There are obstacles getting in the way of projects and progress. Obstacles on the job site. Obstacles in our offices, and workplace. Obstacles are those things (old processes, equipment, software, procedures, routines, traditions) that will delay and disrupt the workflow. Obstacles waste time, energy, and resources.
But obstacles are interesting beasts. They like to remain unspoken, unidentified, or undisturbed.
Obstacles like to mask themselves as something else.
Obstacles like to pretend they are just petty offensives.
Obstacles like to create divisions between us.
Obstacles will do almost anything to remain in place instead of being addressed and removed.
What if we took a different approach?
We could become Obstacle Hunters.
A collective agreement to stand together (side by side) to notice, track down, and find obstacles. A collective agreement with the freedom to bring up any obstacles that may disrupt or delay your daily progress. A collective agreement that each member of the team should be an Obstacle Hunter (even if the obstacle was created by leadership). A collective agreement that obstacles are hurting our progress and ability to deliver and there is no fear, offense, or worry when we bring obstacles forward.
What are you waiting for? You and your team face these obstacles every day. These obstacles will want to remain hidden from view and out of focus. It is time to start hunting these obstacles down and get them out of the way of your progress and team satisfaction.
Let’s go hunting today. Watch out obstacles, we are coming for you.
I used to give an assignment to leaders and supervisors at the end of a session.
“Go back to your organization and find a project to delegate down to someone else.”
The reason for the assignment was simple. We had discussed the importance of conveying trust in others and to build their capacity within the organization. We reviewed some some key points from Dan Pink’s book Drive and discussed how delegating projects would resonate with the key drivers for all employees: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Weeks or months later, I would check in with these leaders. Almost no one delegated a project.
I asked why.
“You don’t understand, I got back to the office and am so busy, I just couldn’t find the time to sit down with someone and explain it, it was easier to do it myself.”
“They wouldn’t do it right anyway, and when you think about it, I was saving them from failing.”
“I need this done a certain way, and don’t want to worry about if it is done right.”
The lists, and the excuses kept coming. For the few leaders that did delegate projects, many of them picked the worst project on their list and passed that down to someone.
Each excuse was almost a direct hit against the primary drivers for employees.
Autonomy – people want some self direction and control over their working environment which may mean taking on projects and doing it their way. Lack of delegation sends the message that you are in complete control and there is no room for others to develop their own way or style.
Mastery – people want to be good at things, and that means trying new things, working on new projects that develop and refine skills over time. Lack of delegation keeps their skills shallow, and maintains your expert status.
Purpose – people want to feel like their work matters, and their time is meaningful and makes a difference. Lack of delegation makes others feel unimportant, and worse conveys that you do not trust them or value them and their contribution.
I had to change the assignment.
“Within 2 weeks, find the project or assignment is BIG and IMPORTANT that would give you the most satisfaction, organizational recognition, and reward and delegate that one. AND find your partner here today and tell them about this project then call each other each week to ensure it is delegated.”
At first you could have heard a pin drop.
The big and important one? YES!
The one that would give the most rewards? YUP!
Now when I check in with these leaders I hear a different story.
“It was pretty scary to give up a big project like that, but I was surprised, they took it on and completed it. They seem more energized and are looking for the next project.”
“They went in a different direction then I expected and that made me worry, but the result was better than expected and frankly maybe better than I would have been able to do.”
“Not only are these employees taking on more projects and responsibilities, I find that I have more time to do my core job and I am less frantic and busy.”
So the choice as leaders is simple. You can keep everything to yourself (most likely out of fear and control) or you can learn to pass down important projects and assignments. When you choose to keep it, you convey a lack of trust and your work will continue to be hectic and busy. When you choose to pass projects to others, you convey trust and importance in others, and build their capacity.
One leader candidly expressed their fear in doing this.
“What if I delegate these important things down, and my employees become better at these things than me? Won’t I be working myself out of my job?”
My response was simple.
If you are the kind of leader that can build the capacity of teams in a way that you are no longer needed, you most likely have a much larger and more important career as companies will pay a lot to replicate that in their organization.
The session is about conflict and learning their preferred styles and other styles.
The session ends with some group work and a case study.
The case study provides a scenario and context to apply what they just learned.
The scenario describes being partnered with a peer to organize and work on a project together. But, when they arrive at the meeting, the peer has already started the project and assigned work to other members of the team.
Participants are asked to describe what they would do.
The response to this scenario has ALWAYS been the same.
“I would confront this peer about moving forward without me.”
“I would address this peer’s behavior and establish some structure and boundaries so we are working together on this project.”
“I would talk to my boss about this peer and make sure our roles are clear.”
The response to this scenario has ALWAYS been the same.
The response to this scenario has ALWAYS been the same, until recently.
This group surprised me.
“I would thank the peer for taking initiative and ask them how I can help moving forward.”
“I would support this peer and see if they need me to take a more active role.”
They went on to explain their response.
“You see, I am super busy. And just because it didn’t work out perfectly, or not exactly what I had in mind, that is fine with me. I appreciate when someone takes initiative and gets things moving. I don’t always have to be in charge, sometimes I can play a support role for what is already in motion.”
Let me say that again. Wow!
A much different response and view of someone else taking initiative.
A response that rewards action and doesn’t take things personally.
How many times do we see taking initiative as a threat?
How often does our ego get in the way of movement?
How often do we see negative things when there is something positive to be appreciated?
Maybe it is time for a new response to taking initiative.
Just because that project, that dinner, that event was not exactly what you had in mind, can we learn to appreciate those taking initiative instead?
Let me know if you struggle with others taking initiative and if you try taking this alternative view in your own world, workplace, household, or lives in the comments section.
In the world of consulting, coaching, helping, serving, and assisting others you are going to be rejected.
People reach out, they need help.
You carefully craft a plan, program, event, or system.
You send that thing you created into the world.
You may or may not hear from them right away.
Sometimes they say No.
Sometimes they blame the price.
“It was too expensive. It was too costly.”
The first temptation is to lower your cost. “Did I charge too much?”
But your time, your talents, your efforts are valuable.
There is some truth to what they said.
It was going to cost them.
The cost of being accountable.
The cost of stretching beyond their normal pattern or rut.
The cost of doing the hard work, over and over again until they get results.
The cost of making sacrifices to change their current situation.
Maybe they were not ready because the cost was too high.
Rejection can be hard.
Don’t give up.
Keep consulting, coaching, helping, serving, and assisting others.
Keep creating plans, programs, events, and systems.
Your tribe, your group, and your people know that the change they desire will be expensive and it will be costly. They also recognize the true cost is their sacrifice and hard work, and they are willing to pay that price.
A few of us were talking about how to best prepare for an upcoming event.
You know the type of event: the one with lots of people getting together, both family and friends.
As fun as these events can be, stress and other pressures seem to also arrive whenever lot of people gather in one place.
Half joking, we developed a plan.
“What if we created an emotional baggage check. You know, when people arrive, we could have them check their emotional baggage at the door.”
We all laughed, but then it hit us. What if we really did this? What if this emotional baggage check worked?
How could it work?
When you arrive at the event, you are given a card, and numbered envelope, and a pen.
You write down on the card any difficult or hard emotions that you are carrying into the event.
You place the card in the envelope and exchange it for a corresponding numbered ticket.
You attend the event emotional baggage free.
When the event ends, you have the choice of claiming your emotional baggage, or leaving it behind. (Any envelopes left behind are burned and buried.)
Repeat steps one through three as many times as needed.
We are emotional creatures. Those emotions sometimes disrupt events and relationships, even when we try to keep these emotions to ourselves.
Instead of keeping those emotions bottled up, perhaps the physical act of writing down and checking the emotional baggage is enough to give us a needed break from those challenging or difficult emotions.
And who knows? Once we experience events without those emotional responses, it may feel good enough that we won’t pick them back up.
Leaders are told all the time to stay out of the weeds.
The more senior the position the more we hear this advice, and these words about the weeds.
“Let’s stay up at a 30,000 or 40,000 foot view on this issue.”
Then the advice switches to altitude and taking a big picture view.
Simple advice: stay out of the details and keep your distance.
This weed/altitude advice attempts to keep us from micromanaging the operation.
But over time, this weed/altitude advice keep removes us from the action.
Ironically, when we stay “out of the weeds” too long, weeds start to sprout, root, and take hold in our organizations.
Weeds of poor customer service.
Weeds of missed deadlines.
Weeds of a culture not focused on deliverables.
Weeds of excuses and justifying the lack of results.
We may need more balanced advice.
Sometimes get in the weeds and stay close to the action.
Sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. You need to get in the dirt and pluck weeds.
When should you get in the weeds?
When a pattern of customer complaints emerges?
When deadlines are missed?
When more time is spent justifying than solving?
Maybe regularly enough before patterns of complaints and lack of results can take root.
Gardens need regular weeding. Our organizations need regular weeding too.
If you don’t spend time in the weeds, those weeds may be the thing that chokes out your organization. Weeds make us vulnerable to losing market share, customers, and good employees.
Balancing time in the weeds and big picture thinking time will have to be a topic for another day. But for now, if you have been up at 30,000 or 40,000 feet and removed from the action; walk around, get close, and look for weeds. And when you find weeds, get rid of them.