Hugh’s Words of Wisdom Wednesdays

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I was sitting in a Top Pot Doughnut shop in downtown Seattle waiting for a colleague to join me when I noticed the window washers cleaning the twenty-five foot tall floor to ceiling windows. Since I have a neighbor who runs a successful commercial window washing company, I was intrigued by how you go about cleaning twenty-five foot tall windows without ladders.

What I noticed more than the cleaning technique was the difference in perspective I had of the surrounding landscape with a clean window versus a dirty one. When the smudge, grime and pigeon droppings were removed from the window it was as if the surrounding landscape was brighter, more appealing and worthy of my attention. I also noticed other restaurants nearby that had dirty windows and found myself asking about them – what else in that restaurant is dirty?

We all have dirty windows that block our perspective both personally and professionally. The way we look at our work for example may be distorted by years of accumulated smudge, grime and the occasional droppings from bad leaders, and we need to clean these windows. Here are three steps for ensuring you are seeing clearly the landscape around you:

1. Interrogate your reality: Seeing clearly starts with reading beyond the confines of what we know and are comfortable with. By reading an opposing view of your most cherished belief; with the intent of finding one thing you can agree with, broadens your perspective and challenges you to think critically.

2. Pay attention to what you pay attention to: Seeing clearly entails understanding not only that which goes on around you, but also what goes on inside you. Being able to notice what grabs your attention, your reaction and WHY you react the way you do is an essential element of seeing clearly.

3. Take a mental sabbatical at least once per month: Getting away from your day-to-day schedule and having time to think is essential if you want a clearer perspective. Whether for two, four or eight hours, disengaging with the pressures and demands of work frees you to think broadly and creatively.

Which of these three strategies will pay the greatest dividend for you?

Monday Morning Minute 02-20-2012

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Today’s Monday Morning Minute is longer than usual…but worth it.

Life’s 3 Most Important Questions

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I’m not an existentialist – I am someone however who believes there are important questions that need to be asked of ourselves in order to effectively lead others.

Twelve years ago I met Dr. G., a psychiatrist deeply committed to helping people get clear about their purpose in life. In a serendipitous meeting he asked me the following three questions – questions I now believe are central to being an effective leader. He asked:

1. Who are you?

2. What is your purpose for being on the planet?

3. What are you doing on a daily basis to achieve number two?

These questions may be easy for you to answer, but for me at the time I was scrambling for the exit because I was so uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because at forty years of age I didn’t really have a clue as to how to answer his questions. I gave answers but they were answers intended to put a good face on things not to get at the root of what I believed to be true.

In my coaching work I’ve adapting the questions to provide a jumping off point for leaders to get clear about their leadership. They are:

1. Who are you work? What’s your brand, your reputation, your sphere of influence?

2. What is your purpose for being here at ABC corporation? Just as an FYI, it is not to run the accounting department. Think bigger about what value an extraordinary accounting department provides and to whom? Your purpose is typically much, much bigger than your first stab at an answer.

3. What are you doing on a daily basis to achieve number two? This question is where your grand intentions from number two meet the real world.

Ideally, at the end of each week you would be able to find multiple times where you intentionally lived out your answers to number two. If you can’t find these times, the reason why is either because you haven’t gotten crystal clear as to your answer, OR, and this is a big or, or your number two isn’t compelling and inspiring enough. You may have answered the question, but there is a bigger answer yet to be unearthed.

Two things to remember. The first is that in order to lead others you have to start by leading yourself. The second is that your leadership will be built on small good deeds practiced daily and not grand intentions.

Are you ready to take a stab at 3 little questions?

Discretionary Performance: Moving Beyond Ordinary to Extraordinary

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The term discretionary income describes the money you have left over every month after paying your taxes and all of your bills. At work we have something called discretionary performance. This is the performance we have left over after our regular work duties have been taken care of, and can be accessed ONLY if we are truly committed to an idea, team, or organization.

And yet, whenever you bring two or more people together in the workplace to accomplish a task or accomplish a goal, people end up working in one of two ways. One erodes discretionary performance and one cultivates it.

The first is as a workgroup and is best characterized as a collection of people who share a common objective, task or in some cases overhead. With workgroups there isn’t a common or compelling vision or mission and results in ten people producing eight units of productivity. No discretionary performance here.

The second way people can work together is with people working as a team. Teams are a community of individuals with a commitment to something larger than the task at hand. “Comm.”, the preface to words like community, communication, and communion means “to be one with”. When you are one with someone, some ideal, or some value, you create a connection and synergy where the total output is greater than the sum of all of the parts. Wherever you find unification and synergy, you experience ten people producing twelve units of productivity.

Discretionary performance takes root in this fertile soil. Why? It takes root because it’s safe to bring all of our talents, skills, hope’s, and aspirations to the team and to leverage them to achieve the extraordinary. When you think of whether you are more of a team or a workgroup you’ll run into a dilemma though – you can’t sit on the fence and be both – you are either one or the other.

In Jim Collins book, Good To Great, he proposed that there are three traits that all teams need to have in order to move to greatness, and I believe are essential for cultivating discretionary performance. They are:

1. Communication / Dialogue:
This type of communication and dialogue is about a CLEAR purpose that’s larger than all of us. It embraces ideas such as creating extraordinary products or services, continuously growing and learning, embracing what’s possible versus what’s probable, and making a meaningful contribution to the communities you serve.

When our conversations don’t have these aspects as the foundation, we create situations where our own self-interests take precedence and winning for one person makes it difficult for others to win. Our conversations become about WIN / LOSE, not WIN / WIN, and WIN / LOSE is always a losing proposition and is the death knell for discretionary performance.

2. Disagreement:
While disagreement might seem contradictory to communication and dialogue, disagreement is a positive aspect of growth. Not the type of disagreement rooted in being right and or proving someone wrong – that should be eschewed at all cost. The type of disagreement that is healthy and productive balances advocacy with inquiry and has a bias for listening to understand versus listening to respond. Disagreement can lead to a greater sense of shared understanding along with a greater appreciation for the strategically diverse viewpoints each team member brings to the team.

Managers and leaders need to acknowledge that people act in ways that serve their own best interest, and that understanding how team members answer the question “what’s in it for me? is not a selfish question, but rather our human nature and survival instincts showing up in the world of work. Knowing what motivates a team member to act with the best interest of the overall team in mind is essential for achieving discretionary performance – without this context and understanding teams are relegated to ordinary and not extraordinary performance.

If you want to cultivate greater discretionary performance, here are three questions for your next team meeting. They are:

1. What did we achieve last week that we believe was extraordinary?
2. How did we (through our thinking, processes, practices, and or procedures) create or hinder the achievement of the extraordinary?
3. What do we need to keep doing, stop doing, and or start doing in order to achieve the truly extraordinary?

I’m Impressed

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I meet executives everyday that are frustrated and disenchanted with their work. They’d love to do something different, but with two kids in college and two new cars in the driveway they feel stuck.

But not everyone stays stuck.

I have a friend who has just changed careers. After thirty years in an industry where he was successful, respected, and admired by his peers, he’s left the known, predictable and safe behind and decided to follow his passion.

Whenever we talk, I’m always impressed with his ability to do the following:

1. Be courageous. He had the courage to pursue what work can be – something that makes him feel alive and fully engaged.

2. Commit to learning. At fifty-three he willingly became a freshman student of his new vocation. While his learning curve is huge, he’s actively and enthusiastically soaking up everything he can to accelerate his professional growth.

3. Not settle. He looked for and found a talented leader and mentor – he waited for the right opportunity even with an internal pressure to hit the ground running.

4. Kept it positive. He never said “I can’t do that because of ABC”. He instead said, “I can do this because I’ve done XYZ”.

5. Manage life’s complexities. In the midst of the joy and enthusiasm he felt about his new career, he lost his stepson who was a Marine in Afghanistan. He graciously held in one hand the sorrow of his son’s death while in the other the joy of the new life being given birth to professionally.

Where are you? Are you fully engaged in your work? Does your work make your bunny jump? If not, which of the five attributes above do you need to cultivate to move closer to having your work become more life fulfilling?

Deadly Sin #7 – Mushrooming

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Deadly Sin #7 Mushrooming from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.

Deadly Sin #4 – Arrogance

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Deadly Sin #4 – Arrogance from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.

5 Strategies for Accelerating Team Performance

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It is commonly known that high performing teams attract and retain the best talent.  But what is not as readily known is that they also act as a role model for increased performance throughout an entire organization.  If developing a culture of high performance within your team is important to you, here are five strategies that will dramatically enhance your ability to create breakthroughs in team performance:
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