Archives for August 2012

Three questions that create more effective decisions

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Today is August 27, 2012 and today I want to talk to you about making more effective decisions.

If you want to make better and more effective decisions there are two steps you have to follow in order to do so.

Step number 1: Practice the three-minute rule. If you want to make more effective decisions the first thing you have to do is create white space in your decision-making process. What I mean by that is that you need to allocate three-minutes to clarify the key aspects of your decision. By allocating three minutes to clarify what a successful decision looks like for you your decision-making effectiveness will go up by one third.

Step number 2: Within your three-minutes answer the following three questions. What are the must haves, nice to haves and risks.

Must haves are the absolutely essential and non-negotiable aspects any alternative must have in order to be viable. For example, is it essential that I have a manual transmission in my car? Is it essential for me to have a sunroof or a six CD changer? Whatever I list here screens out all of the options that don’t have my must haves.

The second question is what are the nice to haves? What features, items, traits or characteristics do I think would be nice to have but are not essential. A folding rear seat may be nice for my car but is not essential.

The third question is what are the risks associated with this decision. What is the probability of the risk happening, and if so, how detrimental would it be if it does happen. For example, If I don’t elect to have the folding rear seats and want to transport my dog to the boarding kennel, what are the risks that I will only have the four door sedan at my disposal as opposed to our SUV? How frequently will that happen? And if it does, how severe of an issue will that be?

With all decisions there is a reality that needs to be considered. You will be 100% accountable for every decision you make. It is also true that you will never have enough information to make the right decision. There will always be new information that becomes available after you’ve made a decision, and your job then is to be flexible and nimble enough to respond appropriately.

So when you have 75 or 80% clarity on a decision – pull the trigger and go. The time you spend on getting the remaining 10 or 15% will not result in a quantitatively or qualitatively better decision.

Here are three questions for your consideration:

1. Is there a decision I have been putting off?

2. On a scale of 1 to 10 with one being low and 10 being high, how clear are you about the must haves, nice to haves and risks?

3. Have you devoted quality time to making this decision or have you been trying to sandwich it in in between other priorities?

4. Are you seeking a progressively better decision or are you seeking perfection?

5. Do all parties involved in the decision agree as to the must haves, nice to haves and risks? If not, see the previous Monday Morning Minute here.

If you want to enhance you decision making effectiveness individually or with your team, call and ask Hugh about his consulting and coaching programs.

The two types of influence every leader must master

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Today is August 20, 2012 and today I want to talk to you about two types of influence and how you can be more productive using the appropriate style of influence at the appropriate time.

The first type of influence is called Expressive Influence. This style of influence is best seen as expressing facts, data, opinions or perspectives. You are conveying information and working to convince another person as to your point of view.

The second type of influence is called Receptive Influence. This type of influence is best seen as listening to understand and learning as much as possible about the other person. You are in an information-gathering mode as opposed to an information presentation mode.

KEY POINT: You have to be as good with expressive influence as you are with receptive influence in order to be effective.

Here are my two suggestions about how you can have a more effective week:

Suggesiton number 1: Recognize which style of influence is your preferred style? Do you prefer to convey information and convince people of your point of view first and then respond based on their response? Or, do you listen to understand the other person and learn as much as you can about them before conveying your point of view?

Suggestion number 2: Learn to identify a person’s preferred influence style and communicate with them based on their preference not yours. Think of preferred communication style as a foreign language – and in order to influence others you have to first communicate with them in their native tongue.

If you learn how to recognize when someone wants you to talk less and listen more, or when they want you to stop listening and start talking you will be significantly more effective when it comes to influencing others.

Here are three questions for your consideration:

1.Can you think of a situation where you used the wrong form of influence? What were the consequences?

2.Can you think of a situation where someone used the wrong form of influence with you? What were the consequences of them doing so? How do you view that person today?

3.On a scale of 1 to 10 with one being low and 10 being high, how practiced are you at recognizing people’s preferred influencing style?

If you want to enhance you ability to positively influence key decision makers, call and ask Hugh about his Executive Presence consulting and coaching programs.

Asking The Right Question

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One of the best ways to build trust, respect and the credibility associated with that of a strategic advisor is to ask the right question.

What is the right question? The right question is any question that leaves your customer, client, employee and or boss saying “I never thought of that before” or, “Really! That’s possible?”

When you ask the right question it changes the dynamics of an interaction fundamentally for the better. Right questions are typically followed by someone sharing information you would never have expected them to share with you – they do so because they see you as someone who is trustworthy and is a valuable resource.

Asking trite, overused and pedestrian questions leaves others with the impression that you are either not informed or that you aren’t interested in taking the time to think about them or their situation completely. Why would I spend time with someone I think is uninformed or disinterested in my priorities? I won’t!

One of the questions I love to ask is … “What would need to happen in this meeting or during this call for you to say “Wow, this was a great use of my time?

I’ve used a variation of this questions with my wife on our anniversary. I’ve asked “Honey, what would I need to do or be over the next year for you to say “WOW, I love being married to you?” It takes courage to ask this question, but for me it is one of the most important questions I can ask my wife about her individually, us as a couple, and the quality of our marriage.

If you are in a business development role or a role that involves getting people to commit their best effort, asking provocative and engaging questions is essential. My very best clients are always striving to better understand what is important to others and how they can provide the maximum value possible.

If you want to transform the interactions you have with key constituents don’t strive for the best answer possible. Strive to ask the best question possible. When you do you will frame the problem in a way that leaves people saying “I never thought of that.” Then and only then should you start talking about the right solution. You can learn more about my process of positive influence here.

What are your right questions?

Monday Morning Minute 08-13-2012

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Today is August 13, 2012 and today I want to talk to you about having positive influence.

If you want to positively influence a co-worker, family member, boss, or someone who can help or hurt your project or career, there are three important steps you have to follow.

Step number 1: Build strong relationships with the person you want to influence. A strong relationship from this perspective is one that is characterized by trust, respect and credibility.

Step #2: Get crystal clear as to what the priorities are of the person you’re trying to influence. What are their goals, objectives and or strategic initiatives? Why are they important to them? Before you ever try and influence anyone, get crystal clear about what they value and need to achieve.

Step #3: Bring solutions that help them achieve number two. If you follow step number one with step number two and then step number three, you will be seen as someone who is a strategic thinker / partner / advisor and will be sought out because of your wise council.

KEY POINT: If you bypass step number 1 and 2 and go directly to step number 3 you’ll be seen as a sales person and or someone who is simply peddling an idea. If that is the case, your level of positive influence is appreciably lower.

Here are five questions for your consideration:

1. Who is the one individual I want to have the most influence with over the next thirty, sixty or ninety days?

2. On a scale of 1 to 10 with one being low and 10 being high, how would I rate the level of trust, respect and credibility I have with the this person? If you rated yourself a seven or below, be advised that this is not a high level of trust, respect and or credibility.

3. How crystal clear am I about their goals, priorities and objectives? Would they agree with my assessment?

4. Are my solutions directly capable of helping them achieve their objectives? Would the other person agree with your assessment?

5. Does the other person perceive me as a strategic partner or advisor, or am I seen as someone who is peddling an idea?

If you want to enhance you ability to positively influence key decision makers, call and ask Hugh about his Executive Presence consulting and coaching programs.

What were you thinking?

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When I hear the words “what were you thinking” I hear a parental or disapproving tone of voice. I do so because when I was in fifth grade I was asked to write a Valentines Day card to my teacher. Actually, I wasn’t asked -I was forced to write a card to my teacher. While all children are asked to do things they don’t want to do, the problem I faced was that I didn’t like my teacher; as a matter of fact, I detested her and found her to be evil, wicked, bad and nasty.

Not surprisingly, the card I sent did not invoke the spirit of Saint Valentine, but rather expressed my disrespect and disapproval of her as a teacher. While I thought my card with the poem “Roses are red, violets are blue, God made me pretty what happened to you” was funny and witty. it was far from it. I was rude and offensive. And rightly so, my parents asked me “what were you thinking.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was thinking is that my parents made a stupid mistake in immigrating to Birmingham, Alabama in 1968, and that they were responsible for making my life miserable. In hindsight the real issue was not my teacher but the enormously difficult time I was had navigating the tenuous race relations and school integration issues of Birmingham in 1968.

I arrived in Birmingham four years after the bombing of the 15th Avenue Baptist Church and fours years after Bull Conner had taken fire hoses to protestors on the streets of downtown Birmingham. As a nine year old I couldn’t wrap my arms around why a white kid from Scotland would be welcomed with open arms and the African American kids would be shunned and insulted. It was an unsettling culture shock to say the least.

As an adult the words “what were you thinking?” have taken on a whole new more positive meaning. This simple four-word question can be, if viewed correctly, a catalyst for achieving something truly extraordinary. Here’s what I mean.

As I write this we are in day thirteen of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Watching the games leaves me marveling at the speed, power, grace and accomplishment of athletes from all over the world. The athletes who come in first and those who come in last are equally inspiring to me. No matter how they finish the race these athletes are the best in the world otherwise they wouldn’t be in London.

What’s not commonly known about athletic performance is that the performance seen physically is ninety percent mental. That’s right…90%. Coaches and sport psychologists believe that talent is commonplace – what isn’t commonplace is the mental focus, drive and discipline to tolerate massive amounts of pain and discomfort in the pursuit of something extraordinary.

In order to achieve stellar performance both in the field of sport and in everyday life, individuals have to ask the question “what was I thinking?” Asking this question with curiosity and courage allows for all of the small, sometimes-micro decisions made to be seen clearly and in relationship to performance.

Peak performance is directly linked to peak thinking. If while running a race you have thoughts about “not blowing the race” you can’t perform at your best. Anytime you find yourself focusing on external factors out of our control you are incapable of thinking about executing flawlessly with power and confidence. In essence you’ll not think about winning – you’ll be thinking about not losing. This is one aspect of what is called Twisted Thinking.

The ability to focus and to elicit a state of unshakable confidence is essential for achieving the extraordinary. This holds true in the world of work as well in sport. For an employee to perform at their highest level they need to master the technical skills of their work as well as the mental skills of performing at the highest level possible.

How do you do that? Here are ten questions that when asked with curiosity and courage allow employees and athletes to enhance their performance significantly.

1. What event do you remember performing at your best? What event do you remember performing well below your potential?
2. If you view each event separately, what were you thinking about one hour before starting the event?
3. At the moment you actually started, what were you thinking about? Is it different than your answer to question two?
4. How did you feel when you started to do this event activity?
5. How did you feel while doing this event?
6. Did you ever feel as though you were getting off track? If yes, what did you say to yourself about getting off track?
7. If you did get off track, what did you do to get back on track?
8. At the end of the event, how did you summarize your performance – how did you explain your performance?
9. What’s one insight you gleaned from asking these questions? What’s the impact of this insight?
10. What will you implement based on your insight and its impact?

The vast majority of people don’t take the time to reflect on their performance in a meaningful and focused way. For some it’s because they are caught on the ever-accelerating treadmill of to-do list management, and for others it’s because they never learned a process for pulling apart performance and associating their thinking with their performance. And for others they are afraid of becoming extraordinary at something.

No matter what you aspire to be, have and or do, asking “what are you thinking” is an essential question for achieving the extraordinary.

Monday Morning Minute 08-06-2012

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Executive Presence: Seven Steps to Securing a Seat at The Executive Decision Making Table

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One of my clients, Dr. Timothy Chester, is CIO at the University of Georgia and wrote an interesting blog post on his blog The Accidental CIO He recounted a conversation he had with the Director of Human Resources at Texas A & M University and how frustrating it was to talk with the IT director managing the University’s payroll system. What human resources wanted was clear and authoritative data about employees. What human resources got when they asked about what some of the data meant was the response, “what do you want the data to mean?”

There are two ways to view this conversation. The first is through the prism of the technical aspect of the conversation and how accurate and authoritative information is essential in making the best decision possible. The second prism is the people/relationship/influencing prism and how imperative it is that IT professionals learn how to provide significant value to their end users by doing one simple thing: help people be successful by enabling them to make the best decisions possible.

Over the last fifteen years I’ve worked with hundreds of technically brilliant and well-intended professionals who are more accomplished at leaving their lesser technically inclined constituents frustrated rather than empowered. While they understand the technical aspects of their work, they seem detached from the people and relationship side of their work and in turn lack credibility and influence.

Let me not mince words – IT, finance, engineering, accounting and or legal professionals must become exceptionally good at the people side of their work as well as the technical side of their work. If they don’t, they will not have a seat at the executive decision making table and will be relegated to being seen as a cost center to be minimized rather than a profit center to be maximized.

How can you secure a seat at the executive decision making table? How can you communicate more effectively, enhance your brand and reputation, and be seen as a strategic value creator? Here are seven influencing strategies you can use to enhance your executive presence.

1. Speak the other persons language:
This is the basic blocking and tackling required of all professionals. How does the person you’re working with prefer you to communicate with them? Do they prefer you provide lots of data with a historical perspective? Or, do they prefer you to get to the bottom line and give them an executive summary? Do they want you to ask them questions and involve them in a conversation? Or, do they want you to tell them what to do and just get things done? If you use the wrong language with a key decision maker you’ll frustrate them, lose credibility and waste time and energy.

2. Focus on their self-interests not yours:
Every person you interact with has an unspoken list of self-interests that influence their behavior. Some people are influenced by accuracy and perfection and others are interested in consensus and including all of the right people. The more you allow people to fulfill self-interests and work from their strengths the more positive influence you will have.

3. Drop the technobabble:
Stop using acronyms. Acronyms are really helpful in providing a short cut for communicating within certain groups or teams. However, when you use a technical acronym a client, customer, or leader doesn’t know or understand you create a division between you and the other person; a division that erodes trust and respect. If you want to build resonance and communicate credibly stop using technical jargon and talk in terms the other person understands. As Bob Newhart said in his famous skit “Stop it.”

4. Think, act and talk like a trusted business advisor:
Being trustworthy is the root of all successful personal and professional relationships. To be thought of as a trusted business leader means you have insight, experience and perspectives that are valuable to another person. To build trust with a decision maker requires that you listen to understand rather than listen to respond. If you listen to understand you will leave others heard and understood in powerful ways. Once someone feels heard they are significantly more receptive to listening to your recommendations and trusting what you have to say.

5. Know their driving business objectives:
Every single year there are ten million drill bits sold in the United States. No one who bought one of these drill bits wanted the drill bit. What they wanted was a hole – but they needed the drill bit in order to have their hole.

Whatever your functional role or expertise my recommendation is counterintuitive…forget your technical expertise and instead focus on the other persons most pressing business objectives. This is hard for some technologically trained professionals because they view the world from a technological perspective. Learning how to talk in less binary or linear ways and focus more on strategic business issues and how your can help achieve business goals should be your number one priority.

6. Fall out of love:
Most people who enter highly technical fields have fallen in love with their technology. They love using their education and training to solve highly complex technical problems and take a great deal of personal pride in doing so. And therein lies the problem. They place more value on being a firefighter than they do on helping others become fire retardant.

Tim Chester at the University of Georgia told me “IT departments should outsource the transactional and keep the transformative.” This type of thinking leaves many technically trained people feeling uncomfortable as it represents a sea change in how they view the value they provide. They only know how to be the hired technical pair of hands and not an advisor who creates accelerated business results. This is a death knell for most technically trained professionals.

7. Be memorable:
Every interaction throughout your day involves, impacts and influences those you work with. The question is whether your impact and influence is positive. Your intent may be as pure as driven snow, but if your impact is negative your influence deteriorates. Technically trained professionals today need to remember that if there is nothing very distinctive about their work and the value they create they will end up being extinct.

If you remember, what the human resource director wanted was clear and authoritative data. What the seven steps above allow you to have is a clear and authoritative executive presence. When you add data with executive presence you have an unmatched combination.