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  • Aspire » Leadership

    26 Apr


    35,000 each day; that is the estimate often given, referencing the number of decisions you make in an average day. It is no wonder we often feel like 24 hours is not near enough time to get everything done that we have on our schedules each day. So how do you decide, “What Matters Most?”

    First of all, you may be thinking 35,000 decisions can’t possibly be correct; the reality is that is only the tip of the iceberg. When you add in all the subconscious decisions the brain is making every second, the number is more than your brain can even comprehend. So pat yourself on the back, IBM’s supercomputer “Watson” still has a ways to go before it catches up to a human brain. This is an interesting video on number of decisions you make in a day.

    What Matters Most….

    Over the last week, on three separate occasions, I witnessed where the question of “What Matters Most?” was a topic of a discussion. Early in the week it was the used to prioritize action items during a client meeting. Mid-week, it was part of round table discussion on time management with a group of business leaders. Then Friday evening at a local church, keynote speaker and author, Matthew Kelly posed the “What Matters Most?” question to a capacity crowd during the first few minutes of his presentation on Life’s Passion and Purpose. Each a different circumstance, though the question was equally effective.

    After you hear something three times in one week, in three different contexts, it must be a sign to share a few thoughts on the power of What Matters Most, be it business or life. Actually, this idea of What Matters Most is something we regularly challenge our Aspire clients to ask. The pointedness of the question naturally drives you to a response that leads to clarity and action. That’s the power of the question. What Matters Most?

    A Great Place to insert What Matters Most….

    Everyone is familiar with “To-Do Lists”; in fact a quick search on google netted 40 of the Best “To-Do” Apps. So, it is fair to say there are at least another 100 out there that missed the cut! The problem with the traditional To-Do List is unless you consciously think of prioritizing the items everything on the list is equally important. It will leave you feeling overwhelmed with where to even start.

    Try this, start renaming your To-Do List as a “What Matters Most” List. It is really just a simple play on words, but it automatically makes your brain think about the importance and priority of the task as you write or type it. Even if your argument is “It doesn’t matter, they all need to get done”, it challenges you to put them in an order of significance and importance. Think of it this way, if you were plugging holes in the deck of a sinking boat, your “What Matters Most” list would have all the holes listed, but I assure the biggest would be at the top of the list.

    You can plug these three words into everything from daily business tasks, to weekend chores lists, and long term strategic planning initiatives. When you create lists of action items think of them in terms of “What Matters Most?”, see how your eyes naturally are drawn to what is most important and how you naturally prioritize them as you write them. If other people create lists for you to complete, introduce them to the What Matters Most approach, so you will know the order of importance when you receive the list. What Matters Most to You? And, if you still want more help organizing your priorities, try these 6 questions to keep things moving.

    Challenge for the week…..

    WRITE: What Matters Most? On a sticky note(s) and place them in places you will see them regularly, IE.: Bathroom mirror, Car dash, Corner of Computer Screen (or make it a Screen Saver), Family Photo. Let us know if it drives you to more clarity and action as you go through your day.

    Have you ever used the What Matters Most approach in your personal life? Have you tried in your business? If so, how did your team respond? As always we love hear your comments in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    15 Mar


    The Circle of Safety. In his latest bookLeaders Eat LastSimon Sinek uses this term to describe businesses that thrive because everyone inside the circle looks out for each other.   There is trust inside the circle.  You don’t spend your day looking over your shoulder.  The Circle of Safety wraps around the entire company, not just a limited number who have a title of authority attached to their name.

    The Circle of Safety builds and promotes a culture of helping each other.  Instead of worrying about who is going get credit for everything, the focus is on the company getting credit.  You trust that the whole and not a part, will do the right thing.   It isn’t about what I will do; it is about what we will do.  When you are inside the circle you protect everyone else inside the circle from the dangers that lie outside beyond the border of the circle.   In business, those forces may come from competition, workplace conflict, governmental regulations, economic pressures, new technology, or any other number of issues that challenge the long-term success of a business.

    Leaders that build their companies with a culture that promotes this type of trust are more likely to freely exchange ideas back and forth without the fear of being betrayed or the fear that someone else is going to steal or profit from their idea.   In simplest terms it means “I’ve got your back because, I know you have my back.”   When we have each other’s backs we move forward.  When leadership allows the culture of a business to shift to individuals seeking personal praise or only looking out for their best interests, it becomes divided and their shield of strength is diminished. 

    A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field.  Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Aesop, sixth century B.C.

    That fable really sums up the Circle of Safety!  In his book, Sinek references several recent examples where the Circle of Safety either never existed or it broke down over time; think Goldman Sachs.   He also referenced several businesses that are clearly focused on the Circle of Safety with their Corp culture; think Costco and 3M.   If you mindfully observe over the course of a week, one doesn’t have to look very hard to find examples of both in our own local cities.

    The invention of the 3M Post-It notes is pretty well known, but it really captures the power of the Circle of Safety culture that 3M promotes.   As the story goes, an engineer was working on high strength adhesives for the aerospace industry, he accidentally created the compound for Post-It notes.    Without a culture that fosters a Circle of Safety, his failed adhesive many have never been shared with anyone.   But because 3M’s leadership and culture operates from a Circle of Safety, where employees freely share and exchange information the Post-it was born.

    What about your business, is there a Circle of Safety?  Do you have your employee’s backs?  Is there a level of trust?  Or is there a constant fear of being blindsided?  Do you promote yourself over the company?   Simon Sinek said in his research the one comment that confirms a Circle of Safety more than anything else is simply asking someone “Why would do this/that  for him/her?” And the answer is always, “Because they would do it for me”.   Pretty easy test; I encourage you to try it!

    As always we value your comments in the space below.   Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach.

    23 Feb


    Some would argue you can narrow leadership down to one or two qualities and everything else is a function of the others.  As the United States prepares for (or endures) another Presidential Election year it is fair to say many of us will be questioning what makes the qualities of a leader pretty regularly over the course of this year.

    I had the opportunity to hear Pat Williams speak a couple weeks ago at a breakfast hosted by the Accelerent group of Kansas City.  Pat is currently with the Orlando Magic, and he has been involved with professional teams since 1968, including a World Championship in 1983 with the 76ers.   He speaks regularly across the country and has authored over 100 books, many of them on the topic of leadership.

    Mr. Williams shared his 7 Qualities of a Leader with the group that morning and we would like to in turn share them with you.

    1) Vision helps you do three things.  A clear Vision keeps you Focused on the goals, Fueled and energized in your mission, and help see you through to the Finish.   It isn’t always easy being a leader. Vision helps keep your eye on the prize when setbacks and obstacles get in the way.

    A powerful example is that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  His vision was….“a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

    2) Communication.  Leaders must have excellent communication skills of they are going to share their vision.  Great leaders have the ability to speak in a way that everyone understands the message.  Leaders need to be clear, concise and correct.   And when you aren’t correct, you still own your decision.  Leaders must communication optimism and hope.   Would you rather be led by a pessimistic leader or an optimistic leader?  The answer is simple.   Some of the greatest leaders have been those who can speak clearly and inspire with their optimistic message.

    3) People Skills.   Great leaders care about people.  They have empathy for people.  In order to demonstrate this, you must be visible and available.    Tom Peters famously called it MBWA: “Management by Walking Around.   You can’t lead if you spend 100% of your time locked in your office.  Great leaders are accessible to their team and their team knows they care. And when they know you care…they’re willing to run through walls for you.

    4) Character.  There have been no shortages of examples that have tested this quality in the last few decades.  Personally I feel this one is the fundamental value that all the other qualities are built from.  Most value systems start with the ideas of Honesty and Integrity…and that’s a huge part of what Character is all about.  Leaders need to live and breathe Character.  It means taking responsibility in all matters both good and bad. And finally it means being humble. When you spend time with someone of high character, you normally leave them feeling better about yourself and you want to be a better person.  Pat Williams referenced experiencing this feeling after spending time with the late John Wooden, probably the most famous sports person in history.  Don’t under estimate the need for Character if you want to be an effective leader.

    5) Competence.  You must be good at what you do. You don’t need to be the absolute best at everything, but you do need to be good at at least a few things. If you want to be a leader you have to stretch yourself and commit to being a lifelong learner.   You need to be a problem solver, be a good judge of talent, and be a teacher.  Leaders develop leaders.

    6) Boldness.   Leaders have to make decisions.  They have to be able to quickly assess information and make something happen.  And once the decision is made they have to stand by their decision and not second guess themselves.  That doesn’t mean leaders don’t make poor decisions, but it means when they do they correct it as soon as possible and take responsibility for both the good and bad decisions.  When leaders are unable to make decisions, it cripples an organization.

    7) Serving Heart.  Most of us have heard the term Servant Hearted Leadership, but Pat suggests the verb form of having a Serving Heart, because it denotes action.   With leaders who possess this type of mindset the impact is powerful.   They think in terms of  “It is never about me, it is about you”. “It is never for my benefit, it is for your benefit”   “It isn’t about advancing my career goals, it’s about advancing yours”  ”It isn’t about personal success, it’s about success of the organization.  Are you getting the picture?  The best leaders lead with a serving heart.

    What do you think?  If you had to grade yourself on each of these 7 foundation qualities what kind of a score would you give yourself.  More importantly if you had your team grade you on each of these qualities what kind of score would that give you?    Are you sure?   It might be a great conversation to have with your staff.  After all, they are your future leaders and that’s what leaders do, they lead.

    Thanks to Pat Williams for the content of this article and for sharing your message.  Please feel free to leave any thoughts in the space below.  We always value your comments and feedback.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    12 Jan


    With the Kansas City Chiefs on their historic run of 11 consecutive wins after starting out with only one win and five losses and the Powerball Lottery having its first ever 1 billion dollar plus jackpot, we are hearing a lot of talk about the odds of winning.  However, as a business owner, you make decisions every day that affect your odds of winning (success), it just goes mostly unnoticed.

    Increasing your odds…

    After week 6 the Kansas City Chiefs were given a 2% chance to make the divisional round of the Playoffs.  A 98% chance they wouldn’t be playing, yet here they are 13 weeks later, heading into the divisional playoff game with their first playoff win since 1993 already in their rear-view mirror.  It’s truly a remarkable turn of events.

    How does one turn around a season with 2% chance of succeeding?

    Ultimately the answer to that question has many variables that contributed to it.  Not to mention, a little bit of good luck never hurts either!   That said, here are a few observations of steps the Chiefs organization have executed over the course of this season that could easily be applied to your business too.

    1) Leaders Accept Responsibility

    During the losing streak Head Coach Andy Reid was quick to accept the blame, especially when talking to the media (his customers).  Clearly there were times blame could have been placed on specific individuals or on the offense, defense, or special teams.    That is not to say there weren’t very direct conversations in private with specific personnel regarding mistakes, but what the team experienced as a whole was a leader accepting the responsibility for the loss and it was his responsibility to lead the efforts to correct it.

    2) Allow your Manager’s to….Manage

    Andy Reid says his Quarterback Alex Smith has “got the keys to the car.”   Reid has had a reputation of developing quarterbacks throughout his career.   Have you ever thought maybe it is more about developing leaders than developing quarterbacks?    Being a good quarterback in the NFL is not just about natural athletic ability, Smith knows that Reid and the coaching staff trust him,  they have empowered him to make decisions on the field.

    Did Alex Smith get the “keys to the car” without instructions?  No.   He gets coaching and assistance along the way.  But he is not micromanaged to the point he doesn’t have the opportunity to make his own decisions and occasional mistakes.    In business, almost every position has some level of responsibility tied to it, whether it means the employee is directly managing other employees or not.   Effective business owners are able to give the “keys to the car” to their managers and let them drive.

    3) Don’t underestimate the Power of a Team Building Exercise

    On Nov. 1st the Chiefs flew to London to play the Detroit Lions.  The bad news was it meant 9 –  10 hours on a plane.  The good news was it meant about 9 – 10 hours on a plane!  Why?   Once the plane door is closed who you can interact with is limited and you’re in a relatively confined area.  It turned out to be a perfectly timed event to build some camaraderie among an emerging team.    It may not have been planned, but Andy Reid has identified that focused time on the plane as one of the turning points of the season.

    The best team building exercises are events away from your business.   With the Chiefs locked on a plane at 30,000’ they were offsite (not at Arrowhead), all the employees (players, coaches, etc.) were there, and they had limited access for any outside interruptions….a great recipe for team building!  Maybe the game in London wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

    4) Focus on what you can control     

    After the decisive win in London, questions starting brewing about strength of schedule, what if this and what if that.  As a fan, it was easy to start looking ahead.   Yes, they had just snapped the 5 game losing streak with two wins but there were still a lot of unanswered questions about the rest of the season and what was in front of them.

    One of the things you started hearing repeatedly from the front office on down was we are just “focusing on our next game”.  A message of “we are doing somethings better, but we know we have a lot of room to improve.”  It was a pretty consistent message coming out of One Arrowhead Drive; we will focus on the things we can control.  There are some things that are simply out of your control as a business owner.   Focus on the things you can control and don’t waste precious time on things you can’t.

    There is no silver bullet for increasing your chances of winning in business, but there certainly are steps you can take to improve the odds.   These are only a few that I think have served the Chiefs well so far this year.    Maybe some of them can help your business too!  What would make an impact to your business plans?  As always we appreciate any comments in the space below and Go Chiefs!

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Jan

    leading or walking

    There’s a great Proverb that gets to the heart of leadership:

    “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.”

    As we kick off another New Year, now’s a great time to be thinking about the future. What are your goals, hopes and dreams? What did you learn from last year that you can incorporate into this year’s planning?  The tendency is to create a long list of goals and resolutions for yourself and your business.  If that’s the case – stop what you’re doing and slow things down. One of the biggest reasons that people get frustrated at this time of year is they inevitably try to take on too much. It’s a leap of faith, but you’ll actually get a lot more done by doing less.

    As a leader, your first job is to find a way to get your team focused on what really matters. Hint – everything on your long list can’t be equally important, there should be a handful of things (3 to 7) that are the most important things you should be focusing on for this year. If you want your team to keep following you enthusiastically, you need to be driving the focus. If you lose sight of that, it won’t be long before you find yourself alone on that walk.

    To help you avoid that situation, here’s a good starting checklist of five things you should be thinking about as the leader of your team:

    1. Make it Simple

    An important part of focusing is simplifying. As the leader, you not only need to see the big picture, you must get to the essence of that big picture and simplify it down so the larger group can easily get on board.  More than that, you need to constantly work on simplifying operations – what’s being done and how it’s being done.  Complexity leads to chaos. Simplicity leads to leverage and growth.

    1. Leverage Strengths (your own and your team’s)

    You’re good at a lot of things…but you’re not good at everything.  Being an effective leader means you understand your own strengths and weaknesses and that you consistently play to your strengths.  It also means that you understand how to effectively delegate and surround yourself with a team that complements your strengths – your team should be much better than you are at many things. What are you currently doing that you don’t enjoy or aren’t very good at? How can you give that to someone else?

    1. Have a Clear Vision

    You can’t lead without a destination – it’s your job as the leader to paint a clear picture for where you’re heading long term.  That outcome likely will change over time so creating a vision isn’t a one time exercise, it’s an ongoing job. And it’s also not just about creating the vision – you have to constantly be communicating it. You’ll be sick of talking about it, but the message needs to be out there at every possible opportunity.

    Just as important as the long term vision – you must also create the short term road map of how you’re going to get there.  What has to be accomplished this year?  What are the highest priorities for the next 90 days?  This is what keeps the team focused.

    1. Drive to Create Systems

    Brute force only gets you so far – so a big part of being an effective leader is identifying opportunities for creating leverage.  Every business is a system of systems. There is a process you use to deliver your product or service.  However if that process isn’t documented, if you haven’t looked for ways to improve it or automate it, then you’re not creating systems.

    Typically it takes more work up front to document and improve processes than it does to just do it – which is why it’s a leadership effort to push your team to take the long term view rather than the short term path of least resistance. Do you have some kind of documented operations manual? How do  you train new employees?

    1. Continually Build the Organization

    Continued growth and success bring new challenges.  What you did last year likely won’t continue to work without some changes.  As the leader, you need to understand the big picture, understand the changes that need to be made to continue progressing…and most importantly understand how to build your team to address the new and improved ways of doing things.

    Do you have the right people in the right seats?  Are you structured in the best way for the challenges you have today?  What challenges will you have tomorrow? Are you and your employees constantly focused on learning new things?  If not – what could you do to change that? (Maybe attend some Book Reviews?)

    As the leader of a growing business there are a ton of things you could focus on and every situation and business is different – but this is a pretty good list to start with. What else would you add?  What am I missing here? Share your thoughts in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach