Lead from Your Sweet Spot

Lead from Your Sweet Spot

“There’s a real sweet spot between challenge and hope – leaders make pathways that keep both firmly in view.”
— Marshall Ganz

On a tennis racquet, there is a miraculous zone known as the sweet spot. If you connect with a ball on the sweet spot of the racquet, you are almost unaware of the impact and effort involved. You are also likely to hit the place on the court you were aiming for. If you miss the sweet spot, you are more likely to miss your target and the impact on you is jarring. The more you miss your sweet spot, the more jarring it is.

The sweet spot on a tennis racquet is where multiple factors and forces come together to create this harmonic response. The same is true for leadership. Exceptional leaders consistently focus their energies to create initiatives that emerge from their sweet spot.

The following are key factors that will intersect for you in creating your own leadership sweet spot.

Passion
When leading initiatives that you love, the energy you receive from them can exceed the energy you put in. These types of efforts will inspire you to arise most mornings with a smile on your face. Seek to create and lead projects that you are passionate about.

Competence
The more skilled you are in the area you are passionate about, the larger your sweet spot of leadership is. The more skilled you are, the less effort it takes to gather the forces to create remarkable initiatives.

Valuable results
Since leadership is not about you alone, the other force necessary to create a powerful sweet spot is to lead initiatives that provide remarkable value to your intended audience.  Appreciation for the work you do does contribute to the joy factor.

These three factors work in harmony creating a personal energizing sweet spot.

Leadership can be a difficult job and sometimes feel less than rewarding. That is one of the reasons I wrote this “mini-book” that provides 8 mindsets about how to rise above the troubles. This newsletter is an excerpt from this Mindset of Exceptional Leadership.  You can download the whole book right here.

A change in mindset changes the game.  Work on the mindset to enjoy the journey.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Drive Up Courage

Drive Up Courage

“Drive out fear.”— Dr. Edward Demming; the 8th point of his famous 14 points for leadership.

In my coaching of all levels of leadership and of individual contributors, I find a common trait.  Everyone has some fear about speaking out in public, especially when they feel they will say something that could be any or all of the following:

  • Wrong
  • Perceived as a “stupid” 
  • Noting the obvious 
  • Against current popular opinion
  • That they will be stuck with that stated opinion even though they are just thinking things out

Unfortunately, this fear often stops people from furthering the conversation. Saying something that is wrong often helps lead to what is right. Saying something “stupid” often is exactly what was needed or leads to the “smart” idea everyone was missing.  Stating something obvious often brings everyone up a level to see the “obvious” things they were missing.  Popular opinion is often based on a current feeling, and someone needs to point out other directions that are possible.  Opinions evolve through conversation.

Everyone has at least some experience of fears that have stopped them from speaking out.  

Despite this, leaders often fail to lead in a way that drives up the courage to speak out.  Consider doing these five things to drive up courage in your project teams.

  1. Seek out the silent people on topics of interest.  You know some people should have spoken up that didn’t.  Talk to them one on one.  If they do have opinions, seek to understand what blocked them from bringing up their ideas.
  2. If something is “popular,” ask how the idea could go wrong.  I get worried when conversations have no friction because no plans are flawless.  Make room for the negative to be spoken out loud.
  3. Provide space for thinking.  Many leaders have traits of thinking on their feet and thinking through their ideas out loud.  Remember, others are not the same.  Provide those internal processors with a space inside or outside meetings.  Inside meetings, provide 3-5 minutes for people to write down ideas and then speak about them.  Outside meetings, give a write-in period.
  4. Eliminate fear factors.  I have seen very smart cynics provide perfectly funny sarcastic remarks. Everyone (except the speaker) laughed and that was the end of people providing “unsafe” comments.  As a leader, you must eliminate the behaviors and cultures that shut down ideas.
  5. Get external coaching. It is useful to get external viewpoints on what could be contributing to “fear factors” that shut out ideas.  It is also valuable to get coaching for individuals so they will speak even when the environment says contrarian ideas are not welcome.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Lessons From the Land of Heavy Metal: Bring It. Keep Bringing It.

Persistence, Dedication, Individuality.
Lead with these things in mind and you will do well.

Thankful

This time of year can be an intensely busy time. We feel our attention pulled in many directions. Taking time to refresh our perspectives can be a useful tool in accomplishing what is important.

Is It Time To Add Another Point?

I was using a phone app to measure an awkward shape. The app chided me to add a point. It needed new data to be able to better understand the task it was being asked to do.

The 2019 Starting Line

My family and I are looking forward to a very busy month of December. There is much work to be done and much fun to be had. It seems that the calendar year always ends with a dash towards a virtual finish line.

Correlation

It is a bit embarrassing for me to admit, but I really did think it would be easy. It turns out running races actually does take training.

Secrets to Attracting and Growing Evergreen Talent

Secrets to Attracting and Growing Evergreen Talent

“Anyone can grow something. The question is, can they sustain this growth over time?”— Roberta Matuson, Evergreen Talent

I was on another adventure hike with my son, and I noticed that on one side of the gorge, the trees were almost exclusively evergreens while the other side there were predominantly broad-leafed deciduous trees. 

“What could be the difference?” I thought. Was it the soil type? Could it be the river overflowed more on one side of the river than the other?

While I debated these possibilities, we encountered a trail-side sign that explained the critical difference. One side of the gorge basked in the sunlight significantly more than the other that remained mostly shadowed by the tall gorge walls. The result was two distinct micro-climates divided by the river. Even though the two sides were only a short distance apart, they grew very different kinds of trees.

Though my initial hypotheses about the reasons for the difference turned out to be correct, the most significant contributing factor became apparent as we stood in the sunlight.

In many ways, this also explains the critical difference between organizations that are just across the proverbial street from each other.

The company on the sun-starved side of the street has difficulty in recruiting, growing, and keeping talent within the organization. 

Meanwhile, the company on the sun-bathed side of the street has a pool of talented people that grows in number and power. They maintain this not just by hiring new people, but by accelerating people within the organization to new levels of expertise and responsibility. 

The sun-bathed company climate did not happen by accident. The sun is provided by leadership that knows it has to do the critical things to maintain a flourishing forest of talent.  

These leaders know the critical difference in growing organizational talent is actively working on the climate that enables them to grow fast and to embed deep roots that nourish the whole organization.

I have often written about my ideas for growing this kind of organization. And now I have found that Roberta Chinsky Matuson has written a book that I confess I would have loved to write. 

Her book Evergreen Talent: A Guide to Hiring and Cultivating a Sustainable Workforce is a complete guide in how a leadership force can create a climate to attract and grow fantastic talent. Her writing is compelling, fun, and filled with not just guidance but great examples. Here are five chapter titles that give you a taste not only of her writing but of the secrets to creating the climate to grow greatness.

  • “Debunking the Myth: Talent Will Grow Where It’s Planted
  • “Surveying the Terrain: The Five Essential Elements Needed for Evergreen Talent”
  • “The Need to Weed: Making Room for New Growth to Flourish”
  • “Growing Talent from Seedling to Redwood”
  • “Nurturing Employees to Greatness”

It was amazing that on my walk with my son, I could find such different micro-climates so close to each other. 

It was delightful reading Roberta’s book to learn that as leaders, we can create the climate to grow our organization’s talent to majestic heights.

Roberta’s book can be found here. You can find Roberta here.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

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Soon after watching the sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California, I was talking with one of the residents.

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Remember to Walk the Virtual Hallways

Remember to Walk the Virtual Hallways

My mother always wanted to live near the water,” she said. “She said it’s the one thing that brings us all together. That I can have my toe in the ocean off the coast of Maine, and a girl my age can have her toe in the ocean off the coast of Africa, and we would be touching. On opposite sides of the world​”— Megan Miranda

Many leaders are mentioning to me that they are missing the hallway conversations, the encounters at the snack counter, the discussions over an informal cup of coffee. 

They are missing the usual connections with the people they work with, but also, they are not missing chances to hear often vital information that may originate in those casual conversations.

I suddenly realized that some people have not mastered the art of walking around the virtual hallways. For various reasons, I had been doing a significant amount of teleworking before it became business normal for a large portion of the workforce.  

To be successful, I learned that I had to become masterful at making casual connections with people without being physically present. Here are 5 of the methods I have been using plus two bonus things I’ve done recently.

1. I send concise notes to the people I work with that would be of specific interest to them.

2. When I haven’t had a chance to talk one-on-one with someone for a couple of weeks, I make sure to call to connect on the various things we are working on together.

3.  I invite people to inform me of the current status of their projects. 

4. I share details about projects I am doing and ask for any ideas others have about the next steps.

5.  In meetings I run, I periodically set up time for people to share any of the things they are doing that people might not be aware of. These things could be directly about work or cover general life events.

Bonus New Thing 1. One of my kids was building an expert level Lego kit, the BatMobile. We did a Livestream over Zoom. His friends and some of my work colleagues checked in for a while.

Bonus New Thing 2.  I’ve prepared lunches and shared a meal with others over a video-sharing platform.

All of these do help the information flow.  And more importantly, all of these build connections, relationships, and trust.

It takes intention to keep strong connections!

I have my Lead With Speed T-Shirt in and I am thrilled with the quality. Would you like a free awesome T-Shirt? There are 2 days left to get bonus gifts when you pre-order Lead With Speed.  I have a few other pre-order offers too and you can check those out here!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

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I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

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"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

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High Speed Doesn’t Mean High Stress

High Speed Doesn’t Mean High Stress

“Own the game clock.”—  from Alan‘s Willett’s Lead With Speed

“Urgent! Hurry! I needed this two weeks ago!”

This is the litany that many leaders hear over and over in their careers. Often the needs are great.  Often it is true that it was needed two weeks ago, even if that need only became apparent in the last five minutes.

The question is: How do we as leaders respond to this pressure?

There is an extraordinary difference between how good leaders and exceptional leaders respond to this type of pressure.

Good leaders respond by putting pressure on themselves and their team. They say there is no time for planning so they urgently dive into solving the problem.  They drop the process. The stress and sweat of the leader and the team are visible to everyone. It is clear they are treating this very seriously!  To an outsider, it also might look a bit like panic.

These leaders may get the job done, but there is too often collateral damage in the things that were dropped, the high-stress levels for the whole team, and often the stress levels of the customers as well.

Exceptional leaders tackle the urgency differently. They execute the process they use for “ordinary” issues, and they do so with urgency but without panic.

  1. Understand the urgency.
  2. Prioritize how handling this urgent need will impact other deliverables.
  3. Turn over every rock in looking for the best, fastest ways to get this done even if that means asking for more resources or people beyond their organizational control.
  4. Make a commitment they can keep or beat.  They will let everyone know how long it will really take and how often the status of progress will be provided.  
  5. Let everyone know that the team will continue to push for speed and look for opportunities to go faster.
  6. Lead the team with the thrill of solving difficult problems. The mindset will be “we can and will do this.”  
  7. Exude calm and confidence.  

The exceptional leader will share the thrill of leading with speed with the team and the team’s customers.

====
I have my T-Shirt and I am thrilled with the quality.  Would you like a free awesome T-Shirt? There are 9 days left to get bonus gifts with pre-ordering Lead With Speed. Check them out right here.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Get my Lead With Speed Tee shirt as a bonus when you pre-order the book.

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A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

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PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

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Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Warning: Rapid Perspective Changes Ahead

Soon after watching the sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California, I was talking with one of the residents.

Fleeting Delights

It was startling, unexpected, and… great. I was rushing from one place to another thinking of the far too many things I had to accomplish.
I heard a “wooossshh.”

Always Prepare to Invest in the Next System!

Always Prepare to Invest in the Next System!

“Software Rusts”

— Immutable Law #13 from Alan’s Willett’s Lead With Speed

 

There are a number of headlines recently essentially screaming,

“UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEMS ARE BROKEN BECAUSE OF COBOL!”

What the articles explain (inaccurately) is that COBOL is a programming language no longer taught, that the language can’t support the modern world, and that it is very hard to find COBOL programmers.

It is true that there are not many COBOL specialists. However, for software engineers, a language is just a tool, and good software engineers can use multiple tools. Even though a number of places no longer teach COBOL (some still do), any good software engineer can learn rather quickly how to use this tool.

Further, the problem is not COBOL versus the modern world. It is more complex than that. Based on my previous experiences with systems like the ones described in the articles, it is likely that there are other related problems. I have seen systems where they no longer had any accurate design documents or database schemas. Some had even lost the source code. The other problem is associated with legacy hardware that may not support the memory size required or enable updating to modern operating systems.

Essentially some of these systems have fallen over the technology cliff. They should have been replaced years ago.

What should have been done to prevent this fiasco? More importantly, what should be done to prevent the next fiasco? I explain this in detail in this eight-minute video: “Alan Willett’s Immutable Law: Software Rusts”

The video highlights the need to do these four major things about technical debt in your systems.

  1. Stop it. In other words, do not make stupid hacks that make the system work for one more week or month.
  2. Track it. When you implement the stupid hacks, track them.  When the system is decaying in certain ways, track it.
  3. Measure. Measure the speed it takes to make improvements.  Know when the ability to change has greatly slowed.
  4. Invest. Above all else, have the courage to invest in improving the system to keep it relevant to the current world.

====

And would you like a free awesome T-Shirt? There are 16 days left to get bonus gifts when you pre-order Lead With Speed. Check them out here.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.