussed (maybe not if you are firing the individual with cause). If he or she can prepare, the meeting will more productive for both of you.

John Akers said: “Set your expectations high; find men and women whose integrity and values you respect; get their agreement on a course of action; and give them your ultimate trust.”

Isn’t that a significant part of leadership? We must show trust as well as earn it. In setting clear expectations of others we are doing both.

Have clear expectations, and make them known!