How Why and So What Can Fuel Innovation

Posted on October 22, 2014 | 1 Comment
Categories: Books, Entrepreneur, Innovation, Leadership

Inquisitive Baby Asking WhyOne of the biggest barriers to creating new ideas is the raw inertia of organizations.

Personally, I am not satisfied with the “way we’ve always done it.” Whenever I am given an explanation of how the organization does something, I ask “why?” five times. That’s my maxim for generating new insights: “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” By the time I get to the fifth why, I have usually found an insight or an opportunity to improve something.  By the way, every time I think of the five whys, I picture this inquisitive baby.  You just know he’s about to ask “why?”

Because my maxim is simply five whys, it serves as a regular reminder for me to challenge the status quo, continue to learn, and seek new opportunities to do things differently. It also helps me ferret out risks to the business if those five whys reveal outdated assumptions about the world. If we are doing something based on old assumptions and the new reality is different, the actions we are taking are potentially wrong and we could be unwittingly damaging our business. I see it as my responsibility to find and defuse those time bombs before they blow up in our faces.

I am not the creator of “the five whys” but I loved it so much the first time I heard it I adopted it as my maxim. It is more than a concept to me though. There is a personal and emotional story behind it.

I stole “the five whys” from one of my first consulting engagement managers. He stole it from the leaders who had taught him and so on. I invite you to steal it from me if you like.

Here’s how our little interaction played out:

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5 Reasons You Need to Create and Manage Your Personal Brand

Posted on October 20, 2014 | 2 Comments
Categories: Books, Career, Guest Blogger

Branding Iron in a FireToday’s post is by Lisa Orrell, author of Your Employee Brand is in Your HandsCLICK HERE to get your copy.

Personal branding has become a hot topic in the workforce these days. And smart employees focus on managing their personal brands daily. They understand the concept that every time someone has contact with you at work, or on social media, one of two things happen: your personal brand is either strengthened or weakened…by what you say or don’t say, and by what you do or don’t do.

So, exactly what is personal branding? In a nutshell, a strong personal brand allows all that’s unique and effective about your personal and professional style to become known (in a deliberate and managed way) to your colleagues up, down, and across the organization. And that can enable you to generate maximum value and unique “distinction” for yourself.

But why else should you care about creating and managing your personal brand at work? Let’s look at five ways it can benefit your career:

It Gives You Clarity and Direction

When you truly focus on developing and managing your personal brand it becomes a “behavior barometer.” Personal branding is all about increased self-awareness by acknowledging your weaknesses (e.g., having a bad temper, being extremely shy, or being a poor communicator) and making the necessary changes to improve yourself. But it’s also about understanding your strengths. You have to know “who you are and who you aspire to be” in order to conduct yourself in any role effectively; be it entry-level or a senior leadership position.

What changes do YOU have to make to possibly overcome a “negative” personal brand perception and/or to become the person you truly want to be? Therein lies the essence of creating and managing your personal brand.

It Expands Your Notoriety Inside and Outside of Work

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How big a part of your role as a leader is process improvement?

Posted on October 16, 2014 | No Comments
Categories: Leadership, Poll, Project Management

EKG Pulse Graph with Glowing Blue Line

Our reader poll today asks: How big a part of your role as a leader is process improvement?

– It’s huge. Process improvement is the majority of my role: 15.45%
– It’s large. A big part of my role is process improvement: 47.54%
– It’s moderate. I do some process improvement but not a lot: 28.35%
– It’s small. I spend very little time on process improvement: 8.66%

Process consumes our time: The vast majority of you are focused on process improvement as a large part of your role. While that’s great and our processes need improved, much of that work is focused on your management skills. As leaders, don’t forget the substantial amount of your time and effort that needs to be dedicated to helping your people grow and develop. If you have a choice between spending your time on improving a process or spending it on building the skills of your team members, I encourage you to choose the latter. As I discuss in this article, doing so strengthens your team, your organization, and enables you to get more done because you use your team’s talents to the fullest.

Do you agree with these poll results?  Let us know in the comments below!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

Did you enjoy this post?  If so, I highly encourage you to take about 30 seconds to become a regular subscriber to this blog.  It’s free, fun, practical, and only a few emails a week (I promise!).  SIGN UP HERE to get the thoughtLEADERS blog conveniently delivered right to your inbox!

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If You Hate Your Job so Much, Shut Up and Quit

Posted on October 15, 2014 | 4 Comments
Categories: Career

Schroedinger's Cat Jumping Out of the BoxDo you find yourself frequently muttering “I hate my job” every day when you wake up? Have you been saying that for more than a month straight? Are people starting to avoid you because you’re a downer to be around?

Then it’s probably time to shut your face and quit your job.

Yep. Time for another provocative post that’s a slap upside the head for some of you just like the 10 Reasons Your Team Hates You post got a ton of attention.

I know – the economy is terrible. I know – you need health insurance. I know – you have to pay your mortgage. I know – you have to feed your kids.

I know all those things make it hard to just up and quit. All I’m saying is if you’re that miserable you have some serious introspection to do. What I’d like to offer are a few thoughts on how to think through that process.

Your Employment is “At Will”

When folks read their employment contracts they tend to focus on the point that their employer can let them go at any time. What they never think about is they’re free to quit anytime as well.

For those of you lucky enough to have stock options or other long-term unvested incentives, I’m going to tell you to shut your cakeholes if you protest that you can’t leave because of everything you’re walking away from.

“But Mike! I have a gazillion dollars of options and I can’t quit or I’ll lose them!”

Shut up. Now. You’re making a choice – you’re CHOOSING to hate what you do in exchange for a financial reward you’ll get after you finish doing what you hate. Hmmm… sounds eerily similar to another very old profession.

The first step in evaluating whether you should stay or go is admitting to yourself you can actually go and then calculate what you’re walking away from. Then ask yourself the hard question of whether your happiness is worth that amount of money. If no, then consider leaving.

When is it Time to Leave?

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5 Ways to Give Your Culture a Helping Hand

Posted on October 13, 2014 | 1 Comment
Categories: Books, Communications, Entrepreneur, Guest Blogger, Leadership

Challenge the Ordinary by Linda HenmanToday’s post is by Linda Henman, Ph.D., author of  Challenge the Ordinary (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

More than nine hundred years ago the Clan MacDonald and Clan McLeod found themselves entangled in yet another battle—one of many that involved the two most powerful groups on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. As the legend goes, Donald, the clan chief of the MacDonalds wanted finally to stop the fighting between the two families. To that end, he proposed that the two clans engage in a sea race rather than a battle. He swore an oath that the clansman whose hand first touched the shore at the end of the race would be the owner of the MacDonald castle and land forever. The McLeods had everything to gain and nothing to lose—provided they agreed to live in peace with the MacDonalds, no matter who won the race.

At a critical point in the race, Donald realized that the McLeods were winning. Desperate to protect his property, he sprang to the prow of the galley, and with one stroke of his dirk, cut off his own hand and threw it to the shore, thus ensuring a victory and the ownership of the land for himself and his descendants. To this day the crest of the MacDonalds boasts a bleeding hand, and Ru Barnaskitaig, the point where the hand landed, remains famous on the Isle of Skye.

Most modern organizations can trace their origins back decades, not centuries. But many of those that have survived and continued to thrive in a tough economy embody the lessons learned from cultures that have endured through the ages. Historically, Scottish clan chiefs measured their success, not in financial wealth, but in the number of men they could put into battle. People not related by blood often applied to the clan chief for membership, swearing allegiance in exchange for protection. Today company chiefs measure their success in both tangible and intangible ways too.

Much has changed since the thirteenth century, but much hasn’t. Top performers still want to belong to a clan that has created a culture they respect, one that will protect them in dire circumstances—one to whom they proudly give their allegiance. Arguably, tangible characteristics like a strong strategic focus, effective leadership, and shared values form the foundation of any successful culture, but that doesn’t explain the entire story. Something abstract plays a role too.

The culture of an organization involves the shared beliefs and practices that have evolved over time as leaders solved problems and made decisions. Think of culture as organizational health and happiness. We can take an organization’s vital signs much as we would a person’s. Rather than running lab tests, however, we can infer health from robust activity, the demeanor of employees, what people say in the organization, and what people say about the organization. Here are five ways to influence what happens:

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Where do you spend the majority of your management efforts?

Posted on October 9, 2014 | No Comments
Categories: Career, Communications, Leadership

EKG Pulse Graph with Glowing Blue Line

Our reader poll today asks: Where do you spend the majority of your time and effort?

– Managing up (bosses, customers, senior stakeholders): 39.32%
– Managing across (peers, partners, stakeholders): 34.76%
– Managing down (team members, suppliers): 25.92%

It’s interesting we spend more time managing up than we do managing our teams. That can be good and bad. If you’re managing up to get resources for your team and to advocate for the work they’re doing by removing roadblocks, then bully for you. If you’re managing up because bosses, stakeholders and other senior executives are micromanaging, you must realize that those efforts are stealing your energy away from the people who could really use it — your team members. If possible, spend less time managing up and invest that time in your team. They’ll appreciate your doing so.

Do you agree with these poll results?  Let us know in the comments below!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

Did you enjoy this post?  If so, I highly encourage you to take about 30 seconds to become a regular subscriber to this blog.  It’s free, fun, practical, and only a few emails a week (I promise!).  SIGN UP HERE to get the thoughtLEADERS blog conveniently delivered right to your inbox!

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How Your Lack of Transparency is Destroying Your Team

Posted on October 8, 2014 | 3 Comments
Categories: Communications, Leadership

Woman Looking through TransparencyOpacity kills.

People want to know what’s going on.  They expect their leaders to be up front with them and share information.

When “leaders” use information as a source of power, it’s the beginning of the end for their team.  People see right through that power grab and that “leader’s” trust quotient plummets.

Most of us know this yet many of us still hoard information.  Why?  It all seems very reasonable when we do.  The logic goes like this:

– I’m the team leader and I’ve been placed in a position of trust and responsibility.

– In that position of responsibility, I work on important things.

– Some of those things are so important that people can’t be told about them until they’re “ready” to be told.

– That means I have to withhold information from my people because it’s in their own best interests.


Rationalizing like this is the fastest way to get your people talking behind your back.  It gets them all atwitter (or even worse… on Twitter) at the water cooler wondering what the latest palace intrigue is.  They begin to wonder if the secret information you’re withholding is actually about them and then paranoia sets in.  And while all of this is going on, no work is getting done and people are freaking out.  And it’s all your fault.

But it can be prevented.
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Don’t Hold People Accountable – Help Them Instead

Posted on October 6, 2014 | 1 Comment
Categories: Books, Career, Guest Blogger, Leadership

Stealing the Corner OfficeToday’s post is by Brendan Reid, author of Stealing the Corner Office (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

I embraced the first 10 years of my career with enough passion and intensity to sink a ship. I was Captain Accountability. I demanded excellence from myself and from everyone else around me. And for a long time I pointed to these attributes as my greatest strengths. I underscored them in my constant griping about the unfairness of my situation. You see, for what seemed to me like no good reason at all, I wasn’t getting ahead. I spent the better part of a decade stuck in middle management quick sand. I got passed over for one promotion after another in spite of the fact I was highly intelligent, skillful and passionate. It just didn’t add up.

And then one day a colleague of mine pulled me aside and let me in on a painful little secret. I can still hear him now.

“Brendan …” he eked out in the kind of soft voice normally reserved for doctors delivering bad news, “… you make people uncomfortable. You push people too hard. You’re not getting promoted because nobody can stand the thought of you having any real authority.”

Umm… what? My world crumbled around me.

I learned the hardest and most important career lesson of my life that day. One I will never forget and that I feel compelled to share with my fellow managers and aspiring executives:

When it comes to advancing your career, you’re better served building a reputation for helping people than for holding them accountable.

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What’s the biggest barrier to change in your organization?

Posted on October 2, 2014 | 1 Comment
Categories: Leadership, Poll

EKG Pulse Graph with Glowing Blue Line

Our reader poll today asks: What’s the biggest barrier to change in your organization?

– Inertia and the power of the status quo: 34%
– Lack of resources/competing priorities: 32%
– People not wanting to take risks that could hurt them: 26%
– Lack of skills/expertise to make changes: 5%
– We have no challenges and make changes as we need to: 3%

The fear of change and the fear of risk are the big barriers to moving your organization forward. When you look at the power of the status quo — 34% — dominating the lack of change, the root cause is because the status quo is known, comfortable and relatively risk-free. Add the dynamic of people fearing taking risks because of personal implications, and you have a recipe for inaction. The result is that resources are all allocated to less-risky projects while ones that drive change are starved. Your job as a leader is to break that inertia, balance the risk of your project portfolio and make change happen.

Do you agree with these poll results?  Let us know in the comments below!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

Did you enjoy this post?  If so, I highly encourage you to take about 30 seconds to become a regular subscriber to this blog.  It’s free, fun, practical, and only a few emails a week (I promise!).  SIGN UP HERE to get the thoughtLEADERS blog conveniently delivered right to your inbox!

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7 Ways to Communicate More Effectively in a Digital Age

Posted on October 1, 2014 | 2 Comments
Categories: Books, Communications

Blue Lights in MatrixToday’s post is by Frank Pietrucha, thoughtLEADERS instructor and author of Supercommunicator (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Are your communication skills up to digital snuff? We all know hairstyles and hem lengths change but now styles of expression are also evolving… just like a fashion trend.   Do you automatically think “document” or “PowerPoint” when tasked with originating content? If you’re still writing long, linear prose that sits on paper like a lump, chances are you could benefit from a communication makeover. Don’t wait until your boss or client stages an intervention. It’s critical that you communicate in a digital-friendly style.

The art of communication is very different today than it was a mere two decades ago when our access to data was limited. The Internet has altered not only how we get information but also how we express ourselves. Digital technology is re-wiring our brains and reshaping how we communicate. The Internet has turned careful, deliberate readers into hungry information predators. Power scanning, instead of deep reading, is something we all do.

New digital tools make it easier for people to access content. The rise of video, audio, graphics and interactive features gives content producers the ammunition to fight battles in the name of knowledge. Words, pictures, and symbols – the very shape of content – is evolving before our eyes. The written word isn’t going away, but is being transformed. The days of straight running text on paper as our principal means of expressing ideas and delivering information are numbered as new digital tools change our communication landscape. New tools and technologies, along with new attitudes, are changing all that. For some this transformation is liberating… for others, it’s terrifying.

Here are a few suggestions and techniques to help you manage the transition:

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