WHAT CAN YOUR ALARM CLOCK TEACH YOU ABOUT LEADERSHIP?

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What can you learn from your alarm clock about leadership? It turns out quite a bit.

This scene is played out in almost every household across the nation each morning:

The alarm clock goes off to alert you that it is time to get up. At that point there is a battle that takes place between the the rational side of you that wants to get up (and get a head start on the day) – and the emotional side that wants nothing more than just a few more minutes of sleep. I won’t ask you which one normally wins – or how many times the ‘snooze’ button gets slapped in your household. Suffice it to say that the fact that there is a snooze button tells us everything we need to know!

Enter the Clocky, an invention of an MIT student by the name of Gauri Nanda. As you can see, it is no ordinary alarm clock. Once set, it will go off at the prescribed time just like any other alarm clock. But that is where the similarities stop. Once the alarm goes off, the Clocky rolls off your bedside table and away from your reach. Imagine how hilarious it would be to watch someone chasing one of these around the room in attempt to silence it! But wait – what on earth does this have to do with leadership? Well, I’m glad you asked…

It turns out that the Clocky is a perfect analogy for what happens in human psychology whenever we are asked to do something that we rationally believe to be beneficial, but that is in conflict with our emotional side. The unavoidable conclusion is that when we say we need to ‘make up our mind about what we need to do’ – we really should say ‘we need to make up both our minds’ – the rational and the emotional. Unfortunately the rational side is typically overwhelmed by the sheer power of the emotional side. The emotional side of you is the part that is instinctive and feels both pain and pleasure – and it tends to be governed by HABIT. The rational side of you is what we would refer to as the intellectual or conscious mind. This is the part of you that thinks and (in theory) makes decisions. The crazy part of this is that all decisions made in the conscious mind must first pass thru the filter of the emotional mind before we can take action. In order for the conscious mind to win there needs to be a crisis that reinforces the need for change, or a lot of repetition (hence the prevalence of the snooze button).

So how do we use this knowledge to lead more effectively?

While we all know that it is relatively hard for us to change our own habits, we tend to underestimate the lock that our employees’ habits have on their behavior patterns. Because of this we tend to frame logical reasons to our employees why they should change. While I am not saying that we should throw logic aside – it is without a doubt an important and necessary element of any change initiative – I am saying that convincing the rational mind of the importance of a change is actually the easy part. The harder part of any change is getting a person to change their habits.

There is normally only one time of year that most people give any attention to changing their habits: New Years Eve. Although many people have given up on the fruitless ritual of the New Year’s Resolution, others cling to the dim hope that the new year will help them overwhelm the power of habit and they will indeed change for the better.

How to change any habit:

Changing a habit is one of the hardest things you will ever do, however it does not have to be as laced with failure as it normally is. Here is a simple strategy that you can follow to help yourself or an employee increase the likelihood of success:

  1. Focus on the root cause of our frustration – which is likely a HABIT not a bunch of tasks that needs to be completed. For example, if you have a messy desk and it bothers you (I say this because it does not bother everyone!) – do not set a goal to clean your desk. It will only be messy again in no time. Instead focus on the HABIT that is generating the messy desk, likely that you tend to dump things on the desk rather than putting them away.
  2. Identify ONE habit that needs to change. This is of course not what we normally do – we normally get so frustrated that we identify a whole raft of changes that need to happen. This almost assures failure before we even start the process. Since most people struggle to change even one habit at a time we must find a way to focus them on that one change.
  3. Follow up relentlessly until either change occurs or you determine that the change will not occur. If you determine that this one habit cannot change and it is critically important to the success of the role, then it is immaterial if other habits change or not.
  4. Back out of the follow up cycle slowly ensuring that there is adequate positive reinforcement and then identify what needs to change next.

By following this strategy you can overwhelm the emotional mind with your consistency of follow up. In essence you have (for a short period of time) become a Clocky – a constant reminder of HOW the change needs to happen – but definitely NOT just a reminder that it has not yet happened.

Now let’s get started! What HABIT would help you be more successful? If you are unsure you might want to try attending our next Webinar “The 7 Deadly Sins Of Leadership & How to Avoid Them” and you will then have 7 to choose from!

Here’s to your success!

Andrew

We have found that most leaders are frustrated that they experience the same problems day after day. At the LeaderShift One Day Intensive we teach leaders a process that helps them create a Performance Acceleration Plan so that they radically accelerate their business results. To learn more click here or on the icon below.
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The Ultimate Coaching Question

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Some years ago I was teaching influencing skills to a group of sales professionals. As you can imagine, there was a diversity of experience, tenure and talent in the room. At one of the breaks, a senior salesperson approached me to let me know why he was less than interested in the subject we were covering. He explained that he was really just trying to make it to retirement. When I asked how many years he had ‘left’ until he retired, he replied ‘five’.

Before I share my response to him, I want to share that beyond knowing that he was a slightly below average performer, I had no specific knowledge of his situation. However, I did not need to. His attitude toward growth and change told me everything I needed to know about what the next 5 years held for him: A slow decline in his sales numbers and increasing frustration with higher expectations of the company.

He looked like a really nice guy. I wanted to help him avoid what I saw looming on the horizon and I knew he couldn’t see it. He was assuming the next 5 years would be just like the last 5. I knew it wasn’t. The pace of change continues to accelerate, and the only antidote to that acceleration is to learn and grow. Coasting into retirement for 5 years in most occupations is just not an option.

I also knew he wasn’t really interested in what I had to say. I had to get his attention.

So I looked him straight in the eye and said: “I don’t think you are going to make it.”

Now I had his attention. He wanted to know what I knew – was he being fired? “Of course not” I replied. That started a coaching interaction that continued over the next few months, and at the end of our time together he thanked me for the wake up call.

I am pretty sure that this salesperson’s manager knew what was happening with him – he just did not know how to engage him in away that would continue him in a pattern of positive growth. And not all individuals are as transparent about their intentions. Some individual’s motivations may be like a mystery to you.

I have heard leaders say that certain employees are just not motivated. That is of course not true. They just are not motivated to do what the leader wants them to do.

As a leader you will typically have 3 types of individuals on your team:

  1. The Engaged: These individuals are always looking to learn and grow. They have a great attitude and work ethic. You know who these people are. They are the ones you want to hire more of. They are ones you worry about losing to another job or opportunity.
  2. The Disengaged: These individuals are not interested in learning or growing. The typically do not have a great work ethic and tend to be a magnet that pulls people down. They are the ones that aren’t always poor performers, however they definitely pull the morale of the team down.
  3. The Uncertain: This tends to be the biggest group on any team. Some days they are engaged, and some days they are not. They seem to be very susceptible to what is happening around them, both to the circumstances they find themselves in, and the people they interact with.

As a general rule, it is the Uncertain that we must win over to being more engaged. They are the biggest group, so moving them to being more engaged is a huge win. Unfortunately, it is always easier to pull people down than lift them up, and therefore the Disengaged can have a lot of influence with this group.

How do you Know who wants to Grow?

Have you ever seen an employee that appeared to lack motivation and had mediocre performance, take off like a rocket when they were transferred, or were assigned to a new boss? Motivation is different for different people, and although it is true that motivation is an inside job, there are times when the work environment or some other issue the employee is dealing with can make them less than motivated.

Unfortunately this leads many managers to ask “Why can’t I find more motivated employees”? It’s a reasonable question, however it is a question that will not lead you to a productive answer.

A better question is “How do I motivate more of my team to be more engaged?”

I asked that question some years back and found what I consider to be the ultimate coaching question. We refer to this question with our clients as the Future Focus Question. Do not be deceived by it’s simplicity. Here it is:

“If we were sitting here 3 years from today, and you were telling me the story of those three years… What would need to happen both personally and professionally for you to be absolutely passionate about that story?”

Let’s take this question a little bit at a time so that we can investigate just how powerful it is:

  1. In order for a person to answer this question there must be some level of trust with the person doing the asking. The question is a window into your personal and professional dreams. You will not share this information with someone that you are not sure you can trust. If they will not answer, you need to step back and build additional trust in the relationship.
  2. It is Future Focused. Too many of us get stuck reliving the past. If your best days are in your past then the future is not something to be excited about. Engaged employees are excited about what is coming next. Often it is our job as a leader to re-engage people in imagining a future they can be passionate about.
  3. It has a time frame fo 3 years. There is something magical about 3 years. It is long enough to be able to dream a little, but not so long to allow idealism. it is long enough to allow is to learn new things that will allow for greater achievements, but not long enough for us to waste time before getting started.
  4. We are asking the employee to imagine that this future has already occurred. Visualization is a powerful technique to start the mind envisioning paths to our goals.
  5. We are asking them to tell us what would make them passionate. Not happy. Not satisfied. Passionate. That is not a word that we use in business a lot. But passion is where all the juice in life is.
  6. We are asking about both sides of their life – both personally and professionally. the truth is that many employees may not see a lot of motivation in the work they do. In many cases their motivation to work is outside work. It may be their outside interests or their kids and spouse. In some cases they may wish to switch jobs. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that you as their boss take an active interest in helping them achieve that future.

I had a leader one time ask me whether this approach might lead to people leaving his team?

The answer of course is that everyone leaves eventually. The question is,  do you want highly motivated employees for a shorter time or do you want disengaged employees for a longer time.

For more information on how to lead effectively and motivate thru mastering the art of leadership, register now for our complimentary webinar: The 7 Deadly Sins of Leadership (& How to Avoid Them)