Back to School Challenge
September is a great time to take ourselves back to school to re-evaluate what we’ve learned so far this year and what new things we’d like to learn.

Back to School Challenge

September has arrived! I can’t  believe that fall is right around the corner. The days will start getting shorter and the temperatures will start getting cooler before we know it. I always think about going back to school when this time of year comes around. September is a great time to take ourselves back to school to evaluate what we’ve learned this year and what new things we’d like to learn.

The Back to School Challenge

This month’s Back to School challenge has 2 parts:

First, make a list of all of the lessons we’ve learned over the past 8 months. They don’t need to be huge, life changing ideas. They could be little things we learned to do a little better at work or how we learned to deal with people better.

Next, make a list of the things we would like to learn before the year is out. They could be new skills,  or something we’ve already learned that we want to learn about more. Maybe we take a training class to get certified in an area of expertise that will help advance our careers. It’s okay if you only have one thing, or if you have a whole bunch, but we’ll come back to these lists later in the month.

At Evil Genius Leadership we believe that leadership isn’t just a set of skills to acquire or workshops to take. Leadership is a discipline and lifelong practice that requires continuous study and reflection. Truly great leaders treat study leadership and are always looking for new things to learn, new ideas to explore and new perspectives to view the world through. By recognizing the things we’ve learned this year and setting some goals to learn new things before the year is out, we follow in this great tradition of leadership.

We all want to be flexible and adaptable so sticking to a routine sounds obvious and boring. Establishing routines in the right way can actually give us more flexibility in our schedule and help us meet all of the priorities we want to achieve.

Establishing Routines to Maximize Your Flexibility

Previously, we showed how setting priorities can help us focus on the things that are most important to us. This week we’re going to talk about maintaining that focus. We can achieve the focus we desire by establishing routines.

We all want to be flexible and adaptable so sticking to a routine sounds obvious and boring. Establishing routines in the right way can actually give us more flexibility in our schedule and help us meet all of the priorities we want to achieve.

Tips for Establishing Routines

When it comes to establishing routines, we get the best results if we do an activity at the same time every day. Our body and mind get used to doing that task every day at that time. If we only do something once or twice a week, It helps to schedule that task for the same day and time. For example, if we have a meeting every Monday, it’s helpful to make it at the same time on Monday every week. This helps us get used to it, but  also helps the other meeting attendees get used to it. By dedicating the time on our calendar we prepare ourselves to focus on that task.

We want to get at least one block of time dedicated on the calendar for each priority. If we have a priority for the day and there isn’t any time dedicated to it, can we expect that we’ll really get it done? If it’s really important to us we probably will, but if we get distracted or someone else starts to place demands on our time, the things that aren’t scheduled are usually the ones that get dropped.

Establishing Routines Enhances Flexibility

We shouldn’t block off every hour of the day on our calendar. We want some empty space on the calendar for when we need to make changes. Often, others place demands on our time. Our boss might call a meeting that conflicts with one of our other important priorities. We need a place to move that activity to or it will likely get dropped.  Establishing routines helps us build good habits to re-focus ourselves on an important priority.

Even though we all want to be flexible, establishing routines helps us focus on our priorities. We get more freedom than if we just let each day happen without any kind of plan. We can become great leaders by balancing the structure of a routine and taking advantage of opportunities when they arise!

This month we’re talking about ways to stay focused on the things that are most important to us. Consciously setting priorities is one of the best ways we can keep our focus.

Setting Priorities You Can Stick To!

This month we’re talking about ways to stay focused on the things that are most important to us. Consciously setting priorities is one of the best ways we can keep our focus.

Steps for Setting Priorities

  1. Write down the five things that are most important for you to do today. It doesn’t matter what they are. They could be career related, personal, or social.
  2. Put those 5 things into priority order with #1 being most important. Choosing which is most important can be difficult, so take some time if you need to.
  3. To successfully set priorities we need to recognize how the priorities of others fit into our list. Think about the expectations that others have for you today and where those fall in your priority list. Maybe something for your spouse is at the top and something for your boss is in the middle. It’s okay wherever they end up, as long as they fall somewhere on your list.

Now you can make conscious decisions about what to do next based on how it will help achieve these priorities. Maybe you choose to get something low on the list done early because it’s easy to do, maybe you do everything first that you need to get the most important one done.

How Setting Priorities Helps Us

This exercise may sound a little obvious, but I can tell you from my own experience there have been days where I didn’t consciously think through my priorities. At the end of the day couldn’t figure out how I had worked so hard and gotten nothing important done. If you ever feel this way, doing this exercise can help turn the day around and help you achieve your most important priorities for that day. After you get used to doing this for just one day at a time, you can start to extend the time scale and set broader, long-term priorities. Soon you’ll have a list of priorities that can guide all of the actions and decisions you make as a leader!

There are so many distractions in life, both from the outside and from within ourselves. One of the key challenges we all face as leaders is how to stay focused on the things that are really important while still keeping our eyes and ears open for what’s going on around us. We all know how important it is to be able to focus. When we can’t focus, tasks take longer, quality suffers and we often make poor decisions. All this month at Evil Genius Leadership we’ll be talking ways we can work on improving focus on the priorities that are really important to us.

Improving Focus – Take Our August Challenge!

Do you sometimes have trouble focusing on the really important things? This month’s challenge will help with improving focus to get better results!

There are so many distractions in life, both from the outside and from within ourselves. One of the key challenges we all face as leaders is how to stay focused on the things that are really important while still keeping our eyes and ears open for what’s going on around us. We all know how important it is to be able to focus. When we can’t focus, tasks take longer, quality suffers and we often make poor decisions. All this month at Evil Genius Leadership we’ll be talking ways we can work on improving focus on the priorities that are really important to us.

Improving Focus – Take Our Challenge

This month’s challenge has 3 parts:

First, identify just one thing that you have trouble focusing on. It could be a task that you do regularly at work that takes longer than it should because you keep getting distracted. Or it could be something that you really want to get done in your personal life but find that work things keep getting in the way.

Next, investigate what it is that keeps you from focusing on getting that thing done. Are there co-workers that interrupt you when you’re trying to work on it. Does your email notification keep going off? Does the phone not stop ringing?

Finally, choose one action or step you’re going take to reduce whatever that cause is. If it’s your phone or email can you turn the ringer or notifications off while you’re doing this task? If not, can you adjust the time of day or place you do it to minimize the distractions and help you focus.

Keep track of how you do on focusing on your goal for the whole month. Tell us in the comments what you tried and how well it worked for you. Don’t be afraid to try a new tactic if the first action you chose isn’t working as well as you’d like!

Leaders are paid to make decisions, but many leaders avoid decisions through Analysis Paralysis. The leader says, “we don’t have enough information” or “we need to study it more." Often the leader doesn’t like the choices available and waits until a better option presents itself. Sometimes this isn’t a big deal, but often indecision slows progress.

Analysis Paralysis – How to Avoid It!

Leaders are paid to make decisions, but many leaders avoid decisions through Analysis Paralysis. The leader says, “we don’t have enough information” or “we need to study it more.” Often the leader doesn’t like the choices available and waits until a better option presents itself. Sometimes this isn’t a big deal, but often indecision slows progress.

We all want perfect information when we make a decision, but sometimes that’s just not possible. When I was in the Air Force we often wanted to predict an adversary’s reaction if the United States took a specific action. We never knew for 100% certain what the reaction would be, but we still had to take action. Sometimes it made sense to wait, but often if we didn’t make a decision, we would miss an important opportunity.

This same thing occurs in the civilian world, although the impacts of the lack of decision are usually less severe. None of us want to make a bad decision. It’s a very real fear that many of us have at times, but we can’t overcome that fear by avoiding a decision. We face that fear by making the educated decisions through managing risk because we can never expect to be perfect. Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves to see if we’re really being prudent in holding off on making a decision, or if we may be a victim of analysis paralysis:

Questions to Help Avoid Analysis Paralysis

  • Is there a time-critical aspect to this decision?
  • Will we miss an important opportunity or face a penalty for not making a decision?
  • Do we have all of the AVAILABLE information?
  • While more info might be nice, is it really possible for us to know the answers we’d like to have?
  • Has the analysis been completed thoroughly and in a logical manner?
  • Are the assumptions, methods, data and conclusions of the study solid?
  • Is there really more analysis that should be done, or do we just not like the answers we have found?

Answering these questions honestly can help us get past the fear of making a bad decision. We can prove to ourself that we’ve done our due diligence in this matter. It’s okay if we decide to wait because we’ve forced ourselves to consider if we really need more information or analysis, or if we’re just paralyzed.

We should always make decisions deliberately and with the appropriate information. Sometimes we reach a point where we’ve done all of the analysis we can do and it is time to make a decision. That decision may be difficult or unpleasant, but as leaders, we are expected to make decisions and use good judgment. We can miss key opportunities to accomplish our mission when we kick the can down the road.

Challenging the status-quo often runs into cultural norms and perspectives that have been in place in the organization for a very long time. Asking our team to change the way they do things, where they sit, or who they work with is often like asking people to change their identity. This kind of change is understandable very difficult for most people. As leaders, we need to recognize just how difficult this is and compassionately lead our team through the changes ahead. When we see an area that needs improvement, asking a few key questions before making any changes can help determine if change is necessary and how to get our team through it.

Status-Quo – How to Keep it from Holding You Back

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.” I’ve fought against those words for most of my career.  As leaders we often want to improve our teams and keep them from being held back by outdated practices. I know how it feels to come up against the resistance from others when we see better ways of accomplishing our mission. When we challenge the status-quo, it’s usually because we want to make things better for our team, not worse. If this is really our primary interest in making a change, then it’s helpful for us to understand what causes this resistance and makes the status-quo so powerful.

Challenging the status-quo often runs into cultural norms and perspectives that have been in place in the organization for a very long time. Asking our team to change the way they do things, where they sit, or who they work with is often like asking people to change their identity. This kind of change is understandable very difficult for most people. As leaders, we need to recognize just how difficult this is and compassionately  lead our team through the changes ahead. When we see an area that needs improvement, asking a few key questions before making any changes can help determine if change is necessary and how to get our team through it.

Questions for Challenging the Status-Quo

  • “What if?” helps us to think about outcomes that might be better than the current outcomes
  • “Why?” helps us to identify challenges we may face as we try to bring about change 
  • “Who? Where? When? How?” help us put together details that will make the change a reality

It’s possible to answer these questions and decide that no changes to the status-quo are necessary at this time. Also, we could decide that the solution will create so much dissatisfaction that an alternate solution might be better. Change for the sake of change has destroyed many teams even though the intentions behind it were initially very good.

The take-home lesson today is that even though change is difficult for many people, as leaders, we can’t be afraid to challenge long-held ideas or practices that no longer serve our mission. We must approach change in a thoughtful and empathetic way to get the improvement we are looking for.

Many of us often feel like we are prisoners to some of the day-to-day aspects of our jobs. Almost every day, I find myself talking about how much time administrative tasks take away from the aspects of my business that really excite me. We know that as leaders we need to be delegating, not just to free up our time, but to develop our team members' leadership skills as well. Delegating is an important skill to have, but to do it effectively we need to be truly empowering others.

Empowering Others to Get Your Time Back

Many of us often feel like we are prisoners to some of the day-to-day aspects of our jobs. Almost every day, I find myself talking about how much time administrative tasks take away from the aspects of my business that really excite me. We know that as leaders we need to be delegating, not just to free up our time, but to develop our team members’ leadership skills as well. Delegating is an important skill to have, but to do it effectively we need to be truly empowering others.

Considerations Before Empowering Others

In order to empower others successfully, we need to think deliberately through a few questions before delegating. If we aren’t thorough about setting expectations, we might find that we’re spending more time supervising instead of focusing on the priorities we wanted to free time up for in the first place. Here are 6 questions we can ask ourselves before assigning priorities to one of our team members to help ensure that we’re freeing ourselves from the task and not creating an even bigger time sink:

  • What is the task, project or responsibility we want them to take on?
  • To what degree are we going to hold them accountable?
  • What resources will they need to accomplish the task?
  • What decisions are we willing to let them make on their own?
  • How much autonomy are we willing to give them?
  • How will we measure progress and success?

Trust is the Key to Empowering Others

It quickly becomes apparent that empowering others depends on trust. If we don’t know them well or trust is low, we’ll be reluctant to give them more autonomy and authority. If we have a strong relationship with them, we’ll be much more willing to let them run without a lot of supervision.

To reap the benefits of empowering others, we need to build trust with our team members from the very beginning. Waiting until we are task-saturated before delegating guarantees we’ll be spending more time supervising than focusing on more important priorities. Empowering a team member today starts freeing up our own time as well as builds strong leaders for the future.

In honor of 4th of July, we're going to talk about all kinds of ways we can tackle winning our independence. Not just our independence in terms of being able to do what we want to do when we want to do it; but winning our independence from tasks that don't help us accomplish our mission. As leaders, we should strive to gain the freedom to make independent decisions that help our team reach the best possible outcomes, as well as, becoming independent thinkers who are not afraid to challenge the status quo when it is appropriate.

Winning Our Independence – July Challenge

In honor of 4th of July, we’re going to talk about all kinds of ways we can tackle winning our independence. Not just our independence in terms of being able to do what we want to do when we want to do it; but winning our independence from tasks that don’t help us accomplish our mission. As leaders, we should strive to gain the freedom to make independent decisions that help our team reach the best possible outcomes, as well as, becoming independent thinkers who are not afraid to challenge the status quo when it is appropriate.

Take the July Challenge – Winning Our Independence!

The first step to winning our independence is to challenge ourselves to critically assess our team and our current processes. Our challenge this month is to find one process or practice that we can let go of or update. When we cling to practices that have become outdated, we reduce their effectiveness and hold them back. If all of our processes are rock solid and don’t need improvement, another way to complete this challenge is to let go of some of our own responsibilities and empower others. By delegating to members of our team, we are winning our independence from the tasks that keep us from focusing on the big picture. A great advantage of empowering others is that it helps develop their critical thinking and leadership skills as they learn how to navigate their new responsibilities.

Tell us in the comments what you decide to let go of as part of winning your independence. It doesn’t matter what you choose to let go of, it can be a big task or just a small item. You could lead your team through transforming old business practices, or develop your team members skills by empowering with some of your key responsibilities. Whatever you choose, think it through before implementing to be sure it will give you and your team additional freedom!

Many times, we passively collect the information makes it through our ears and into our brains and, as a result, we don't fully understand the message. We engage in active listening when we treat listening as a conscious effort to understand what is being said.

Active Listening & Non-Verbal Communication

For the past few weeks we’ve focused on the internal aspects of communication that influence how others receive our message. We’ve also discussed the barriers and filters that keep us from understanding others when they communicate with us. This week, we talk about practical actions that will improve our external communication skills by taking an active role in hearing others through active listening in addition to observing non-verbal communication.

Many times, we passively collect the information makes it through our ears and into our brains and, as a result, we don’t fully understand the message. We engage in active listening when we treat listening as a conscious effort to understand what is being said.

Active Listening Tips

Active listening doesn’t always come naturally, yet there are steps we can take to improve our listening skills. Making a conscious effort to listen ensures that we understanding what others are trying to tell us which consequently leads to making more informed decisions. We also can learn to recognize if others are actively listening to our message and really understanding us. These four practical tips will help transform our listening from passive to active and, as a result, improve our communication:

  • Avoid communication barriers
  • Take notes
  • Summarize, ask questions and clarify points
  • Observe non-verbal communication cues

Non-Verbal Communication as Part of Active Listening

Non-verbal cues convey a great deal about how well we are communicating with others and give us an indication if they are understanding our message. In the video, Jason talks about four different kinds of non-verbal communication behavior and how they pertain to active listening. He even demonstrates non-verbal cues that engaged and non-engaged listeners show.

  • Eye contact
  • Smiling
  • Posture
  • Mirroring

Finally, if you’re interested in finding our more about active listening and non-verbal communication, there is some great information on the site Skills You Need. There are some additional skills for you to try, as well as a few more types of non-verbal communication you can take a look at.

 

 

Sometimes, we can make understanding others even more difficult by unknowing putting conversation filters in place that impact how we understand others. These conversation filters can prevent us from fully grasping the message that others are trying to get across to us. In addition, these filters can negatively impact our professional relationships because we are perceived as someone who doesn't listen. Innovation and initiative often suffer on teams where the leader doesn't listen because team members have little incentive to offer ideas.

Conversation Filters That Obscure Communication

Communicating effectively is one of the most important leadership skills and can be difficult even under the best of circumstances. As we talked about in last week’s video, there are many barriers to communication that come from external sources. Sometimes, we can make understanding others even more difficult by unknowing putting conversation filters in place that impact how we listen. These conversation filters prevent us from fully grasping the message that others are trying to get across to us. In addition, our team members might perceive us as someone who doesn’t listen if we fall victim to these filters. Innovation and initiative often suffer on teams where the leader doesn’t listen because team members have little incentive to offer ideas.

Conversation Filters

There are many conversation filters that limit our ability to understand the message that others are trying to get across. In this week’s video, Jason talks about three of the most common filters that you may experience, how to recognize them and how to deal with them effectively if you run into them:

  • Correcting – interrupting others to interject our view of what the facts are.
  • Interrogating – drilling down with questions to trap someone or place blame
  • One-upping – emphasizing our own accomplishments over others

We gathered a lot of the information we used in this video from a post by Peter Vjada. If you’d like to learn about more conversation filters and how to keep them from impacting our understanding you can check out the article here.

Effective communication isn’t just about how well we speak. How we listen to others is often more important to leadership than what we say.  Leaders must create a climate where ideas are listened to without bias in order to encourage creative solutions. To improve communication on our team we need to understand conversation filters and how they impact our ability to listen.

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