Spring Clean Your Leadership Tool Kit

Spring Clean Your Leadership Tool Kit

Outer order contributes to inner calm.— Gretchen Ruen

We are almost two weeks into Spring in the northern hemisphere. For many, this is the traditional time for household spring cleaning.

It is also a good idea to periodically clean up your leadership toolkit.  Here are four fun ideas for your leadership spring cleaning.

1. Power up your delegation abilities. Took a moment and think about when delegation works for you and when it falls a bit short. What is the difference? Make delegation a conscious choice. Check out this previous blog If Delegation isn’t Working, Consider Newton’s Laws for more details.

2. Check the fun meter. Are you having fun?  Are those you are leading having fun? Remember the journey is an adventure. Remind yourself and others that setbacks are part of the adventure. Check out this blog Lead the Journey, Not Just the Project for more details.

3. Tighten up your collaboration engine. We are more productive when we trust those collaborating with us. Check on the relationships. Tighten them up. The blog Building a Bridge Over Troubled Waters Takes Collaboration of Sponsors and Teams has more points for that.  

4. Hold your goals high. Refresh your goals – especially the big “why” behind the goals. Valuable goals you believe in help pull everyone forward. The blog Clearly Visible Goals Ensure No One Gets Lost is an especially fun reminder.

We all have more tools in our leadership toolkit than we often remember. Take the time to periodically take a breath and remember to keep them shiny. 

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Make The Audience Part of a Grand Story

Make The Audience Part of a Grand Story

“This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.”

— Alice Waters

I have observed many all-hands meetings. The mediocre sessions address a distracted audience. The worst ones have an audience who leave with less energy than they entered with. The best ones leave the participants energized and inspired. 

Please note that the last sentence changed the audience to participants. In the best all-hands meetings, even meetings with over 1000 people, the people gathered together don’t feel like they are being talked at. Even if they never have a chance to speak, they feel like they are part of the event, part of the story being told.

The best all-hands meetings I have participated in have the following critical common attributes.

  • Stories are shared about customers and the success they have achieved because of the company’s employees.
  • Stories are shared about teams that have made a positive difference for the key goals of the business.
  • Stories are shared about the work teams are doing that will make a significant future difference for customers and the business.

Scattered amongst the stories may be some cold hard facts about the financial status of the company or a mention of policy changes that people need to know about. However, those items make up a tiny percentage of the overall message. In the best all-hands gathering, those items are just a note in the middle where the speaker encourages employees to please read the company newsletter and make contact with questions or concerns.

The meeting focuses on showing the participants how they are a shared part of the story of the business and where it is going. This doesn’t mean that all the stories are completely positive. The best stories show the barriers that have to be overcome, the troubles that are faced. The best stories sometimes are about failure, but always end with what was learned and how the future will benefit.  

I have attended all hands meetings where the situation was dour. The leaders of the all-hands meeting made that very clear. They also were clear that they were not done and they had conviction that the situation would be improved.

The best meeting end with a renewed look at the inspiring purpose the organization has.

The best meetings end with people inspired to be part of the story of overcoming adversity to achieve a greater good.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Gabrielle Claro on Unsplash

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Notice and Appreciate the Small Things

Notice and Appreciate the Small Things

“Stop and take your time to notice things and make those things you notice matter.”— Cecelia Ahern

Recently I found myself going a bit too fast through my days. My expectations were growing beyond the hours I had in a day. Leading with speed doesn’t mean frenzied activity. I know that, but I was headed that way.

Then I received a couple of small gifts that brought me back to myself.

First, my daughter gifted me a coupon that said she would make me some lunch sandwiches on demand. She had noticed that I was putting in some long hours and knew that some consistent nourishment would help. Indeed it would. She makes fantastic sandwiches, and I was delighted. 

Second, I received a birthday wish from a gentleman from Brazil. In his message, he thanked me for a talk I gave 16 years ago that he said helped him. These two gifts helped me become aware of the many other gifts around me.

As leaders, we are almost certainly often aware of all the things we should be doing. Many of us do have too much to accomplish in any one day.

Yet we will create more lasting value if we slow our minds enough to be aware of the good things around us. This is especially true if we take the time to notice others who are helping us create this world.  

After I received that note from my Brazilian friend, I took the time to send messages to others. Take time to provide the gift of being noticed and appreciated. It helps us all to create the future we desire.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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5 Ideas to Supercharge Your Energy

5 Ideas to Supercharge Your Energy

“I surround myself with good people who make me feel great and give me positive energy.”— Ali KriEger

This time of year is so busy for me and everyone I know. It can be tiring. Thus, it is also essential to keep your batteries charged and energized for your own benefit and those you lead.

When people run out of energy, they work more slowly and get more easily stressed and distracted. Being tired leads to mistakes, which now have to be fixed, which makes the work slower. Which often leads to working more hours, sleeping less, and having less energy.

The energy level of leaders affects the people they lead. So let’s work on keeping our energy levels high to lead people into the holidays and 2022.

Consider these five ideas.

  1. Listen to music that makes you happy.  As I write this, playing in the background is one of my many personalized musical playlists.  They are designed to amplify my joy and energy.  
  2. Sleep when tired.  I expect you already know this.  Too often, we forget that good sleep leads to getting more done with more joy. 
  3. Be joyful about the progress made.  My clients are typically in high-pressure jobs. No one can finish everything on their list of even the perceived “must-do” things.  It is important to be aware of what is left to do, but take a moment to feel the energy of completing things, of making progress.
  4. Do some work you love every day.  There are many things we must do that do not give us energy.  Give yourself a bonus patch of energy.  Make sure every day has at least one task that you love doing.
  5. Do some good.  Be mindful of those around you.  Do something nice for others.  Thank people for what they do for you.  

The best thing you can do for yourself is to make your energizer list, your supercharger list.

Then do those things. The people you lead will thank you for the energy you bring!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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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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That Feeling When What You Delivered Doesn’t Work

That Feeling When What You Delivered Doesn’t Work

INSTEAD, KNOW IT WILL WORK

“Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising.” — Milton Hershey

Everyone in the NASA mission control live feed was in varying states of despair. I vividly remember watching this with the same feeling of worry myself. One of the Mars probes had failed to respond after the estimated landing time. Every engineer wanted to cling to hope, but they already knew. In less than an hour, they would call the mission a failure.

Among the people in the room were the engineers who designed the systems, wrote software for systems, tested the systems. They sat there, knowing that their efforts had failed. In this case, the retrospective analysis determined that their efforts failed mainly because part of the system was doing imperial measurements (feet and miles) while other parts were doing calculations in metric. The spacecraft they had created burned up in the thin Mars atmosphere.

As a young engineer, I used to experience fear for many of the high-tech releases we did. Even though we tested the products very thoroughly over weeks, and sometimes months, this fear persisted. The testing found many defects and seeing those defects gave us confidence, however misguided. But in the end, no matter how long we tested, the customers had problems with our systems.

Sometimes the defects the users hit were so severe they could not even use the system.

Over those early years, I learned that the more defects we found in product tests, the more likely it was the customers would also find problems. After I received proper training in quality principles, I became very aware that the purpose of testing a system should not be to find defects. The purpose of testing is actually to prove that the system development process is working. The more problems testing finds, the more critical it is to work on the development process.

Now that I, and in turn many of my clients, have mastered this understanding, we are able to create a high-quality development process. When we provide even complex systems to test, we are confident they will work well.  When testing proves that very few to no defects exist, we know that our customers will be delighted when we ship the product.

And the customers are delighted. Most customers find no problems. Instead of complaints, we enjoy hearing the requests for new features.

It is a fantastic feeling to hit the button to release the product knowing it will work, knowing it will delight.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Within the Rush, Find the Joy

I am always amazed about how busy this time of year is!

There is a rush to finish the business year well. At the same time, there is an emphasis on family togetherness and taking stock of personal achievements.

It can be difficult to find time to focus on joy.

Why Invest $ in Training, Coaching, & Making Leaders Better?

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When you are focused on speed, do you call for the help you need?

A friend and I looked over what needed to be done and estimated it would take us at least two to three full days. Next I called in our local fence repair experts.

When Sparks Fly, Use The Heat To Forge Stronger Ideas

Even on the small screen of the video conference, the body language was clear. The teammates were about to engage in an argument based on some firmly held beliefs. The sparks were going to fly.

When Is It Most Important to Plan?

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When Faced With the Impossible, Consider the Crazy

My brother Paul stared at the broken grain conveyor belt. I was almost a teenager, and I watched him with awe. He always seemed to come up with crazy ideas on how to fix things.

What Can We Learn From Others?

One of the delights of our walks around our woods and grasslands is being surprised by dragonflies.

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.

Vroom Into the New Year

Now is the time to get started in the world of work again, and you want to get started fast!

Quality Is Critical To Speed to Value

Quality Is Critical To Speed to Value

“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.”— John Ruskin

We were preparing to buy a birthday present. We planned to purchase the latest, about to be released, expansion to a favorite video game.  We paused and did some research. We’ve noticed that quite a few major game franchises are prone to release date slips. Often, companies delay releases more than once.

We looked and found that we were correct. The game vendor had just announced a delay to ensure that everyone would have a quality experience when the game was released.  In other words, the game developers were being locked in a room to fix multiple defects.

I am glad they are working to ensure that their product works well when released. However, testing quality into a product is the slowest way to achieve this standard. Consider that for every defect found by a tester, multiple steps have to be accomplished by various people before the defect fix can even be tested again.

My best clients know, with detailed data, how much every defect caught in testing costs their business. They know how much it delays the product. Those clients know that the purpose of testing is to validate that the system development process is working. If testing finds a problem, those clients go back to address the root cause of the defect. It is rare for their testing to find defects.  It is even rarer that their customers find defects.  

Perhaps the most satisfying result of this process is that they don’t have to delay their product releases in order to ensure a “quality experience” for their customers.

We are still looking to buy this game, but not for the upcoming birthday. We are now hoping it will be ready for winter holiday gift-giving. Did you ever hear of the Duke Nukem 10+ year delay? We have our fingers crossed that the delay for this game will be a short one.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

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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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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.

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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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"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...

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"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...

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"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.

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