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Identifying “balls” that bounce and those that shatter

Have you ever tried to juggle so many things you end up dropping all of them?

A mentor once told me the secret to good leaders is prioritization. Her illustration was for you to think of everything as balls you are constantly juggling (work, home life, etc) – some are rubber and some are glass. You can already see where this is going can’t you?

Glass balls need to remain in the air (on the move) or they fall and shatter like Humpty Dumpty, never to be put back together again. While rubber balls are the ones you can drop and pick back up. No (long-term) harm happens if they are set aside for the moment. Great advice and a mental image as you think about your busy schedule and conflicting demands.

It’s not always easy identifying which balls are rubber and which are glass because each of us brings our own view shaped by past experience. So I thought I’d try to start a list for you to help start your own sorting:

  • Glass balls have long-term unrecoverable results if not addressed and cared for. Ask yourself what happens if this waits a day, a week, or a month.
  • Glass balls are not always the “urgent”, but they are always the “important”.
  • You may be able to juggle two or three but throwing a fourth or a fifth into the mix means you may drop them all. Be careful what you add to your mix
  • Rubber balls can be hard to let go. They could be habits. They could be comfortable to you. But letting them go in times of chaos is a must if you want to keep the glass balls in play.

What do you think are your “glass” balls that if dropped would be unrecoverable? What do you face this week that if they were pushed out would bounce like a rubber ball? Take a moment and write down all that you are facing this week. Then “rack and stack” your list. You may be able to find the thread of clarity you’ve been looking for.

Be Intentional,

The value stream’s gift to you

Since it is the Christmas season and most are buying last minute gifts for friends and loved ones (even if you’re just the budget approver), everyone reading this is a customer. You, at some time, have paid for goods or services. You are your own judge of whether you got what you paid for. You review on Amazon, you like or dislike on YouTube, you buy again (or not) and you recommend (or not). It is your opinion. You vote with your money.

Inside business organizations, our “internal customers” are defined as the groups/teams/people we hand off to in the value stream. It could be the next operator on the assembly line (think providing goods). It could be the quality or engineering team supporting operations (think providing services). We stress the importance of understanding what our internal customers’ needs are and challenging ourselves to provide. We develop organizations to collapse silos and build bridges across functional groups to ensure our “internal customers” are provided for.

I see a potential issue with being an “internal customer”. What power do you have as the receiver of the goods or services to get what you really need and not just take what is given? It’s not like you can complain on Yelp about it. And unlike our daily buying choices, you don’t get to choose where your goods or services come from. You are a “captive” customer based on whoever is providing it.

Healthy companies understand that for an organization to work, internal customers must have a voice. Leadership must be the microphone that amplifies the voice.

Just say no to the status quo
Don’t just accept status quo. Step up at a meeting and set the expectation of what your team needs as the “internal customer”. Setting clear expectations allows the provider of the goods/service to work their resource constraints and set priorities.

We the people, in order to form a more perfect handoff
Every organization is made up of people. If the internal customer is not getting what is needed, leaders need to determine if the issue is systemic to the group or if it is a low performing individual. Addressing the right issue ensures the “internal customers” are provided for correctly.

The customer is never wrong, unless they are
Accept internal customer complaints with a proverbial smile. The motto “the customer is never wrong” may work at times and may need to be adjusted at other times. You have a version of the story, the internal customer has their version of the story and somewhere in the middle is the right story. At the end of the day – if you take the time to listen (not just hear) the customer’s issue, only then will you really understand the value you provide to your “internal customer”. What if your team can help their team “win”? What would that look like?

Why wait when you can pro-activate
I think it was Machiavelli who once said, “A small problem is hard to see but easy to fix, whereas a large problem is easy to see but nearly impossible to fix.” What are you waiting for? Pro-actively ask your internal customer if they are getting what they need from you or from your team. Send out a survey. Hold a skip level meeting. Invite them to your desk for a cup of coffee and cookies. You own your output’s input and vice-versa. Not asking can be seen as not caring.

So the next time you hear of an internal customer complaint – ask yourself if you’ve taken the time to get to know your internal customer. If not, ask yourself why not?

Be intentional

How do you hold yourself accountable?

How does one hold someone accountable while simultaneously coaching and mentoring? We say leaders should have “behavior correcting discussions” in private, so how does the team know these discussions are happening? What exactly do people mean when they say “People aren’t being held accountable.” What are they looking for to know someone is being held accountable?

Like you, I’ve also had to struggle with these questions. One day I got tired of asking them and instead decided to ask a much harder and way more personal question. Asking it set everything I did on its proverbial edge.

The radical question?

How do I hold myself accountable?

What is it that you do to hold yourself accountable to your own actions? Do your words equal your actions? Now its personal and may be a tad uncomfortable. However, if we hold ourselves accountable – then others shouldn’t have to.

Here are a few things I try to consistently do in order to hold myself accountable to the words I speak:

Note It

  • When I say I am going to do something, I make a note and make sure I do it.

Think before speaking

  • I try think before I speak. Realizing that I own the words coming out of my mouth, I mentally make a point to know what I am saying.

Self-Assess often

  • Like those smiley face charts in the doctor’s office about the “pain”, I regularly self-assess to ensure I am doing what I am saying. I want my actions and words to align.

Apologize as needed

  • When I am wrong or when I don’t deliver my commitment (no matter how small), or when I fail to do what I am supposed to do I let the other person know it was me. I own my actions whether or not the other person owns theirs.

Surround myself with good people

  • I have accountability partners who have full permission to help me hold myself accountable. If you do not have folks who you have vetted and given the authority to speak truth into your view – you will always be the smartest person in the room, right up until you aren’t. Even the kings of old had court jesters who were able to offer insight.

Aim way high

  • I ask more of myself than I do of others. I know I am not perfect and thus I can only hold others accountable with the lens of humility through my imperfection. We’d all do well to remember that.

Mean what you say, say what you mean

  • My yes is yes and my no is no. It’s simplicity at its finest. Getting to simple is very hard. Simple doesn’t mean easy nor does it mean simplistic. It means intentional.

Look up, look down, look around

  • I regularly assess what I believe I am accountable for such as; actions, motives, or deliverables… Internalizing exactly what I am accountable for ensures my daily words and deeds have an opportunity to align.

In summary, I’m reminded of the movie Top Gun. In it, there was a scene where Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) CO said, “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.” The same can be said about one’s personal accountability to their words and actions. Don’t let either your words or your actions get ahead of your ability to deliver. Keep enough in your personal accountability account to pay your own way.

Be intentional

“Be Intentional” Little words. Big ramifications

With all of the change occurring around us these days, I have heard several questions surrounding the word: “Legacy”. Folks have asked, what will the legacy of x be? What will this mean to Y?

I thought about it and have a question I want to ask.

Have you ever thought about your own legacy upon leaving a meeting? I mean, it’s just one meeting, in one day, of one week, of one month, of one year, right? But think about all of those “legacy moments”  and how they add up to the big overall legacy picture.

A tiny rudder named “Intentionality” steers a big ship called the “Your Legacy”.

Which is why I thought long and hard about how I wanted to sign-off my “Thought for the week…”. What were the last words I wanted to leave with you every week? After all, it’s a simple 400 or so word blog, once a week, 52x a year… but eventually you’ll have enough of these blogs to get a sense of my perspective.

What’s my legacy with you?

“Be Intentional” is as much a reminder to myself as it is to “all y’all” reading this. Everything we do, we are responsible for our thoughts, emotions, actions, and motives. We own who we are and how we behave. Granted we can’t control what happens to us but we can control how we respond. I’ve told my husband more than once that he can’t control the red lights but he can control how he feels about sitting at a red light. (And he is free to disagree with me.)

“Be intentional” means…

  • Taking the time to think through scenarios and what our actions/words should be. This way we are not randomly responding. Or as they say, “shooting from the hip”. Loose lips sink legacy ships.
  • Owning our words. The most successful professionals never say things to just make themselves feel better. Leaders’ words are powerful and should be weighed carefully.
  • Understanding that emotions have a place means they need to be managed. To do that, thought must be put into why you feel a certain way and knowing your personal hot buttons.
  • Checking and double checking our motives. Are you saying “X” just to make yourself feel better? Or, as a servant leader, are you striving to make the team better?

In summary, be intentional in thought, word and deed this coming week. Measure your thoughts and be intentional with your words. My Sunday school teacher often said, “say what you mean and mean what you say” In other words: “Be intentional”.


Let your actions equal the who, what, when, where and how of your team’s execution

What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answer to these questions are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this you can call strategy.  William E Rothschild

At an early age I learned about the 4 “w”s and “how”. Seems it has always been a part of my thought process. What, Where, When, Why, and How.

All goals, missions, vision, strategy statements and objectives wrap around “4W&H”. They are linked at the core of the thought and are intertwined at the execution. Micro and macro and unless there is cohesiveness, until you understand how it all comes together as one, you cannot communicate to your team what the end purpose is. As a result, your team won’t be “rowing in the same direction”.

The most basic disconnect can catch the best of teams off guard. Watch for the signs and work to help your team keep “rowing in the same direction”.

Are various parts of your team struggling to work together? Make sure their targets and metrics are not at cross purposes. When team members are set up with conflicting goals, instead of rowing in one direction, you may end up rowing in circles or worse, dead in the water.

Is your team hitting their metrics, yet losing the overall game? Your micro assessment is not adding up to your macro needs. Time to realign the layers.

Does it seem like your goal conversations are disconnected from the daily work being done? Time to realign the focus and priorities.

Let the actions speak as loud as the words. Remember the old saying, “Your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Be intentional

3 strategies to clarify your communication

This past summer while on an international assignment, the teams I worked with used some good “words” to help clarify and communicate more effectively. Specifically, there were three effective communication strategies I saw employed:
  1. Socialize“:   Whenever there was a new thought or idea, the team talked about “socializing the idea”.  This meant for people to discuss, debate, expose people to the thought, and work together to internalize the idea.
  2. Talking past each other“:  Like calling a time out, either person or even someone listening would say “I think we are talking past each other”. It meant we are not talking about the same thing, or we are not getting anywhere understanding each other.  It meant it was time to reset the conversation so understanding and communication could take place.
  3. My ask“:  Teams succeed by everyone throwing into the conversation, chewing on the options, and talking through the “what ifs”.  However, sometimes the team can lose the summary, and/or not understand what the request was instead of what the suggestions or brain storming were.  By summarizing the conversation by saying, “The ask is…” clears the path to know just what exactly is being sought. Clarifying by using the words, “My ask is” can be a good way to summarize and ensure something needed is not lost in the conversation.
Communication is necessary for success in any environment or initiative.  I saw people using these phrases firsthand – and they were very successful in getting the team moving in the same direction.
Be intentional