It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

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Multiple Failures of More Than One Skill

As a resident of SW Michigan I made occasional visits to the Detroit area over the years. I enjoyed watching the Tigers playing at Briggs Stadium, particularly during the years of John E. Fetzer’s ownership of the team. The Detroit Zoo is a great place to spend a lovely spring or summer day; Greenfield Village and the Detroit Institute of the Arts are world-classs must-sees. And there is little need for a description of what the word Motown means to music fans. As a life-long “car guy” I’ve followed the automobile industry’s ups and downs over the years. The city of Detroit has always been there and although it was a big-city wonder for a small town kid it has gradually become a mere shadow of itself as the population within the City’s boundaries fell from 1.8 million in 1950 to less than 715,000.

As the news featuring Detroit became more and more about less and less – poverty of the grinding, relentless, no hope, no future kind; abandoned and crumbling homes, commercial buildings, factories, roads and bridges; “ruin porn” photo spreads, vacant blocks and empty streets; I found myself increasingly frustrated by my inability to understand what I was seeing and learning. How does a world class City become a hollowed-out shell of its formers self? What causes 60% of the population to head for the exits – either to the suburbs or to another state in the hopes of finding work?

The news media certainly provided little that would help one understand; “if it bleeds, it leads” is still true, particularly for the electronic media. The seemingly endless description of the results of the latest stabbing, shooting, drug bust, “devils night” torching of abandoned homes, financial woes and eventual bankruptcy . . . night after night the only news datelined Detroit were mind-numbingly negative. How did we get to this point?

So I started to read about Detroit and learn more about the history of this city, how it came to be the home of the auto industry, and how it came to its present state. While a number of sources were useful in seeing examples of Detroit yesterday and today, I did not find the one resource I needed – something that helped me understand the flow of time from earliest days to current reality. And then I happened upon “Detroit: A Biography” by Scott Martelle. (2012, Chicago Review Press). I highly recommend it; it helped me understand Detroit’s present tense in the arc of its history, its leadership, its successes and its failures. And it got me to thinking about it from the standpoint of “The 8 Essential Skills” – which of the 8 Skills failed to materialize within the fabric of Detroit’s past?

Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships was clearly a failure, from the history of terrible labor relations among owners, managers, and the people they hired to work in the factories, to the rampant racism that grew out of the “Great Migration” of immigrants and rural poor who eagerly moved north for jobs paying perhaps 10 times what they could earn in a year as a farmer. From divisive city vs. suburb political fights to a sometimes The Rest of Michigan vs. Detroit mindset in the Michigan Legislature; it’s obvious that a lot of people failed to build relationships that were successful.

Skill 4 – Managing Others was also a significant failure as labor unions and management engaged in destructive “bargaining” where each side succeeded only if the other side of the table lost. Bureaucracy within the auto companies as well as in municipal government resulted in insanely complex work rules, no-show jobs, and an entrenched sense of entitlement at all levels. From the Board and CEO level down to the first line supervisor in the assembly plant, the common sense of managing other people went out the window long ago in favor of “what’s in it for me?.”

There is an object lessen here for all of us: Think beyond your own self-interest and take care of the community in which you live, regardless of where you live. We’re all in this together!

Paul

 

Collaboration

Recently I gave a brief talk to InterCom, the regional group for communications professionals. The topic was collaborative organizations, using our Midwest Consulting Group as a model. We believe MCG is the oldest virtual corporation in Michigan, and probably one of the oldest in the U.S. Building business through collaboration is what we have been about since 1990. The bright, diverse, neat-to-hang-out-with people who make up MCG are involved in both individual and collective projects and collaborating has become part and parcel of how we operate. Clients and projects may differ considerably, but working, thinking, planning together has become part of our hardwiring. The common denominator is helping organizations, individual professionals, and teams get great at what they do.

Whether it’s helping a nonprofit agency to create a strategic plan, guiding a university faculty member through the process of publishing in an academic journal, helping create a brand identity for a business or nonprofit, coaching executives and professionals, teaching and training people to be better supervisors, managers, and leaders or creating a comprehensive management development program  . . . the commitment to collaborate, cooperate, and help each other grow our businesses is in everything we do.

Who are you collaborating with? And what have you achieved through collaboration? Would be an interesting discussion, I think.

Colleagues

What is a “colleague”? In the broadest sense it’s a term we use for someone we work with and value. Still, it has come to mean much more than that to me. When I think of my own colleagues, I see people with whom I work, sure. But more importantly, I see friends. Individuals with their own interests, yet we share interests in some areas. Over the years we become more than people who “work together” – we become friends. We look for ways to collaborate (another lovely word) with each other, to support and encourage each other, to be there when things don’t go quite the way we had hoped or intended. And occasionally to provide that poke, prod, nudge in the direction of our true purpose when we get a little off-track.

I am blessed with superb colleagues and friends within the virtual organization we call Midwest Consulting Group, Inc. And over the years I’ve also developed a wonderful network of colleagues across the country. The times we spend together are among the best of times.

To all my colleagues and friends, I wish the very best for all of us in 2012. And Thank You for being part of my life.

How about your colleagues? When was the last time you thanked them for being among that special group we call . . . colleagues.

An Irritating Guy!

Communications Stories from the Trenches – III

Once upon a time I worked with a colleague – we’ll call him Ralph – who seemed to have a great deal of difficulty in looking directly at me when we talked. The moment I walked into his office he stood up and did not sit down until our conversation was finished. At first I thought it was me. Then I discovered he did that with everyone. He also had an irritating habit of jingling his keys or the change in his pocket when anyone was speaking to him. He would stop that whenever he was talking. And since we had daily interaction with him, these annoying habits became a form of subtle torture for some of us, to the point where several of his coworkers went out of their way to avoid having to deal with him. He was a clear Introvert although his senior level required him to speak regularly in staff and divisional management meetings and he was reasonably effective in that setting.

Ralph was either completely unaware of the effect his irritating habits had on others, or he didn’t care, or he was at least somewhat aware at some level and couldn’t help himself. I don’t know; I’m not a psychologist (and I don’t play one on television). I do know that his nonverbal messages seemed pretty clear to most of us:

  • Ralph was clearly uncomfortable in face-to-face, one-on-one communication situations.
  • He was not paying much attention to what we were saying
  • He would like us to leave as quickly as possible

To say the least, Ralph was a poor listener. He violated most of the basic rules of effective listening. What do good listeners do?:

  • They maintain eye contact with the other person
  • They show non-verbal interest in what the other person is saying; they nod occasionally, have an open expression, and smile if it’s appropriate
  • They avoid fidgeting, crossing their arms and legs, looking at their watch. Ralph violated this one constantly.
  • They ask questions to clarify what the other person is saying
  • They repeat or paraphrase the other person’s message to check for understanding
  • They are patient and allow the other person to make their point fully

How are your listening skills these days?

8 Essential Skills for Nonprofit Managers

For those of you managing nonprofit organizations – we’ve been asked to develop a 5-session workshop series for our friends at ONEplace@KPL. This series is designed for entry to middle-level directors and managers in all areas of nonprofit organizations (executives, programs, services, administrations, operations, fund development, communications—anyone who supervises others). Each session will be 2.5 hours and will run on five successive Monday’s from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Interested? You can learn more by visiting the workshop announcement and topic schedule at ONEplace.  And while you’re visiting, don’t forget to check out the rest of what Bobbe Luce, her staff, and her network are doing – it’s great stuff!

Next Time: More Communications Stories from the Trenches.

PS – watch for my upcoming interview about “The 8 Essential Skills” on Mary Jo Asmus’ outstanding blog, Leadership Solutions.

That Derailment Thing – Again

Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership have studied the reasons behind managers derailing and crashing. It seems to come down to three things: 

They don’t successfully adapt during transitions

They are difficult to work with

They fail to lead in a team-centered way

As I look back at supervisors and managers who derail somewhere along the line, I see lots of examples of people who failed due to one, two, or occasionally all three of these reasons. How about you? Can you think of examples that stand out in your own career?

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