Posts in Leadership
The Problem with Listening to "Experts"

Back in October of 2015, I wrote a post called "Time to Stop Listening to Experts".  I shared the story of a dear friend who read everything she could by a particular saint only to find that the saint's advice wasn't helpful for her.  I made the case for mentors instead of "experts".

Here I am again, this time writing in the wake of Pope Francis' recent letter on love and marriage.  The Pope has (not surprisingly) raised the ire of critics.  In an ideological firestorm, those who dislike the Pope have dug in, claiming that Francis is "at it again".

A friend of mine on Facebook railed against the Pope, claiming that his sources "know better" and that Francis is up to no good.  

Oh my goodness!

At the heart of at least some of this is the danger of ideology.  An ideologue is loyal to a teaching or person (read "expert") to the point that they can no longer see the opposing point of view.  A practical application can be drawn from those who follow a politician.  Take Donald Trump.  Those who love him find it easy to ignore the countless disparaging remarks he's made about countless numbers of people.  I'm not immune to this.  As a New England Patriots fan, I'm the first to admit that I give my team the benefit of the doubt while I criticize similar behavior on other teams.

When we become ideologues, we cling to "experts" (or causes or organizations) and this can be dangerous.  

Why?  Simply put, many of those that we consider to be experts either

a) aren't or

b) are but have absolutely no relevance to our lives.

A classic example is Tim Ferris of The Four Hour Workweek.  Nice guy.  Famous.  Wealthy.  But if you actually read much of his book, it's completely impractical for 90% of people.  

I'm eating my own dogfood on this as even some of the "experts" that I've learned from are now those that I ignore.  Mike Hyatt, whom I admire, has to be ignored from time to time as his business can often drown out his message.  It's become predictable that when a "new video series" comes out, it's ultimately just upselling you towards a product at the end of the sales funnel.

There's nothing wrong with this, per se, but I'd rather buy on my own terms.

So what should we do?  In addition to emphasizing mentors, let's find experts who are meaningful to us, at our level.  If you like Ferris, Hyatt, Brogan and Godin, go for it.  For me, I'm drawn more often to imperfect heroes.  These are people who do not have all of the answers.  Their followers are less ideological and more likely to have an open conversation with you. 

For me, this can point to Joshua Becker on some days and Laura Vandercam on others.  Neither try to sell you what you don't want to buy.  Neither claim to be experts.  Todd Henry, who basically is an expert, doesn't feel the need to pound it over your head.  He's on my cool list too.

You've got to find your cool list, those that are imperfect, wise and humble.  

The rest?  Leave them for someone else.  I think you'll be happier as a result.

 

Part 5 of 5: Control Your Calendar

This is part of the series entitled, The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice

In the introduction to this series, we made the case that grad school programs and most organizations don't teaching rising leaders the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

In Part 2, we discussed the importance of managing your email daily.

In Part 3, I taught a better way to run meetings

In Part 4, we talked about the ways that executives need to synthesize large volumes of information.

In this post, the last of the series, we wrap it up but not before we deal with the final skill: control your calendar.

I once worked with a wonderful woman who would listen to anyone's problems and offer sage advice.

The only problem was that her entire day would be caught up with person after person who wanted to sit and chat. And, you know what happens when someone sits down- they stay down for a bit longer than is really needed.  A five minute chat can quickly turn into 

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My friend's entire day (and week) would thus be consumed with the priorities of others. Instead of being "master and commander" of her own week, she operated at the whim of those around her.

That spells disaster for any executive.

Why? Quite simply, your boss doesn't care about the priorities of others. He or she only cares that you carry out your most important tasks.

So how do you avoid the situation that my friend found herself in and control your own calendar? I suggest three strategies:

If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.
— David Allen
  1. Use one calendar. Whether it's the old-fashioned print version or Google Calendar, it must be used. If you have multiple calendars (I.e. Family, work, civic duties), make sure that they all find their way onto or into your one total calendar. This strategy may seem simple because it is. The problem is that too many people keep their appointments in their head rather than on a calendar.
  2. Use one digital task manager. The second strategy is related to the first except that it deals with your many "todo" items. Just as you will place all calendar items on your calendar, the second strategy calls for the countless little todo's into one digital task manager. I've used OmniFocus and it's great. My current task manager of choice if Nozbe (full disclosure: affiliate link). A digital task manager is critical because it will clear your head with every small item you pop into your task manager. You'll have more peace of mind because you won't be constantly thinking about what you need to do. Your task manager will do that for you.
  3. Theme your week. This final strategy is where the best executives excel. By theming your week, you actually trick your brain into knowing what your day will basically be filled with. For me, this looks like the following:
    • Monday: Personal (I conduct 4 one-on-one meetings)
    • Tuesday: People (We have our two staff meetings)
    • Wednesday: Populous (Out and about day)
    • Thursday: Planning (Taking time off-campus to look at the top priorities)
    • Friday: Prep (Getting ready for the next week)

By practicing these three, simple strategies, you will gradually take control of your calendar. This is the final skill that will nudge your productivity over the top.

Did you enjoy this five part series?  You may want to subscribe to my mailing list and receive the eBook, "The 6 Fastest Ways to Supercharge Your Career".

Part 3 of 5: Run Effective Meetings

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This is Part 3 of 5 in the series, "The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice".

In the introduction to this series, we made the case that grad school programs and most organizations don't teaching rising leaders the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

In Part 2, we discussed the importance of managing your email daily.

In this post, I'd like to discuss the second ninja skill of workplace leadership and it deals with meetings.

The average executive spends a lot of time in meetings. These can be any of the following:

1. Informational meetings

2. Status reports

3. Brainstorm meetings

4. One-on-Ones with your boss or those who report to you

5. Standing meetings with those two steps above or below you

6. Strategy meetings

7. Board meetings

8. And on it goes!

The volume of meetings isn't necessarily the problem, although attending too many can definitely constipated your calendar.

No, the real problem is that meetings as we know it suffer from a number of serious ailments. These include:

1. Not having a clear purpose: "what's the reason for this meeting?"

2. Not having a good moderator: "who's running the show here?"

3. Not having an agenda: "what do we want to get done in this meeting?"

4. Not having a set end-time: "what time do we finish?"

To make it worse, too many organizations foster a culture that warps the mindset of its workers. This results in either a) people dread meetings or b) people feel that meetings are the only way to make decisions.

To respond to a), how can you blame them? When the last few meetings either started late or had no clear purpose, who wouldn't want to avoid the next meeting?

Regarding b), this is more insidious. If "having a meeting" is the only way to make decisions, it will ultimately produce sub-par results. Why? Simply put, when you craft a lousy meeting, lousy stuff is bound to come out. This then brings the entire organzation into a slower mode of productivity and it saps the creative energies out of its employees.

So what's a rising leader to do?

First, a personal story. I recently was invited to attend a meeting. Some of my best directs were to be in attendance. The topic, though, really didn't apply to me so I simply didn't attend. After the meeting, my #2 just gave me the cliff-notes version of what went on and the rest is history.

The bottom line leads me to Strategy One: only attend the meetings that you absolutely have to. I realize that if you're not a supervisor or "the boss", you may have less flexibility than others but the principle is the same. You've got to guard your calendar at all costs against lousy meetings.

Strategy Two is directly related to you when you are asked to facilitate a meeting. If you have to run a meeting, do it well.  My suggestion is to address the items that we mentioned above, one at a time:

1. Have a clear purpose: "the reason why we're here is ______________________"

2. Practice good moderation: keep it moving, start on time, involve everyone, clarify follow up tasks, take notes, publish follow up minutes, get out on time.

3. Have an agenda: you may or may not need to publish this in advance. If it's a small group, you could simply start with, "First we want to discuss X and then move to Y and finish with Z. Then we'll know that we're done and can get back to work."

4. Have a set end-time: you'll need to remind folks of the guardrails of the meeting, giving them permission to end on time (or better yet, end early!). Attendees need to know that the meeting will probably only "need" 15 minutes or 30 minutes, etc. 99% of meetings should last 30-45 minutes.

By practicing these two simply strategies, you'll become a meeting ninja and be seen by those above you as efficient and productive.

Here's a bonus tip: when the meeting is over and you are the facilitator, simply stand up and thank everyone for coming. This signals to the group that "we're done" and can get back to whatever is on the calendar. This will feel rude at first but after a while, folks will learn that meetings don't have to be long. Try it out and see for yourself.

Part 1 of 5: The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice

A young man told me he was about to enter the seminary.  A friend shared that he wanted to re-imagine his career as a teacher instead of as a software engineer.  Both people wanted something different for their futures.  Both had vision.

Neither knew the "skills" that would be needed in order to thrive- one as a future priest and the other as a future teacher.  

Grad school tells us a lot about theory and history and "best practices" but little about skills.  I'm not tooting my horn, but I have a lot of graduate degrees and each has been a blessing in a different way.  What each has lacked, unfortunately, has been a healthy dose of the practical skills needed for the profession I'm in.

How about you?  Have you become excellent because of OJT ("on the job training") or because someone taught you the skills needed to be great?

This post begins a four-part series called The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice.  You'll find only practical tips for being great at work.  The skills are as follows:

  • Manage your email daily.
  • Run effective meetings.
  • Synthesize large volumes of information.
  • Control your calendar.

You may be looking at these skills and say to yourself, "Why do I need a four part series on these?"  Quite simply, the answer is this- we need to learn these skills because no one person, no grad school program or self help initiative, is wrapping them up in one package.  

Worse yet, countless potential executives aren't learning these things on their climb up the corporate ladder. The result is the next generation of leaders who will be sorely lacking in the "blocking and tackling" of servant leadership.

That's where this blog comes in handy.

I hope that you enjoy the series and upcoming podcast with the same title.  

How I Prepare for the New Year (And you can too!)

The New Year is full of pregnant optimism.  So many of us are full of hopeful goals and exciting plans.  Unfortunately most of us don’t “make good” on many of these.  Be honest- when was the last time you made a New Year's resolution that you carried forward more than one week?  It's shocking how bad we are when it comes to resolutions.

I’m not going into the science of this as there are plenty of others who will do this in the days leading up to New Year’s.

Rather, here’s a simple list that I use as I review the year:

  1. Throw away all that you can.  If you haven't used it in a while, just toss it.  No one will miss it- seriously.
  2. Find joy in a “stop doing” list.  This one is the best!  Stop doing some things in the New Year.  This might be anything from "stop being so hard on yourself" to "stop missing dinner with your family".  What do you need to stop doing in the New Year?
  3. Clean out your email once and for all.  Even if it means you have to declare email bankruptcy, decide today that you won't keep more than a screen's worth of email.
  4. Stop reading what you started reading but can’t seem to finish.  Just put it on the shelf.  If it calls out to you at a later date, you can finish it then.
  5. Resolve to be simple, productive, and powerful.  This mantra is really important- taking a simple approach to your work and career is important- it keeps you focused.  This results in greater productivity which then makes you have more agency.  Agency = power.
  6. Revisit your long-range plans and goals.  Since you probably don't connect with these every day, it's important to go back to the "why" behind what you're doing with your work.  Where do you want to be?  When do you want to retire?  Do you feel good about what you're currently doing?
  7. Begin counting your journal entries from 1.  I started this just a year ago...restart your journaling from 1 on January 1.  It tells your brain that you're starting new stuff which will then cue your body (and mind) to do new things.

With these seven actions in mind, I recommend ramping up towards the New Year.  Take some time to get reflective and mindful as you “close out” the year gone by.  Celebrate what’s gone well.  Toss what hasn’t.  Be honest with your own shortcomings and be gentle with yourself at the same time.

Finally, remember your spiritual core.  Being a person of gratitude will never go out of style and connecting with God will always be a good career move- it makes you more attractive because you are in the business of finding good in all situations.  

Why I've Chosen Catholic Education for my Career

Sometimes you choose a career and sometimes your career chooses you.   

Over the Christmas break, do yourself a favor and watch some of Netflix's The Chef's Table.  One of my favorite episodes is that of Massimo Bottura, considered to be one of the finest chefs in the world.  

Massimo "found himself" through food.  It's as if he can't imagine his life without the art and gift of cooking.  It's part of who he is and the reason why he once said, "I am Massimo Bottura. I close my eyes and I want to understand where I am, cooking is about emotion, it's about culture, it's about love, it's about memory."

How about you?  

It’s about culture, it’s about love, it’s about memory...
— Massimo Bottura

Can you say these same things about your career?  Is there passion behind what you do?  Does it animate your heart and mind as you wake up each day?

Chef Massimo Bottura

Chef Massimo Bottura

For me, it's not as if I chose Catholic education.  Rather, it found me.  My wife will tell you that when I started working in a school, I became happier.  She told me in 1998, "You're happier now.  Maybe it's the bells that ring all day long."  

Whatever it was back in the early days, it's stuck.  I've been a teacher, a curriculum supervisor and ultimately an administrator.  Each role has stretched me and taught me something profound.   Each role provided me  with wonderful mentors who brought me along and challenged me to "be more" for kids and for my peers.  

Each mentor showed me servant leadership which would ultimately become my calling card.

Catholic education has a proven trackrecord.  I often tell parents that Catholic education "works" partly because strong families produce strong children.  The University of Notre Dame, considered to the torchbearer of Catholic education, articulates some of the other details about how and why Catholic education is so effective:

  • The achievement gap is smaller in faith-based schools (Jeynes, 2007; Marks & Lee, 1989).
  • Students in Catholic and other private schools demonstrate higher academic achievement than students from similar backgrounds in public schools (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987; Coleman, Hoffer, & Kilgore, 1982; Greeley, 1982; Sander, 1996).
  • Latino and African American students who attend Catholic schools are more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to graduate from college than their public school peers (Benson, Yeager, Guerra, & Manno, 1986; Evans & Schwab, 1995; Neal, 1997; Sander & Krautman, 1995).
  • The poorer and more at-risk a student is, the greater the relative achievement gains in Catholic schools (York, 1996).
  • Graduates of Catholic high schools are more likely to vote than public school graduates (Dee, 2005).
  • Graduates of Catholic schools are likely to earn higher wages than public school graduates (Hoxby, 1994; Neal, 1997).
  • Catholic schools tend to produce graduates who are more civically engaged, more tolerant for diverse views, and more committed to service as adults (Campbell, 2001; Greeley & Rossi, 1966; Greene, 1998; Wolf, Greene, Kleitz, & Thalhammer, 2001).  (Source: UND)

All of this might convince a person to pursue a career in Catholic education.  For me, I never entered education because of statistics or academic findings.  I chose it because it spoke to me and gave me an environment where maybe, if I stuck with it, I could make a difference.

That's my hope for you and your career- that you find something that resonates with you and that you find a space to truly impact the world.