3 Ways Managing Remotely Made Me A Better Leader

Managing people is hard enough, but try doing it remotely.

On a weekly basis I spend the bulk of my hours at work meeting 30 individuals via Zoom for 30 minute check-ins. During that time we cover a myriad of different metrics that rate their performance, but I choose to focus on 3 things solely:

1. Connecting – technology has widened the talent pool, but also breeds disconnection. Instead of being concerned about physical location as a barrier, I try to immerse myself in a session as if we were in the same room. Human connection is a powerful thing no matter where you are. Relationships are formed over time through trust regardless of distance. Working remotely can present challenges yet with empathy, active listening and genuine care the virtual gap can be closed. Think of having a conversation with a friend over coffee. The same principles of building a friendship apply here. Connection is the foundation for any working relationship to thrive.

2. Community – working from home sounds glorious until you look around and realize you’re alone. If employees can feel isolated in an office full of co-workers imagine how remote employees feel. The concept of a “virtual water cooler” has been talked about, but how do you make it happen? As a suggestion, Slack is a great place to start. The platform you choose isn’t as important as it’s function. In this case it’s to organically build relationships during personal time. Instead of gathering at the lunch table or local bar, it’s responding to someone’s question, comment, photo or video. It’s not something that can be forced, nor in some cases facilitated. It takes several people in the group to take initiative and put in the effort to communicate. In fact the best interactions are when the manager isn’t involved. The voluntary part of it makes it real.

3. Cultivate – the uniqueness of each member of the team makes the whole together special. Most managers try to control employees working remotely because they have trust issues. The problem is the more policies and procedures you enforce, the more anarchy is created. Trust is built via connecting so everything grows out of that. Don’t try to mold everyone to be the same, celebrate their differences. When each person brings their unique talents and strengths to the table, why would a manager quell them? A manager’s role is to bring out the best in each person by leveraging personal strengths. If you’re not developing people as a manager you’re crushing their spirit. It’s not enough to have the right people on the bus. Each person has to be on the right seat in order to reach the promise land. My job is to allow my team to shine by getting out of their way.

As a leader managing people remotely is challenging, but a true test of your abilities. Similar to organizing volunteers, when you are stripped of power, money and resources all you have is your relationships. My belief is if you can lead others remotely, you can lead any team anywhere. If you want to test your leadership capabilities manage people from a distance. You’ll be forced to give up control, ego and certainty…and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The Limitations Of Having A Growth Mindset

strong-brain

Do you have a growth mindset?

Having one isn’t good enough. In fact, I’d argue to say there are some limitations when it comes to this type of mindset.

The little engine that could(n’t).

I think I can. I think I can I think I can.

That little train did make it up the mountain, but then what? Believing you can is the foundation for any change, but that doesn’t equate to action. People are who they are. You can’t change that. Dating couples are told by therapists not to try and change their partner (because it’s not happening).

Poor listeners can learn how to actively listen, but they’ll always default to talking.

Micromanagers can be told to use empathy, but task accomplishment will always be most important.

Planners can be asked to be more spontaneous, but last minute changes will always frustrate them.

We are who we are. We can’t be anything we want to be; we can only be the best version of ourselves.

Talent is innate.

People can grow, but each person has different heights of potential.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, but if talented people work hard they perform better.

A talent is defined as something you have a natural affinity for. You and I are gifted in areas others aren’t. Once you identify your talents, they can be developed into strengths over time.

Talent is an advantage when used correctly widens the gap and separates us from the rest.

Focus on your strengths.

Less is more and when it comes to energy you should spend your time on what you can be great at.

With everything else ask for help or delegate to others.

There’s nothing wrong with learning new things, but if you have no passion for it, don’t align with the purpose or just aren’t good at it you’re wasting your time.

A growth mindset would say keep at it, but is that a good use of your time?

The best organizations have the right people in the right seat on the bus.

That means hiring specialists and letting them do work. Filling people’s plates with other tasks (outside of their talents) is diluting their strengths.

There’s nothing wrong with having a growth mindset, but when I hear people use that as a default response to everything challenging you’ve missed the point.

Attitude is crucial to everything we do, but at a deeper level self-awareness produces maximum results not having a growth mindset.

Why Coaching Trees Don’t Work

coach-k-phil-jackson

There’s a belief out there that leadership can be taught. Skills yes, but replicating no.

Take for instance two all-time basketball coaching greats: Phil Jackson & Mike Krzyzewski.

Both have disciples trained under them, yet given head coaching duties the success rate isn’t nearly as high. Why is that?

First of all, people can’t be scaled. You can have a mentor, but the goal of the mentee should never be to clone their model. Leadership is grounded in self-awareness so your style needs to be conducive to your personal strengths. You can’t be anything you want. You can only be the best version of you.

Second, there’s an art of leadership that is instinctual. Almost impossible to teach. Both Jackson and eventual Coach K successors have huge shoes to fill. Their replacements will be forever compared to their career success. Unfair as it is, each leader has to create their own legacy. Leaders are less focused on who came before them and more locked into where they want to go. As technology improves so does the sharpening of people skills. In sports the truly great coaches have a sound strategy, but what sets them apart is their ability to manage superstar egos. No book, online resource or manual can teach you that. You learn best through experience and since each individual is unique there’s no formula for optimal results.

Third, confidence in vision. Many would argue charisma, but that comes from a strong belief in self. The confidence in vision needs to be strong enough to take the team to a level even the leader hasn’t reached before. A leader’s vision should be bigger than themselves which further defends the idea of focusing on the future instead of looking back. Vision casting can be taught, but the size of the goal is directly tied to the confidence of the leader. Most successors aim to maintain past standards, but that’s peering in the rear view mirror. Beyond prior records, data and research, leaders must push on regardless of the struggle. That type of perseverance is a character trait developed over time.

Leadership development is real, but not as simple as following a set number of rules. Great coaches create a legacy that can’t be caught. Besides observing and having a deep appreciation for great leaders, it’s about identifying your greatest strengths and leveraging those on a daily basis for maximum results. Coaching trees don’t work because humans are too dynamic to be simplified down to a system. Train up leaders, but give them autonomy to spread their wings in the way they choose. That’s how a tree really blossoms.

 

How To Be A Storyteller During Your Next Interview

storybook

Applying for jobs sucks, but if you get to the interview process here’s a way to stand out:

Tell stories.

Since the beginning of time stories have always engaged us. During an interview, telling a story will calm your nerves while painting a memorable image in the mind of the interviewer.

In fact, if you can tell a story about a past experience accenting how you used personal strengths you’ve nailed it.

Past behavior questions tend to be the most accurate predictor of future prowess. It’s not 100%, but it’s proof you’ve done it before so you can do it again.

The easiest way to implement this strategy is planning ahead of time. Think of 3 stories that illustrate your strengths clearly and remember them. Most likely you’ll be asked a question like, “What are your strengths? or Why should we hire you?” Now it’s story time…

Interviews are perceived as intimidating, but similar to public speaking the only way to get better is through practice. You can easily simulate an interview by role playing. Anticipate the toughest questions ahead of time and you’ll be fine during the real thing.

Interviewing relies on self-awareness. Know your strengths and weaknesses and be able to communicate them clearly. For the question, “What is your biggest weakness?” always answer it in a positive way (otherwise you’ll shoot yourself in the foot). For example: “I’m impatient. I like to move at a fast pace. I care about efficiency because time is money. I like to push others to move with a sense of urgency.”

See what a did there? I took a potential weakness and flipped it into a strength.

Some interviewers play games, but most ask similar questions.

Do your research.

Practice.

And most of all…tell stories.

It makes you memorable.

What McDonalds Can Teach You About Failed Branding

ronald-mcdonald-sad

Have you seen the recent McDonald’s commercials featuring wholesome ingredients in family settings?

That’s a far cry from their previous campaign geared towards a “cool” hip-hop crowd…

Confusing. That’s what McDonald’s marketing is currently.

Apply that to your professional life. When you’re asked the question, “Why should we hire you?” in a job interview would you state what makes you unique or go with what’s trendy nowadays? (I hope you choose the former)

My point is when it comes to branding it’s important to know your identity.

Using McDonald’s as a bad example, they’ve flip-flopped on who they are trying to be and to whom they’re trying to be it to. Newsflash: people don’t buy McDonald’s products because of sustainable procedures, family values or the perception of being part of the “in-crowd.” It’s sole appeal is: it’s cheap, fast-food. I guarantee if they spent more money marketing their dollar menu, combo meals and sale items profits would rise quickly.

Trying to be the jack-of-all-trades results in being a master of none.

That’s why tools like the StrengthsFinder are helping in defining your identity (personal brand).

Your strengths determine your style which reveals your brand.

Don’t be afraid to niche yourself according to your speciality. People need to know who you are and what you do clearly.

If you communicate various descriptions it sounds confusing…and the problem is when someone is confused they will always say “no” to buying you.

Don’t be like McDonald’s. Be clear about you.

Let’s Start A Workplace Revolution Together

josh-allan-dykstra

Josh is a good friend I met for coffee over 6 years ago. We were both at different places then, but our similar views on leadership and work kept the conversation going. Since we connected both of us became authors and dads. Josh is someone I always bounce ideas off of because he’s such an insightful and bright human being. He’s always been supportive of me and I am a big fan of his. I hope you enjoy a peek into this thought leader’s mind:

1) You truly are a thought leader. What does that term mean to you & how does it influence your work?

To me, leadership (for anyone) is about one thing: doing something that’s worth following. To that end, I’m always trying to spread thoughts, ideas, and stories that help others envision a better future for work, and inspire them to come along on the journey. Right now, for the vast majority of people on the planet, work truly sucks. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have all the tools we need to fix this—it’s a desire and design problem, not a capability problem. I want us all to start believing we can create something better… because we can.

2) At the core of what you do lies in making organizations better. Explain your philosophy briefly.

Most of us optimize many different parts of our organizations: marketing, finance, operations, etc. What we typically don’t maximize as a business driver is our culture—the human size of our business. What I mean is, every person in your company has a choice at every moment: will they bring their best self to their work, or will it be something less than their peak performance? We create organizations where people choose peak performance as often as possible, improving results across the board.

3) When we first met, we were both “kidless,” but now as a parent how has that affected the way you view/do work?

Being a dad has made me acutely more aware of the opportunity cost of my time and the finite-ness of my energy. I’ve always had some vague understanding that choosing one thing makes something else impossible, but that notion is now technicolor. And, at the same time as we added kids to our family, I’ve also added more colleagues to my company. Both changes are amazing… and also extraordinarily challenging. I’m doing my best to leverage the benefits of both these things: learning to continually do the things that are the highest and best use of my time at work and to find partners on my team to help make all the other stuff happen, in order to maximize the time I get with my kids. It’s remarkably difficult, but I’m slowly getting better!

4) You recently picked up and moved to a new state, what has that transition to a new “home” been like?

We recently moved to Denver after being in Los Angeles for a decade. We’ve been here now for about 6 months, and I’m afraid I’d be lying if I said we were somehow “settled!” My job has changed very little—in fact, that part of my life has mostly been made better as I’m now closer to a better airport—but the rest of life was completely uprooted, of course. Starting over isn’t easy for anyone, far as I can tell (and moving to a cold climate in the middle of the winter was just a serious bummer), but I will say that the wonderful folks of Colorado have been very kind to us. I’m extremely optimistic that this will be an excellent home for us and our kiddos!

5) You and I are strong advocates of leveraging personal strengths, tell my readers about the Strengthscope and how it can benefit them and their companies!

Let me put this as simply as I can: if your organization doesn’t have a strengths-based culture, you are simply NOT getting peak performance out of your people. Period. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last decade: humans are physically incapable of producing sustained excellence if we’re not utilizing our strengths in our work. My consulting group utilizes an assessment called Strengthscope® to jumpstart these conversations and help people re-orient their mindsets towards a path that’s far more productive and positive! We love it.

Identifying Your One Thing

One-thing

Several years ago when I worked as a Youth Pastor I came across a book called The 1 Thing: What everyone craves – that your church can deliver.

It was a good, not great book, but the message was simple: build relationships. In the context of “church” it’s a crystal-clear way to set your mission.

Here’s how it applies to you: what do you do best? What is your 1 thing?

If you don’t know, keep reading…

As a huge supporter and user of the StrengthsFinder assessment, I believe everyone should live/function out of their strengths. This particular test reveals your Top 5 strengths and how to use them in your personal and professional life. It’s a great application tool towards becoming the best version of yourself, but I’d like to challenge you to take it a step further.

My Top 5 results from the StrengthsFinder are: Relator, Individualization, Maximizer, Arranger & Strategic. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the terminology, the reason I’m using this example is from these 5 themes, my most marketable talent is: efficiency (Maximizer).

I’m obsessed with efficiency. I plan out everything (even though it rarely plays out the way I envision it). I care about “flow,” punctuality and running ahead of schedule. I apply this strength to the one thing I do best: lead Millennials (that’s why my blog is called Maximizing the Millennial).

The point of my example isn’t to bring attention to myself. It’s to show you narrowing your brand down to one thing is powerful.

People do contact me about career coaching, but I don’t proactively market it. I have other skill sets and interests that excite me, but I don’t focus on them. Customers want to know the one thing you do and how you do it the best. That’s why they hire you.

Job descriptions desire generalists, but within those multitude of tasks they still want to know your speciality. Not only will identifying your 1 thing help you answer the dreaded interview question, “what are your strengths?” It defines your brand.

You can’t be anything you want to be, you can only be the best version of you (2.0). So what’s your 1 thing?

An Invitation To The Freelance Party

freelancers

Freelancers, also known as the gig economy, are rapidly becoming the norm.

Millennials are leading the charge and companies such as Uber, Postmates and Google Express are thriving.

The benefits of freelancing are: flexibility, control and convenience.

The cons are: lack of a steady paycheck, no benefits and minor predictability.

Some call it a side hustle, but with pensions/retirement disappearing faster than Google+, the reality is everyone should freelance at something.

Freelancing is essentially selling yourself. News flash: college/degrees don’t prepare you for the real world, so figure out your strengths and start getting paid for them.

Millionaires typically have 7 streams of income. If that isn’t motivation to get started, I can’t help you. It proves the theory of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Think of it in money management terms: diversify your portfolio.

Job hopping was made famous by Millennials, but you can’t blame them. No one will build your security net for you. My advice is: if you’re not looking for the next best role, you’re susceptible. You don’t have to start a new company, but you should be strategizing how to monetize your skills/hobbies.

Freelancing isn’t the next best thing. It’s a party you should be at and you don’t need an invitation to attend.

How To Sell Yourself

Selling-Yourself

Face it. Selling is hard. If it were easy, we’d all be rich.

You may sell products or services during the course of your career, but what everyone sells is: themselves. After selling services for a while and now transitioning to a physical product (a bit easier), one lesson I’ve learned is: in order to be successful in sales, you have to be confident with what you’re selling.

As a relational person, I prefer to connect vs. sell. If you listen close enough in a conversation, you can identify a pain point. If you can relate to it, trust is gained much more rapidly.

A practical example is on a job interview. Your resume may qualify you for an interview, but what you say and how you say it will validate if you have a chance moving forward. Most people get nervous before interviews and that’s normal, but what you don’t want to do is be unprepared or panic. Think about your body language, tone and message you are communicating. Are you being authentic or trying to be someone you’re not?

As a career coach, the advice I give is: understand your strengths, know how you add value to the organization and be yourself. It’s difficult to know exactly what an employer is really looking for, so instead of worrying what they’ll think of your answers, focus on where you fit in.

Leaders are self-aware about their weaknesses and strengths. Not everyone is meant to lead others, but you should be able to lead yourself. One goal I set with every networking opportunity is to try and get the other person to like me. You’d be surprised how much people brag and show off just to look good, but the person on the other end leaves disgusted.

Life is a game of who you know. The less you worry about being the smartest, the better. In fact, too much knowledge can come off as intimidating or arrogant.

Selling yourself comes down to: interests, passions and values. Connect on one of those points and your chances increase dramatically.

Would you buy what you’re selling?