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Flashlight wisdom: Get it done one step at a time

Posted by on Apr 19, 2015 in Management, Performance

When is it easy to run uphill? When you can’t see the hill.

I learned this lesson as a runner — but I’ve used it the most in my work life, whenever I take on big projects. Perhaps you can put it to work too.

Several years ago, I started running with a few other early risers. We’d hit the wooded trail before sunup, using flashlights and headlamps to show the way.

We did our running in the aptly named Highbanks Metropark, where the glacier-shaped terrain goes up and down.

I had run these trails many times before, but in daylight. They always wore me out.

Darkness changed all that. The hills seemed flatter. I felt stronger. And I’d finish my runs with more energy and a greater sense of accomplishment.

What was happening? With the flashlight beam reaching just 10 feet ahead, I couldn’t see those upcoming inclines. So I wasn’t experiencing the hill-induced anxiety that can wear on mind and body. Everything seemed easier.

It can happen at work as well – wherever there are big projects or looming deadlines or anything that involves a steep climb.

If you stare too far ahead, fixating on the full challenge in all its enormity, it can seem overwhelming. Intimidating. Exhausting.

So try some self-imposed darkness. Focus solely on the next few steps. Get those done. Look to what’s next. Take more steps. Repeat.

You’ll need a project plan of some sort. Think of the on-paper plan as your trail map, and the steps themselves as your trail.

Then get going and keep going, one step after another.

The actual flashlight is optional.


By Tom Terez • Contact

Sherlock knows: Communication isn’t the problem

Posted by on Apr 9, 2015 in Communication, Teamwork

Ask people in any workplace where there’s big room for improvement, and nearly all of them will point to problematic communication.

  • We don’t communicate well.
  • Leadership nevers tells us anything.
  • If people would communicate, we’d be a better team.

The fact is, communication breakdowns (real or perceived) aren’t problems in themselves — they’re symptoms of problems. It’s an important distinction. If you’re going to effect real improvement, you need to get to the root of what’s really going on.

So the next time you hear that “there’s not enough communication around here,” put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and begin to ask questions. “When you say communication, what exactly do you mean?” “In what way is communication breaking down?” “Why is this happening?”

Just be ready for the answers, because you might hear some heavy stuff.

  • When I ask the same question to two managers, I get two conflicting answers.
  • Our workplace is divided by status, and I feel like a second-class citizen.
  • My job is seen by management as being unimportant.
  • People don’t value my opinion.
  • Management is trying to hide something.
  • There’s a serious lack of trust in our workplace.

It’s not easy being a Sherlock Holmes type who tries to decode what’s being said when people talk on the surface about “communication problems.” But meaningful improvement depends on it.


By Tom Terez • Contact

Want more trust at work? Then make it visible

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 in Management, Teamwork

Trust can’t be seen, heard, or touched. It can’t be booted up or turned on. It can’t be crisply measured or defined.

Yet trust is the foundation of good dialogue, great teamwork, and true community in the workplace. It’s that important.

So how do you turn this elusive intangible into an everyday reality? By making it visible. Here are four practical actions:

Talk about it
Words have their own creative power — to such a degree that what we talk about is often what we become. So start a conversation about trust with your colleagues. Try to make this an ongoing dialogue that keeps trust on everyone’s radar. You might have to wait for the right opening to get people talking. For instance, the start of a new team project can be the perfect springboard for dialogue. Have team members describe what strong trust would look like, then brainstorm specific ways to make it happen.

Go for it
Back up your words with action. Take a leap of faith and show greater trust in more people, even if you have to grit your teeth while doing it. Delegate that task you’ve been holding onto for years. Ask for help from that co-worker you’ve been keeping at arm’s length. Hand out that data you’ve been keeping so close to the vest. Push for a wider sharing of decision-making responsibility. Encourage people to pursue and develop their own ideas. As you show greater trust, you’ll get more in return while inspiring others to follow your lead.

Assess it
Make a point of evaluating the extent of trust in your workplace. Do this with colleagues on a regular basis. If you have a monthly meeting, for example, make it a 10-minute item on the agenda. One approach is to have people share recent examples of trust in action. Simple storytelling is a great way to make trust visible while figuring out what works when it come to building trust in the workplace.

Reinforce it
Underscore the importance of trust and trust-building by writing it into job descriptions, performance evaluations, team evaluations, values statements, and elsewhere. Include it in criteria for making hiring and promotion decisions. Make it the focus of specific questions in employee surveys. Added up, all these references remind people that trust is integral to their success as individuals and to the overall success of the organization.

Are you ready to go from benchwarmer to champion?

Posted by on Jan 13, 2015 in Career, Leadership, Self-Improvement

Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Cardale Jones of Ohio State University

If you’ve ever felt like a third-stringer who’s stuck on the bench, Cardale Jones has news for you. You just might be one opportunity away from super success.

Jones started the football season warming the bench as third-string quarterback for Ohio State University. Then the first-string QB suffered an injury (before the first game), and so did the backup (during the last game). Jones got the starting nod for the first post-season game.

He seized the opportunity, leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to a 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin (to win the Big Ten Championship). Then he QBed the team to a 42-35 win over Alabama (in the Sugar Bowl). Then he made it three-for-three with a 42-20 win over Oregon (to put Ohio State on top as the national champion).

Let’s pause to review what happened in that championship game: The team that was led by a third-string quarterback with two career starts beat the team that was led by a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback with 40 career starts.

It’s a tremendous story about football in general and Cardale Jones in particular. But it’s also a story about life — and about people like you and me.

We’ve all been in situations where we feel like we’re stuck on the bench.

It can happen in our careers (“They didn’t call me back for a second interview”), on the job (“I’m never picked to lead the big projects”), in our pursuits beyond work (“The book agent said my manuscript was good but not good enough”), in our attitudes (“I’m always falling short”), and in so many other areas.

The key is to keep thinking and acting like a first-string champion, whatever the current circumstances. Because you never know when you’ll get your breakthrough opportunity.

Cardale Jones took practice seriously. He knew the playbook inside out. He was fully prepared when the coach called his name. It paid off big when he stepped up against Wisconsin. And it paid off even bigger against Alabama and Oregon.

If Jones had operated with a mopey third-fiddle mentality during the first three months of the season, there’s no way OSU would’ve won.

So stand tall. Believe in yourself. Know your playbook. Upgrade from working hard to working harder.

You’ll be ready to win when opportunity calls your name.


By Tom Terez • Contact

You know your meetings are terrible, so try this

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Communication, Management, Teamwork

Because they’re so frequent and time-consuming, meetings are a huge opportunity for improvement. A few smart changes can produce fewer sessions that get more done in less time.

1. Clarify why you’re meeting — or don’t have the meeting. It’s amazing how many meetings are held for no good reason. The biggest culprits are those “same day, same time” sessions that people carve into their calendars. Before every meeting, define the purpose and identify at least one intended outcome. If nothing comes to the surface, expect more nothing during the session.

2. Stay focused yet flexible. There are times in meetings when digressions are worthwhile and when certain issues should move up in priority. It’s a judgment call every time, but be ready and willing to divert from that carefully crafted agenda.

3. Redefine how you “lead” meetings. When six people are around a meeting table, it’s like having six supercomputers. In fact, people are better because they also have emotional intelligence. Instead of “leading” the meeting in traditional power-seat fashion, facilitate the session. Instead of making statements, ask questions. Instead of raising objections, ask more questions.

4. Be your own constructive coach. Are you talking too much? Are you holding back? Are you listening to understand, or are you simply gathering enough info to frame your counterpoint? What would you say about you if you were sitting in the meeting with yourself? If you can’t be objective or honest with these questions, ask a friend who attends the same meetings.

5. Shake up the meeting space. When meetings are held in the same place over and over, with the same people taking the same chairs around the same table, it’s no wonder we recycle our conversations and get the same stale results. So get moving. Take the meeting to a different room or an outdoor patio or a nearby restaurant or anywhere new. If you’re stuck with the room, ditch the table or vary who sits where.

6. Uncover ways to make the next meeting better. At the end of every meeting, take a minute to check how things went. Have people cite what went well during the session, what could’ve gone better, and what should be done differently the next time around. Commit to one or two improvements.