How to delegate effectively to save time and your sanity

It’s no secret: An important best practice in leadership circles is to spend your time on tasks and projects that are the best use of your time and delegate the rest.

Why then, as managers and leaders, don’t we delegate more often and more effectively?

The most common excuse I hear from my clients who resist delegating more is, “it’s just easier to do it myself.”

The trouble with that thinking is that it’s very short-term, and it’s not good for you, your company, or your team.

That way of thinking focuses on the challenge of delegating right now rather than the bigger wins overall that you could make long-term by delegating – or the costs you’re going to face long-term by not delegating.

There are so many drawbacks associated with not fully embracing the magic of delegation:

Opportunity costs

What are you not working on, moving forward with, or making space for (both for you personally and the organization) because your time is being spent on something that you personally don’t need to be doing?

Employee morale

If your team doesn’t feel like you can trust them with taking things off your plate and owning the task themselves, job satisfaction, initiative, and employee retention all start to slip. They’re here to do a job, yes, but they also WANT to learn new things, advance their careers, and feel useful.

Revenue

It costs MORE for you to do that task over time than the time it would take for you to train and delegate said task. Yes, the first few times that you delegate there is an investment of your time, but the return on the investment can be tenfold, or more!

Consider the ROI of the time you spend showing an employee how to do something. Even tasks that appear to be a one-off situation often aren’t. The skills learned can often be transferable.

So, what can you do about it?

There are three steps to effective delegation: knowing what to delegate, knowing how to delegate, and reviewing how the process of delegation worked.

Step 1: Knowing what to delegate

When you have that familiar feeling of: “Oh, it’s easier if I just do it myself,” or when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by diminishing time and increasing deadlines, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Would this assignment give someone the chance to grow in their role and develop new skills?
  • Is there any chance this activity might occur again? Would teaching it now to someone else provide lasting benefits?
  • Could the assignment be divided up and given to multiple team members, focusing on each of their individual skills? This is an opportunity to encourage teamwork and make use of each team member’s strengths, all while freeing up your time and attention.
  • And quite simply — Is this something that you know should be delegated?

If it’s strategic or highly tactical, this might be something you need to do yourself or with some support from the team. However, if it doesn’t require your direct management and you’re pressed for time on issues that are more strategic, now is the time to practice delegating.

Do I delegate enough?

Start by keeping track of your time for a few days, or even a week and try your best to keep a record of how much time you spend on each task throughout the day. It can feel onerous, but our clients who try this often find incredible opportunities for enormous wins through delegation.

Awareness around how we’re spending our time allows us to identify what’s eating up time. Knowing what to delegate can help your team grow and give you the time to focus on other priorities.

Step 2: Knowing how to delegate

Once you’ve identified something to be delegated, it’s time to hand it over.

To choose the best person to own the task or project ask yourself:

  • Is it best to be split amongst team members or given to one person?
  • Is there someone on the team who has the background, skills, knowledge, or just a keen interest to tackle this assignment? If not, is there someone who would likely learn it quickly? Is there someone who loves new challenges, or thrives on deadlines who could run with this?

To hand it over, you’re going to want to communicate the basics:

  • What needs to be done
  • When it needs to be finished
  • What sort of updates or progress reports you want
  • How big of a priority it is within the rest of their workload
  • What resources they can access to help them
  • Any extenuating circumstances
  • Context – for example, if there are additional stakeholders to consult or advise

How you communicate that list is just as important as what you communicate.  

We’ve created a downloadable DELEGATING CHEAT SHEET for you that summarizes what you need to share and how to share it for different types of employees.

 

Step 3: Evaluate and revise

Improving business process involves constant review, evaluation, and tweaking. It doesn’t have to be onerous, but if you focus a bit of attention on it, things get better quickly.

  • Have a quick debrief meeting with the delegate and ask them if they had all the information they needed to do a good job, if they had any challenges, and what they liked about the project.
  • Look at how much time it took you to delegate and if the outcome was what you wanted or expected.
  • What went well?
  • What could you do better next time?

You know…I get it, delegating is not as simple as sending an email and sometimes that feels harder than doing it yourself, but making a habit of strategically focusing your efforts and your team’s efforts can create huge wins for productivity, employee engagement, and business growth. And who doesn’t want to be a leader racking up huge wins?!?

Frankly, leaders who delegate well are leaders who advance.

Coach’s Questions

What is hovering over you, right now, that could be (should be?) delegated to someone on your team?  What’s stopping you?

Finding ways to conquer the loneliness of leadership

You work for years to climb the corporate ladder and you finally reach the top. This is it! Years of hard work and effort have paid off and you are an executive in charge of a team, a division, or perhaps an entire organization, company or government department.

As exciting as it is, there is a small downside when we rise up through the ranks that you may not have anticipated: It can be a bit lonely at the top. Sure, you’ve probably heard it before but for many of us, until we start to experience it, we don’t expect it.  

For many, admitting to loneliness, isolation and fear equates to weakness and they feel they can’t be weak in the top job — so they try to hide it.  While others, the internal conflict they feel is that when you’re an organizational leader, you’ve got power, privilege, and perks and so it might seem terribly self-indulgent or even wrong to admit you feel lonely and isolated.

For some, they haven’t yet even put their finger on the feelings because feeling lonely as a leader just isn’t often discussed.

The reality of leader isolation

If you feel lonely or isolated in your role, you’re not alone. And if it makes you feel better about acknowledging it, several years ago the Harvard Business Review quantified the impact of feelings of isolation.

According to the HBR, their survey of CEOs showed that half of CEOs admitted feeling lonely and of these, 61 percent expressed concerns it hindered them at work.

There are many reasons why leaders feel isolated.

Leadership necessitates some distance. You can be friendly with your team members, but as the boss you are not one of them. You’re privy to more information, you need to keep some things confidential, and there will be times, where the difficult decisions you have to make will hurt those around you. As a boss you can’t let on that you don’t have all the answers and perhaps you even struggle with imposter syndrome. Many top executives are under scrutiny, not just by a board of directors or shareholders, but by the press. Protecting your privacy and safeguarding your reputation is an important consideration when you can’t be sure who to trust. There are many reasons why so many leaders keep themselves a bit apart from their team members.

Your team members may be holding back, especially if you’ve been promoted. Where you were once included in informal lunches, birthday parties, and get-togethers, team members are aware that the boss isn’t there to socialize with them in quite the same way as their peers. This might be a natural deference to authority, where they want to ensure the team leader sees them only in a professional capacity. It can also be a case where team members don’t feel their opinions will be valued or heard, so they keep themselves apart from top-level executives and watch what they say. Realistically, many team members may feel separated from the executive tier by office doors and calendar-protecting, access-limiting executive assistants.

It’s new territory. Whether you’re shifting gears from go-getting team member to leader or a veteran leader in a new role, it takes time to figure out how to engage your team members in the ways they want and the ways they need. As you size things up, you’re likely fine with some distance and so is the rest of the team. But on some level it may feel that you’re excluded.

The damaging effects of leadership isolation

As human beings, we’re built for connection. Feeling lonely can affect our health and wellbeing.

When we feel isolated in a social context, it activates the alarm response; on a physiological level, loneliness affects our behaviour (consciously and subconsciously). Those feelings of fight or flight release stress hormones, which cumulatively can make us sick.

When lonely and stressed, many folks won’t sleep well and immunity can be weakened because stress hormones inhibit the production of those germ-fighting white blood cells.

In addition to our interior response, you can guess that your external responses could change too. If you as the leader feel alone and isolated, your actions will reflect this.

You’ve heard of the ripple effect or the butterfly effect? Your actions as a leader will not only affect your performance, but also that of those around and under you. Feeling lonely and isolated could come out as negativity, anger, or perhaps frustration. If loneliness has made you tired and anxious, it could have an impact on the kind of decisions you’re making.

It can also affect how others perceive you. They might assume you are aloof, unreachable, unapproachable, arrogant, or overwhelmed. If they think you’re miserable, will they be inspired to follow your leadership?

How to conquer loneliness at the top

We’ve established many reasons why leaders feel isolated and also the negative effect loneliness can have on you, your work, and your team.

It’s important to feel supported and connected. There are a few ways you can achieve this:

Build a support network. Some folks find professional development organizations, where they can spend time with peers who understand their unique concerns and struggles, to be the answer. Others will pull together a more informal support group, perhaps comprised of a long-standing mentor, retired leaders, or peers who work in other industries. The key is to find a few people you can turn to when you need to vent, seek advice, or brainstorm in confidence. When we have a support network that feels safe and where we belong, we feel happier and more able to weather challenges — and science even says people who feeling connected socially live longer, healthier lives. Lowering stress also improves our immunity (physical health) and feelings of anxiety and depression (emotional health).

Consider an executive coach. When you work with a professional coach, you gain a trusted advisor who can help you through any challenges you face (and many organizations will pay to coach their leaders because the ROI is higher than with other training and development). One to one coaching with Padraig is confidential and personalized, grounded in transformative change.

Find ways to connect appropriately with your team members. Even as the leader, you can connect with your team members in ways that let them see you as an approachable leader. There are many team-building opportunities and it’s good to embrace those times to foster a connection and build trust. It might be talking about shared interests like movies or sports, asking about outside interests, perhaps celebrating successes together, or having an impromptu coffee and muffin together. Stay in touch with the grassroots of your organization so that you know you’re not being given a filtered and managed perception of the business reality. This might mean holding town halls, walking the halls and chatting informally with team members, or having skip-level meetings so that you meet with more junior employees without the mid-level bosses mediating the discussion.

Take work-life balance seriously. Fostering relationships outside of work is important for feeling that sense of belonging and wellbeing. If your role as a leader makes you feel isolated, achieving work-life balance is all the more crucial. Make time for friends, family, loved ones, volunteering, and hobbies or interests. Your connection to other people and feeling well-rounded can improve your health and empower you for the hours you are at work.

Coach’s Questions:

When have you experienced loneliness or feelings of isolation as a leader? Are you already seeing the effects? What changes can you make to feel more supported and connected? What tools will help you cope with leadership isolation?

Tips to get your goals back on track

A lot of us reassess our goals and priorities in the fall after maybe losing a bit of our focus with all the freedom and fun over summer (it could be something about the changing leaves and shorter days reminding us the year is winding to a close, or as I’ve long speculated it’s the school year starting up again and we all live by the school year long after we’ve finished and even after our kids have graduated!).

Some of us may have faced unexpected hurdles like losing a client, that funding you were expecting didn’t come through, or a key member of your team is moving on.

As John Lennon famously sang in his song Beautiful Boy, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Don’t despair if you look at the calendar and feel that you are nowhere near achieving the goals you set for yourself for this year a little bit of work can quickly get your goals back on track.

Take time to reflect on your goals

If you did some goal setting for this year, make time to review those goals now and remember why setting goals for this year is valuable. Before you reset your goals, you need to take stock.

Revisit your goals and assess what you’ve achieved and what you have yet to complete. You don’t have to fix anything yet just note your successes and challenges. It’s good to remember what motivates you.

Now if you didn’t ever finish goal setting for this year, it’s not too late. It’s never too late!

Check out our blog from earlier this year to work through the steps to set the right kind of goals and you can even download our ultimate goal setting worksheet.

Take time to reflect and learn

From time to time we all need to adjust to stay on course. After reviewing your goals and re-examining what prompted them for you in the first place, you can make informed decisions to get your goals back on track.

To start, consider:

  • Roadblocks to successfully meeting your goals: What’s preventing you from achieving your goals? Are these roadblocks challenges you can overcome, or do you need to change direction completely? Are they internal roadblocks, or external?
  • Inventory what lessons you have learned: Every experience is a learning opportunity, so what did you learn from your successes? Are there new avenues there? And, what have you learned or gained even around the goals you haven’t yet achieved?
  • Note the resources you have developed: Thinking about achievements so far, and the ones yet to be reached, what gains have you made in terms of things like human resources, contacts, technology, or capital? What resources do you need going forward?  Who or what could help with those outstanding goals?

Knowing what you’ve faced and which things you can leverage in your future work will help you as you map out the rest of the year or even as you redefine your goals.

Evaluate and rewrite as required

It’s time to reaffirm or reset those goals! Now that you’ve evaluated your work to date, you can make adjustments as necessary.

Some of us might be fine with the goals we defined earlier, but realize that we need to really master daily tasks to achieve the bigger goals. Many folks who struggle with procrastination find it easier to get moving if tasks are manageable. So, for instance, instead of a milestone of “finish the report by Friday,” the steps might be broken down into a section a day and the introduction and conclusion on another day and then reviewed by peers for feedback.

Acknowledging what needs to be improved and breaking goals down into more actionable items helps regain traction and get goals back on track. When you break down those tasks, think about who or what could help you with each one.  

Redraft or start from scratch

There may also be goals that need to be revised or even completely rewritten and that’s fine. A check-in around this time of year is a great time to realign and rewrite some of your goals. This is your plan and it will work best if you agree with the goals and are still motivated to achieve them.

It may be that after examining and evaluating a goal you realize that it is not specific enough or maybe it’s no longer realistic in light of new information. Or, you might realize that it’s time to figure out a new goal altogether.

With more information and understanding, take another shot at setting the right kind of goals with our step-by-step process to determine what your goals are and how to make them actionable. Modify and change what you need to do to improve the goal so it can be met.

Get in the game

Once you’ve revised and reset your goals, you need to keep the momentum going. Here are some ideas to help you move from theory to practice:

Get started. Sometimes, “just start” is the mantra that has most helped me.  Starting something, just diving into the first step without worrying about the next one often gets me into a groove where I realize at the end of the day I’ve accomplished what I needed, or maybe even more.

Stay focused. All of us have things that distract us or derail our productivity. Maybe it’s a chatty colleague or a client who calls repeatedly, or perhaps it’s the temptation to focus on people instead of paperwork…or on paperwork, instead of people! Recognizing what routinely interrupts your workflow is a huge first step in fixing it. Once you do, it’s often quite easy to figure out how to mitigate the time wasting like setting limits or finding other ways to get motivated at work.

Accept that not everything will go according to plan. There will likely be more challenges, delays, or setbacks that you don’t anticipate. It’s hard when things happen to derail plans, but trust that you can work through challenges. The key thing to remember is that you can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react.

Celebrate your successes along the way. Crossing off to-do items on a list is extremely satisfying and a reminder that you’re on track. If that list has the series of manageable steps you wrote out as you revisited and revised your goals, then you’ll be making fantastic progress as you check them off. Track your progress so you notice when you reach each milestone along the way to meeting the bigger goal; you’ll feel like you have momentum. It’s easier to keep going when you know it’s the right direction!

The Coach’s Questions

What stands out when you review your goals for this year? How do you feel about revisiting or rewriting those goals? What will New Year’s be like if you’ve achieved the big goals you’ve got on this year’s list?

 

Boost Your Leadership Emotional Intelligence

While professional and technical competence are essential for workplace success, emotional intelligence is frequently cited as a better predictor of success.

A study by TalentSmart tested emotional intelligence, along with 33 other workplace skills, and found emotional intelligence to be the strongest predictor of performance. The results of the study demonstrate that 58% of success in all types of jobs stems not from professional or technical competencies, but from emotional intelligence.

Why is emotional intelligence so essential to workplace success?

Folks who are aware of their own emotional intelligence are better able to manage their emotions, such as stress and impulse control. This is critical in workplaces full of complex and rapid change, where decisions can’t always be made with certainty. People with emotional intelligence are better able to recognize the emotions of others and display empathy.

Whether you’re a C-Suite leader of a major enterprise, or a high-potential employee trying to cultivate high-value leadership skills, emotional intelligence and leadership capabilities go hand-in-hand.

You can focus on leveling-up your leadership capabilities with these eight helpful tips:

1. Align Yourself with Your Unique Leadership Style

The first step to becoming a successful, future-forward leader is to align yourself with your leadership style. It’s difficult to become the best version of yourself when you’re busy trying to mimic the leadership styles of a colleague or mentor. Take time to lean into what feels good, to recognize your individual strengths, and to develop your own natural professional tendencies to amplify your personal leadership style. (By the way, if you’re not sure what your leadership style is, the folks at Padraig help leaders understand their personal leadership style.)

2. Lead By Example

As a leader, you know which professional and personal traits make an ideal employee: They’re passionate, motivated, enthusiastic, and personable. However, to attract these types of people and reduce employee turnover, it’s up to the leadership team to also encompass these key traits.

When you’re working side-by-side with your peers and employees, make sure that you’re demonstrating the skills that you want to see reflected in others. This can be done simply by positively engaging daily with your team members, giving them recognition when deserved, and sharing your passion for your organization and what you can accomplish together.

3. Practice Mindful Leadership

Your mental health and that of your employees is vital to a successful organization. Leaders who can prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of all team members help cultivate an understanding and compassionate environment that drives success and increases engagement.

In a survey from Mental Health America, 35% of respondents reported that they miss three to five days of work each month due to workplace stress. When you take the time to practice mindful leadership by emphasizing the importance of mental health, you’re not only enhancing your success, but that of those you lead.

Not quite sure about this idea of mindfulness? Check out the Padraig blog Mind FULL or Mindful for ways you can be more present – and see the impact of mindfulness at work!

4. Cultivate Empathy and Compassion

Empathy is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” When leaders are able to utilize their emotional intelligence and develop empathic skills to understand their colleagues and team members, they can create meaningful professional relationships that provide a win-win for both parties.

The more a leader can relate to the decisions made by their employees, the better they can change their own actions to create high-value change.

5. Focus on Leadership as a Skill

Leadership isn’t simply one aspect of a job, it comprises a set of many skills that can be developed through effective emotional intelligence training and development.

Take the time to invest in leadership development exercises: Find books and courses dedicated to honing your leadership skills and watch your leadership capabilities increase.

6. Build Your Social Skills

When a leader is focused entirely on personal wellbeing and livelihood, they cannot connect with their team members on a level necessary to drive positive change in the workplace.

By building your emotional intelligence you will naturally increase your social skills, and with that you can better communicate with others while propelling your organization in a positive direction.

7. Self-Regulate for Positive Professional Development

Self-regulation is a powerful emotional intelligence tool for enhancing leadership capabilities. When you can redirect disruptive emotions and adapt to change easily, you can change your perspective and make level-headed decisions during stressful situations.

I recall one of my clients was faced with the difficult challenge of firing several long-term, dedicated staff due to unexpected budget cuts. To make it more difficult, he professionally disagreed with the decision, which put him in a very negative space.    

To help him redirect his emotions, I asked him, “What do you value from others in a difficult conversation”? He responded, “integrity, respect, and empathy.” Later he shared that it was in that moment that he voiced his values, where he realized he could remain true to them in the delivery of this task. He opened up emotionally, listened, and collaborated with his staff throughout the process. He has helped many of them move on to their next career and maintained many of those relationships.

8. Set Goals and Reflect on Them Regularly

Goals don’t necessarily have to be about breaking personal records or receiving a promotion. Sometimes, goals can simply focus on the outcomes of exciting changes that you want to make in how you perform as a leader. Goals allow you to find a new purpose, change your outlook, and redirect feelings of negativity.

There’s no better time than now to consider the professional goals you want to achieve this year to become a better leader. By enhancing your leadership capabilities through training, you can drive valuable change not only in your own life, but throughout your organization.

Coach’s Questions:

What steps are you going to take to increase your emotional intelligence? What’s holding you back from emotional intelligence workshops for you and your team? What are you reading to help you increase your own emotional intelligence?

 

Janice Gair, PCC, CPHR is the co-founder of EI Advantage, which is dedicated to helping leaders and teams explore their emotional intelligence and level-up their leadership skills.

 

 

It’s time for women leaders to bring out hidden powers

I recently had the privilege of hosting Day 1 of the 2018 Wisdom Mentoring Program, an event held by the Women’s Executive Network. Given carte blanche to develop a full leadership day, my intention was to provoke the attendees to realize how their leadership is critical in light of three massive and key cultural shifts changing our world.

The attendees were women who hold senior or executive positions in primarily male-dominated industries. Think: oil and gas, manufacturing, and international consulting firms.

These smart and outspoken leaders patiently indulged me in painting the picture of what’s underpinning the confluence of change that is happening now and expected to accelerate over the next two to five years. This will have an impact on not only our work, but also the ability of businesses to adapt and how we as a society choose to respond.

I’m talking about Industry 4.0, the intergenerational workplace, and #TimesUp.

Three key cultural shifts

If you don’t know much about these three key cultural shifts or perhaps haven’t even heard about them, I’ll help you out.

Industry 4.0 is the first shift, and this alone will change the world in ways we can’t even imagine. Think big data, artificial intelligence, and self-driving cars. Essentially, Industry 4.0 is the bridging of physical industrial assets and digital technologies in so-called cyber-physical systems. It’s already here; humans just aren’t ready for it.

We’ve been talking about the second key shift, the intergenerational workplace, for over ten years.  Now we have members of Generation Z filling positions. Millennials expect flexibility, diversity, and ethical business practices. Generation Z expects the same and more: mainly, a self-actualized workplace culture. The Gen Z employee wants regular feedback, access to all levels of the company, and to feel personally valued. This means instead of power situated top/down, they expect power that flows down, up, and across.

#TimesUp is the third significant phenomenon. For centuries women have been relegated to subservient positions. It’s taken women of the Hollywood machine to break the silence about inappropriate behaviour both men and women have always known exists. #TimesUp is the recognition that women will not tolerate inequality and harassment in any industry. This will have huge impacts on the ways we communicate and who sits in the C-Suite offices.

Time to bring out hidden powers

With these three key shifts on the table, I proposed it’s time for women leaders to bring out their “hidden powers.” I’m talking about the characteristics we have in spades but don’t necessarily bring to our work. The women attendees dug in and came up with lists of values, behaviours, and ways of being they don’t show up with at work.

I was met with myriad complaints of situations such as, “my male colleagues speak over me in meetings,” “I’m called aggressive if I stand up for myself,” and, “it’s so hard being the only female at the board table.”

I don’t doubt the challenges these women face. What I’m suggesting is to change how we, as women, show up. We may work in male-defined structures, but if we consider the three key cultural shifts in front of us, we have compelling reasons to change the book on leadership.

We’re moving into a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Businesses will embrace agility, speed of change will be the norm, and innovation and failure will be paramount. Employees will need to feel they matter and that their work has meaning.

Four themes emerged through the hidden powers discussion:

  • Empathy
  • Inclusion
  • Vulnerability
  • Resilience

Now, I’m not suggesting men don’t have these same qualities – they do!

In a recent HBR article, authors Tinsley and Ely pinpoint that it’s actually organizational structures, company practices, and patterns of interaction that position men and women differently, creating systematically different experiences for them.

In essence, we’ve created narratives over the years that reinforce gender stereotypes; the real explanation for any sex differences that exist in the workplace is context.

With three massive shifts in our midst, it’s time to let go of ancient directive management behaviours and bureaucratic structures where few hold the power. It’s critical to replace them with values and behaviours that support, not disenfranchise, people.  

Since the 1990s Daniel Goleman and others have been proselytizing Emotional Intelligence. The idea that we need leaders with self-awareness, empathy, and self-regulation has taken hold, and yet, it’s not enough.

For women in leadership positions, stepping up and promoting their hidden powers will generate learning for both genders. This can influence a shift in context, thinking, and behaviour from gender bias and stereotyping to one of inclusion and equality.

As we embark on the agile corporate landscape, we’ll need an antidote to the lightning speed, innovate/fail/adapt/change processes of cross-functional teams. We’ll need teams supported by senior leaders who are not only empathic, but who are vulnerable, support failures and successes, understand and support inclusivity, and create climates of resilience.

We may be heading into a future of artificial intelligence and robots, but as the women of the Wisdom Mentoring Program discovered, it will take very human actions and qualities to support people into this new era.

The Coach’s Questions

Where do you see evidence of the Industry 4.0, the intergenerational workplace, and #TimesUp shifts? What as yet hidden powers could you bring to your work? What’s required for your company’s leadership to meet these cultural changes in the workplace?

 

 

Eve Gaudet, PCC, is an executive coach with a passion for supporting others. She is known for her caring and direct style in working with her clients. She has been with Padraig since 2014 and also has her own firm, Eve of Change.

Tips to Stay Focused in an Office of Distractions

We’ve all been there: You get to work, ready to tackle that high priority task with the best of intentions to finish it. Then the phone starts to ring, you open your email and get sidelined by fires to extinguish, and then a colleague drops by with an issue that takes way longer than you want it to take. Throughout all this time you’re aware your cell phone is buzzing with the usual non-stop notifications and another team member is carrying on a very loud and raucous discussion nearby.

Before you know it, it’s lunch and you’ve barely started to dig into that project that was supposed to be your sole focus. Just when you’re about to start work on it, your boss needs to discuss something important. You finally stop to eat and take a moment to check social media and the next thing you know, you’ve been sucked into Facebook updates way longer than you should have.

Stay Focused

Staying focused is a challenge for many folks and small wonder! We live with constant distractions from technology and, often, coworkers (and that’s on the good days – bad days find us also trying to cope when everything goes wrong on top of all the typical interruptions!).

Human nature conspires against us, too, making it inherently difficult for us to ignore notifications from devices or avoid eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. Add in any level of ADD (I’m speaking from experience here folks) and it’s a hot mess.

One study on distraction showed that disruptions resulted in workers losing their place in a task and made them two to three times more prone to making errors than those not interrupted (not surprisingly, the longer the interruption, the higher the error rate).

How significant is the problem of distraction for office workers? A researcher with the University of California, Irvine, studied workplace distractions. According to Gloria Mark, today’s office workers typically have only 11 minutes between each interruption. Perhaps more concerning, Mark found it takes most people nearly 30 minutes to refocus properly after being interrupted.

What can you do?

Distractions can quickly derail efforts to get things you want accomplished, but there are ways you can stay focused despite the inevitable interruptions and other demands on your time.

Be clear with your goals

We’ve discussed before how many of us feel we’re living in a constant state of urgency. It’s crucial that we determine what is urgent versus what is important so that we spend our time focusing on the real priorities.

Setting clear and achievable goals is important – for ourselves, for our teams, and for the business. (If you missed them, check out our ultimate goal setting worksheet and how to set performance goals for your team).

That’s one step. The next is to stop distractions from getting in the way of actually meeting our goals.

I recommend you spend a bit of time to focus on your next work day before you leave the office. It is a simple step to add to your routine, but it makes the most of your time (especially Friday night so you’re ready for Monday morning!).

Simply take a few minutes to create a list of two to three primary tasks to accomplish when you return to work (this way you don’t have to refocus and remember what your priorities are the next work day – you’ll be ready to get started!).

This list should consist of a few key tasks that need your attention, not mammoth projects. These must be tasks (ie. parts of a bigger goal) that get you closer to your bigger goals and you need to be able to DO them, not be so daunted by them that you keep putting them off.

It may help to have your two to three big goals on a piece of paper posted near your computer or taped to your desktop – anywhere that you can see them each evening as you write the primary goals for your next work day. Just remember that your goals must get you toward the big, audacious goals (but not be, in themselves, big and audacious goals!).

Having a focus on a few priorities will help you tackle what is most important with a running start first thing, rather than react to all the inevitable distractions that will arise. Additionally, it is much more helpful to determine that you’re going to do X, Y, and Z by noon than to resolve to work hard all day. A concrete plan is far more effective than vague ideas.

Stop procrastinating

Have you ever found yourself facing the same task day after day because you really just dread starting it?

It can be satisfying to work through the easiest tasks first, but moving that dreaded task to the next day’s priority list, again and again, might leave you feeling as frustrated and ineffective as Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. The solution is to tackle the biggest or most difficult tasks first.

If you can focus on completing the hardest task first, it soon becomes routine. And let’s be honest: if we put off doing something we don’t want to do, isn’t it easy to take longer doing all the other things just to delay the inevitable?! Reversing the order and doing the hardest thing first may end up saving you a lot of time you’d otherwise waste (even subconsciously).

This kind of discipline will help you accomplish goals efficiently rather than just stay busy. When you’re not just starting tasks, but completing them, you’ll feel competent and successful – which will give you a boost in your step and makes facing the next loathsome task a little less daunting!

If you’re still not sold on starting with your most difficult tasks first, there are other reasons to leave the easier tasks till later. Just as our muscles can get overworked, our brains get tired. And just like physical exhaustion, mental fatigue will impact our ability to work effectively.

So if you start with the hardest task first, you’re going to have more energy and focus (which is helpful if you need concentration and creativity!) If you do other less demanding or time-intensive tasks first, you’ll end up doing the difficult task with less mental acuity.

Additionally, when you tackle the most difficult tasks first, you keep your priorities at the forefront of your day. Leave the easier work like responding to emails till later in the day.

That’s right: Do not start your workday by reading your email first. Why? Because email is a list of other people’s priorities. Remind yourself of that – OTHER PEOPLE’S priorities.

Instead, set aside time to go through your email after the key tasks for your day, or perhaps the most difficult tasks for the day, are accomplished. And don’t forget to check email at scheduled times so you are in control of your time, not constantly responding to others.

Be realistic (don’t plan more than you can accomplish)

When you have tasks to complete, be realistic about the amount of time you will require. Staying on track when you have deadlines to meet is crucial.

Set goals based on time – relatively short time periods where your goal is to simply stay focused, working on the single task at hand. At the end of the set time, take a set time for a break – and actually take the break. Walk around, have a snack, talk to a coworker (one who can afford the interruption, not someone on their own focused task!). Just keep an eye on the clock and get back to your next task on schedule.

I particularly like the Pomodoro Technique, which is as effective as it is deceptively simple. It is an easy method to learn and flips the paradigm so that you’re working with time instead of perpetually trying to beat the clock.

The Pomodoro Technique was invented roughly 30 years ago by Francesco Cirillo, a world-renowned expert on time management and organizational productivity, and it is used by millions of people around the world.

There are a few basic steps to follow:

Start with a task that you need to do. It can be huge and important or small but necessary – it doesn’t matter.

  1. Give yourself 25 minutes to focus one hundred percent on this task (set a timer and mitigate distractions – turn off your cell phone and other notifications and let calls go to voicemail).
  2. Work on this task for 25 minutes. If you think of another thing you have to do, just write it on a piece of paper so you can get to it after the 25 minutes is up (same with other interruptions – if a coworker needs you, ask to get back to them shortly).
  3. When the timer rings, that’s one Pomodoro done! Note on the paper that you’ve completed a 25-minute Pomodoro stretch and take 5 minutes for a break. Clear your head by getting a cup of coffee, stretching your legs, or taking two minutes to just meditate.
  4. Start the timer for another 25-minute Pomodoro round and give your complete focus to the task. After four Pomodoros, you’ve earned a bigger, 20-30 minute break.

 

What’s great about the Pomodoro Technique is that it helps you refine your concentration and focus, minimize distractions while you focus on your work, track how long it takes to accomplish certain things, and still make time to rest and renew yourself (without overdoing it and losing valuable work hours!).

Over time, using this technique will also help you estimate the time and effort you will require to complete tasks or achieve goals. It also helps you sustain momentum as you work on myriad tasks, avoiding burnout.

There are even several Pomodoro Apps available to help you manage your time using this technique.

Multi-tasking doesn’t work

Raise your hand if you’ve ever described yourself as an excellent multi-tasker on a curriculum vitae or in an interview – or asked for it to be included as something you require of a new hire, in a job posting. (All of us, I’ll wager?)

We’ve been lead to believe that multi-tasking is a great skill. It can be a skill, but like most things in life, only in moderation.

Science is showing us that there is a downside to multi-tasking (read Your Brain at Work by David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute). When we multi-task, we are distracted. This means increased errors (spelling, grammar, mathematically). We might also miss the nuance of things that we would otherwise notice and, not surprisingly, feel more frustrated and consequently be more temperamental.

We get used to multi-tasking, priding ourselves on being able to work while responding to people by text (maybe sneaking in a bit of Facebook or Twitter) and chatting with colleagues. And all the distraction can feel exhilarating, like we’re accomplishing more than average folks (oh, the efficiency!).

However, being focused on one task at a time, free of distractions, can greatly improve our performance. Limiting distractions in your work environment is transformational.

There are many different steps you can take to protect your work time from interruptions. Try turning off your cell phone and forwarding phone calls to voicemail while you work on a task for a 25-minute Pomodoro stretch.

Find an escape

If you have an intensive project that requires your complete focus, try booking a meeting or conference room away from the team members you are tempted to chat with or those coworkers who regularly interrupt you. And leave your cell phone at your desk!

Super noisy coworkers nearby and no meeting room available to you for escape? Try earphones and soft classical music or a White Noise app. Too loud? Try out a brown or pink noise generator.

Avoid keeping social media accounts open and disable notifications during your work hours. If you find the temptation too much, there are even apps or browser extensions designed to discourage visiting YouTube or other sites.

Even better, become mindful of when you are tempted to stop work and engage with things that distract you. Are you hungry or tired? Feeling bored or anxious? Knowing when you are tempted toward distraction will help you to avoid giving in (we all know “just a minute” with social media can gobble up an hour very quickly).

Keep the distractions you see as positive as a reward for meeting milestones – just be sure to stick to your break schedule or keep them to after hours.

Just like physical training, you need to intentionally practice mindfulness and paying attention to one task at a time. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at ignoring distractions of all kinds and focusing when you need to get work done.

 

Coach’s Questions:

What are your biggest distractions at work? What strategies will help you stay focused? If you could stick to those strategies, how would you benefit??

How to have a performance conversation (today)

We’ve talked before about how to turn difficult conversations into essential conversations. You know, the times when you should talk with someone about something but you just don’t want to get into the discussion because it could get ugly.

Unfortunately, staying quiet to avoid conflict or upset can backfire. Not only can things get worse, too often we’ll snap and react poorly when things are even messier.

At work, the difficult discussions many of us avoid or sidestep are related to performance issues with team members. It’s a common issue among our coaching clients, and it’s understandable.

It’s much nicer to talk about good things than to deliver bad news. There are times we might not want to hurt feelings or add to someone’s struggles. Or we know what we have to say could ignite outrage (and who needs more drama?!).

Many leaders hope team members will read between the lines, take cues from conversations or peers, or that issues will resolve themselves. Unfortunately, these soft approaches aren’t usually effective.

Almost always, it’s better to have those conversations before things have festered, blown up, or derailed. If we want things to change quickly, we need to tackle the issues directly.

Are you cringing a little at the thought of having this type of conversation and being completely truthful with the person? I want you to consider an effective performance conversation as an opportunity to change things. It might be that there are problems that can be addressed (and resolved!), or it might end up that you’ll both agree a different role would be beneficial (within or outside of the organization). There are countless possible outcomes and resolutions, but they’re only going to be explored if you initiate the process by facing what you would rather not talk about. Contrary to popular belief, no news is not always good news!

Having an essential conversation is the starting point for next steps, which is so much better for everyone than hoping the issues go away.

Here are some steps to alleviate your dread and help you have an effective performance conversation.

Take time to reflect and consider the situation objectively

While we don’t want you to avoid the difficult performance conversations, we also don’t advise you jump in without a bit of contemplation, for a few reasons:

You want to strike the right tone. You might be annoyed and frustrated – perhaps even angry – but you can’t storm in and expect what you have to say to be received well (and heard). Similarly, if you’re waffling and walk in smiling and ask brightly, “How’s it going?” then you’re not being honest and will either be met with suspicion or have to redirect the conversation.

You need to be very focused on the performance challenge, not the person. It’s too easy to lapse into, “you should” or “you’ve got to” and that will result in the person feeling defensive (which doesn’t help resolve anything). It’s more respectful to be honest and approach the conversation as an opportunity to ask about what’s happening that is causing the problem, because you want to help this team member be successful.

You need some very concrete facts and examples to share. Vague generalizations about what’s wrong (“Sam, you’ve got to step up your game!”) will not be productive. You need specific information about the issue, such as, “this report has not been filled out completely and the deadline for X has not been met.”

Use a problem-solving approach

It’s one thing to talk about problems, it’s another thing entirely to figure out the root causes. Preparing to talk about performance and gathering your facts before jumping into the conversation gives you time to consider possible barriers.

In my experience, when someone is having a performance issue it’s either related to motivation or ability. It’s rare that anyone sets out for work in the morning with the desire to be bad at their job. As team leaders, we may have ideas about the root causes, but it’s wise to consider we may not fully realize the challenges our team members are facing, or the things they misunderstood.

If you suspect motivation is causing performance issues, here are some points to ponder:

  • Is this team member disgruntled, generally unmotivated, or burned out? How you resolve these issues will vary, but understanding why someone is not a high performer is key to resolving things. Your response to someone who is angry or resentful and passive-aggressively not performing well will be different from that to someone who is bored or unchallenged and different again for someone who is overwhelmed.
  • Is it possible this team member feels unappreciated? Some of us are very motivated to work hard when there are rewards (either emotional – praise – or financial). Feeling recognized for past effort might jumpstart some hard work.
  • Are there consequences in place for poor performance? There are people who will push boundaries if they don’t feel there are consequences for missing deadlines or submitting substandard or incomplete work. You may need to have clearly set milestones and well-defined consequences for future work with your team so there aren’t loopholes.  If you have set deadlines in the past, have you upheld them? If not, having a conversation to be clear you are now going to (and then, doing so) may help a lot.

If your gut tells you that ability is having an impact on performance, here are some things to consider:

  • Does this team member have the required resources to achieve success? You need to honestly consider all aspects, from the timeline and budget to required supplies, technology, and human resources. You can address the need for additional supports (and also the need to come to you earlier to talk about this kind of barrier!).
  • Is it possible the work assigned is beyond this team member’s skill set and ability? This might be a time for a coach approach to leadership to help a normally high-performing team member stretch to meet a challenge. Or, it might be time for some mentoring and education.
  • Are you certain the performance isn’t arising out of some sort of miscommunication or misunderstanding? For example, if the deliverables, goals, or deadlines weren’t clearly defined, the result could appear to be poor performance when in reality the team member faced confusion. (Of course, it’s also possible the team member was confused and should have sought clarification!)
  • Is there some other hurdle that has had an impact on performance? Perhaps the team member is stalled, waiting for input from other stakeholders or clients. Sometimes there are issues with collaboration with other team members that could use some intervention.

Prepare for the essential conversation

Now that you’ve thought through the situation, it’s time to prepare for the actual conversation. We have an essential conversation toolkit that you can use to approach any tough topic with courage, compassion, and skill.

As you work through the steps of our model, your goal will be to strengthen the relationship with the team member and solve the problem.

What’s important is starting this essential conversation off the right way. For this reason, we focus on the opening statement. For this process, we’re going to:

  1. Name the issue – what is wrong and how long it’s been an issue (focus on the single most important issue to resolve)
  2. Give a specific example – without getting into the emotional response to the issue, give one factual example of the issue
  3. Describe the effects of the issue – explore how bad things are, how the issue is affecting you and others (and the results arising from it), and your emotional reaction to the impact of this
  4. Clarify what is at stake – what will likely happen if nothing changes, what’s at stake for you and others, and what is your emotional reaction to possible outcomes
  5. What is my contribution to this issue – have you contributed to the problem, could you have done or said anything sooner, or have you made assumptions about anything
  6. Describe the ideal outcome – consider the impact resolving this issue will have for you, for others, and for the team member as well as what your emotional response could be
  7. Invite the team member to respond – and (this is critical!) listen to understand with empathy

It’s important to note — planning out the seven steps above might take you 30 minutes but when delivering them in the conversation with the employee, they should take only 60-90 seconds!

Once you’ve done this pre-work, our toolkit has a contract page for you to complete. Here you’ll define actions that you will take (that’s right – you and not the team member!) and commit to yourself, a date.

Things we want you to consider include:

  • The most useful step you could take to move this issue toward resolution
  • Possible roadblocks and your strategy to get past them
  • Any other steps you could commit to take

We also cover how to avoid common errors people make when trying to have an essential conversation. (Check out our complete essential conversation toolkit here!)

The Coach’s Questions:

When have you avoided or put off performance conversations? Can you think of times your approach caused a performance conversation to sour? What do you think you’ll do differently with your next performance conversation (hint: it might be to use our toolkit to walk you through the whole thing?)

Why do leaders avoid the truth?

Most organizations will say they invest in their people, and that may be true. They pay for training, they offer benefits.

But paradoxically, how often do we as leaders avoid difficult conversations with poor performers until a “last straw” moment and we fire them? (Oops, so much for the investment in professional development!)

Sure, there are times when folks are not a fit for an organization. However, if someone isn’t growing into a role, has failed to demonstrate initiative and innovation, or perhaps exhibits some challenging behaviours, why do we avoid telling them?

Many of us are hard-wired to avoid conflict. It feels uncomfortable and awkward to tell someone they’re not doing well. We fear a bad reaction or a worsening of the situation (when you dread approaching someone, remember you can turn difficult conversations into essential conversations).

I’m a fan of open-ended questions and so I used to ask coaching clients, in this situation, “how did the employee react when you raised this with them?” But all too often I got a non-committal response or an honest, “well, I didn’t actually speak to them.” My, “why not?” was usually met with, “well, it should be obvious to them that I’m not happy.” Or, “I think I’ve made it clear without actually having to have a conversation about it.”

Here are a few of the reasons why it is crucial that we stop doing this:

There should be no surprise endings

No one should ever be shocked to be fired, but we’ve likely all witnessed times that someone was blindsided (or perhaps even experienced it personally).

As leaders, we ideally use performance conversations to examine the good, the bad, and (you guessed it!) the ugly. Having those frank and open discussions with your team members can be very uncomfortable, but they’re valuable and necessary. But it’s easier to be liked and to avoid confrontation or discomfort. Our workday is stressful enough without adding these difficult conversations to the mix. Right?

The problem is that if someone is being given a message between the lines, and they’re told they are doing, “okay” or “could” improve, they may pick up on your message. Some folks, on the other hand, would hear that as “you’re doing just fine.”

If someone is walking that thin line, they need to know it unequivocally. This is not a time to gloss over things or hope they’re reading between the lines! You may even need to adapt your communication style to avoid communication breakdown (so that the employee receives and understands your message in the same way you’re giving it!).

People may not appreciate hearing the truth in the moment, but knowing there are problems allows them to attempt to improve. It can be the catalyst for change, inspiring them to seek out mentors and earnestly pursue professional growth.

The fall-out is huge

If you fire someone when you’ve finally had it with them but haven’t had the difficult conversations with them previously it can be very demoralizing for the survivors left to keep things going.

Witnessing the firing of someone who had assumed all was well can destroy morale and trust in a workplace faster, and more completely, than almost anything else.

If there were relationships among team members and the terminated employee, they will feel terrible for their colleague who has been cut from the team. Losing someone they have built ties with can rattle the group dynamic as they process this unexpected turn of events.

Most importantly, when someone is fired without expecting it, folks start to wonder if they, too, are unaware of something they’re doing wrong or not well. They wonder if there is conflict you’re avoiding with them too. Even top performers start to wonder, “could I be next?” Not surprisingly, morale plummets and reactions will run from fear and anger to worry, anxiety, and stress. And you can guess, when that fear pervades a workplace, who will be the first to leave? The top performers.

The cost of re-training

There’s no question that dealing with a poor performer can be time consuming and exhausting, but remind yourself that hiring new staff can be worse! That doesn’t mean avoid firing people, rather what I’m trying to say is, be sure you’ve done everything else possible before letting them go.

When we don’t have the full-on truthful conversations we as leaders need to have, we are buying very short-term relief for long-term pain.

Is it possible that really trying to help a team member improve a poor performance could take less energy, time, and expense than finding and training a replacement? Even if the time and expense of guiding and coaching the poor performer, coaching them, correcting them, is the same as hiring someone new, it still avoids the fall-out of an unexpected firing and reinforces with others that you are committed to helping your staff succeed.

Don’t forget, too, the learning curve for any new hire has an impact on the efficiency of the entire team. Having to process the termination of one coworker (while possibly fearing their own job security could be tenuous!) while helping someone new learn the ropes can really slow things down.

Difficult conversations can reap benefits

One of the best reasons to have difficult feedback conversations is that they can bring out details that will help you understand how to better motivate or support the team member.

And sometimes, having a frank discussion might even help you reassign an employee to a role they’re more suited to. When this happens, the employee is happier and performs well and that has a ripple effect in the organization.

I know that having those tough conversations might be excruciating at first but like most things in life, they get easier with practice. And, one of the huge side benefits of getting better at them is that they up your value as a leader. Others, including your own boss, see you managing the tough situations, confronting the challenging conversations, and achieving great things even with poor performers. Becoming a role-model of leadership certainly won’t harm your own career, will it?

At Padraig, we call these conversations, “Essential Conversations” because they are just that. We’ve explored in detail how to have an Essential Conversation here.

 

Coach’s Questions:

Have you been that leader avoiding difficult (or essential) conversations? Can you think of training or mentoring success stories that have made a second chance worth it? Who on your team, right now, would benefit from you having an honest performance conversation with them? What could you gain by not avoiding the truth?

 

8 Ways to Get Motivated at Work

Some days it’s easy to be enthusiastic and excited about work, while other days it’s a struggle to stay focused, overcome writer’s block, or just find some joy as you juggle myriad demands.

There are different reasons for feeling unmotivated. Maybe you feel you aren’t challenged enough and boredom certainly snuffs out motivation. Some may be distracted or lack focus, while others are so overwhelmed with work or personal demands that it can feel impossible to find joy, let alone enthusiasm for the daily grind.

So what do you do when your get up and go has got up and left?

Here are eight ideas to help you get motivated about work:

1.Set up a to-do list and prioritize it. I know, it sounds simple! But rather than merely listing every task you need to complete, determine what is urgent versus what’s important. Too often we live in a constant state of urgency and it is easy to waste time on things that are actually not important or on urgent things that eclipse what is actually important in the grander scheme of things. Additionally, if you focus on the important things, you may even prevent them from becoming urgent. This is important because you can keep your focus on the big picture priorities that are full of purpose and meaning (and you won’t feel exhausted always dealing with urgent problems!

2. Ask for feedback. Seek the advice of your boss, coworkers, or other team members — and be specific (What am I doing well? What would you like to see change? Where would you like to see me grow?). When you know what is appreciated and where you can improve, you have some concrete information to help you determine what you should keep doing — and, more importantly, what you can do better.

3. Focus on what you control. We can only control what we do ourselves; we can’t control others. Carrying frustrations with other people is often a burden on our motivation. By keeping your focus on what you can do and what you have control over, you may feel less discouraged and able to accomplish what you need to do.

4. Reflect on your WHY. Knowing what you do and how to do it is helpful, but knowing your WHY helps you align yourself with purpose. This, in turn, can propel you to meet your goals and even inspire and motivate the people around you!

5. Build relationships with your colleagues. One of the programs we run is called The Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team and it is tremendously successful helping leadership teams become more effective. Not coincidentally, one thing that often shows up in their action plans is to “spend more time together” — not more time in meetings or strategizing, but just getting to know each other. It almost seems too basic or simplistic, doesn’t it? But through agreeing to grab a weekly coffee together, eating lunch together regularly, or going out after work for a quick visit every couple of weeks, the results are amazing. They always report phenomenal growth in trust and understanding — and thus motivation — when they make relationship building a priority.

6. Practise mindfulness. It may sound like a buzzword or some fad, but mindfulness truly builds self-awareness about what’s going on around you and how you react to it. It takes practice, but when you switch from mind FULL to mindful you’ll quickly notice it is easier to get motivated at work so you can manage your day and achieve success.

7. Keep a journal. Some folks find it easy to get into a groove of journaling daily; see if you can, too. Picking a dedicated time to journal — like the start or the end of your day — often works best. I’ll admit that I find this one hard to do, but when I’m actively engaged with journaling, the results skew toward amazing. I find I’m focused and I’m motivated. Hell, sometimes I’m charged up!

8. Actively seek growth. When was the last time you learned a completely new skill? Perhaps it’s time to take a course or upgrade some qualifications (and maybe your company will see this as an investment and pay for the training!). It may be personal growth that you need and booking yourself vacation time or enjoying time away from the office (no cell phone or email after hours!) might be exactly what you need to rejuvenate. Or it might be time to ask your boss for work that is a little bit more challenging. After all, a new opportunity can be very interesting, and there are times a lateral career move can be good for your career. Change can be daunting, but it can also be very exciting!

Feeling unmotivated every now and again is entirely normal, but it’s also temporary. If you try some of these strategies to get motivated at work, you’ll find ways to rediscover your purpose and rekindle your motivation.

The Coach’s Questions:

When do you feel unmotivated? What dampens your enthusiasm professionally? Which strategies do you think would help you get motivated at work?

 

How good leaders handle criticism

You can’t please everyone is a truism that is particularly important to leaders.  

Leading others in an organization practically by definition means having to make decisions where there is no obvious easy choice. Realistically, there is no choice that will make everyone happy.  

Part of the responsibility that comes with the benefits of being “the boss” is having to make those tough calls and being able to weather the fallout. Some team members will simmer quietly, expressing their upset and discontent behind closed doors and out of your earshot. Others may be much louder, even challenging you and your discussions.

Facing criticism or discontent can be challenging. As Norman Vincent Peale (the late author of The Power of Positive Thinking) said, “The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

I once worked for a boss who really liked to be liked.  

This boss was the kind of leader who really wanted to keep people happy with his decisions. It was terrible!

You see, we had a huge project with a lot riding on it and many different points of view. No matter what he did, someone criticized the decision. The more that happened, the fewer decisions he would make.

What if leaders are strategic about who they try to please?

Of course, there are some leaders who always base their decisions on who needs to be happy. They make a decision so a key client won’t criticize them, or so the union won’t, or so a board member won’t. Unfortunately, this means they’re not really making the tough decisions: the client is, or the union is, or the board member is — and often those folks don’t have the full picture that the leader has..  

By seeking to avoid criticism, they are abdicating their authority – and the responsibility – of making the right decisions on behalf of the organization.

How do good leaders make decisions?

Good leaders listen to the opinions of those other stakeholders. They consider multiple points of view, review facts and important information related to the issue, and then they implement the decision they believe will most benefit the organization.

And you see, this is the first key to handling criticism: If your focus is on making the right decision for the organization (not on making yourself look good, or making yourself popular), then it’s easier to confront the criticism head-on, and to debate the merits, without taking it personally.  

The more you try to please others, the more you’re making it personal – and the more you make it personal, the more the criticism interferes with your ability to lead. That’s a vicious circle that results in an indecisive leader who soon gets type-cast.

Once other team members recognize a leader can’t make a decision, you can bet there will be some who go around that leader.

So how do we deal with criticism and remain a rock solid leader?

First, don’t take it personally. That sounds a lot easier than it is, in practice, for many people. The key is to remind yourself, constantly, who or what you’re making the decision for. It should be the good of the organization and its business (products, services, clients, etcetera). Literally reminding yourself of this (silently repeating to yourself, “what is the right decision for the organization?” or something similar) will not only help you make your best decisions, it starts to remove the sting of criticism when you hear it.

Second, don’t react. At least, not immediately! Closely tied into the problem of taking criticism personally is leaders who get defensive quickly. Because they take what critics say personally, they react badly. If they took a minute to review the situation, evaluate the validity of the criticism, and consider how it relates to the big picture they might see it as accurate. The reality is that most criticism will have some truth to it (for example, this decision did affect that department badly…even though it was necessary for the larger organization, or it wasn’t the route that board member would have liked..even though it addressed the falling share price).

Evaluating criticism against the big picture – and how the decision did address the problem or opportunity for the good of the organization – will help you stay grounded in determining whether it was, indeed, a good decision. Note I didn’t say “the best decision,” or “the right decision.” That’s because sometimes there are multiple bad choices, and you have to pick one. Or there are times when there are a number of good choices, but for very different reasons – and you have to pick one.  Making a good decision (even if it turns out it’s not the very best decision!) is often better than missing the opportunity to make any decision at all.

Third, consider whether the criticism is an opportunity to learn. Perhaps you weren’t aware of something, or it’s entirely possible that you miscalculated or moved too quickly. None of us are perfect! Our decisions will not always be good ones – and considering the criticism helps us learn for the next situation, the next decision.  

Great leaders are great listeners – and criticism is an opportunity to listen. Remember, listening doesn’t mean you have to do anything other than genuinely listen and consider what is being said.  

I want you to remember one of the mantras we at Padraig constantly share (courtesy of author Stephen R. Covey): Most people don’t listen with the intention to understand, they listen with the intention to respond.  

Use criticism as an opportunity to listen to understand (it takes practice when you’re used to listening with the intent to reply!), and then decide whether it’s worth learning from. Sure, you’ll begin to learn that some folks are out to criticize you for all the wrong reasons, but some criticism will have merit and it might be constructive. When those around you have valid concerns and worthy feedback, hearing them and understanding them will make you stronger as a leader and will help them see themselves as helping you

The Coach’s Questions:

What criteria have you valued most when making tough decisions? When those decisions were criticized, how did you feel? How did you respond? What decisions are facing you now, and how will you manage them having read today’s blog?