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Listen…Then Lead

One of the challenges seasoned change leaders have is entering a new environment and still being respected as a leader. This can come as a result of a re-organization, a job change, or life as usual for consultants (we’re always the new kid on the block). The first thing any new person to a team must do is LISTEN. But the new kid will hear a lot of noise, so below are the critical factors you should listen for when entering a new environment BEFORE you lead:

  1. To hear the status quo  – One thing most change leaders don’t like to hear is “we’ve always done it this way”. But that piece of intel can unlock methods and  motives behind the way things are currently operating. Don’t be so quick to dismiss this information, it can save you from re-inventing the wheel, and it will let your team know that you’ve done some homework. You can later use the information as a baseline for your strategy of where you’re going next.
  2. To understand the relationship dynamics – To lead change in an organization of any size, you need to gather your allies, and size up your challengers. Listening attentively for relational disharmony can keep you from stepping on a landmine. Also, when you pay attention to the behavior styles of the team, you’ll be better equipped to help them move their cheese.Everyone on a team has a part to play, but they may not all know their role. Listen carefully for signs of role ambiguity (people and/or team members not knowing their roles).
  3. To hear the REAL problem  – Often the people or processes you are trying to change aren’t what really need to change. When embarking on a new initiative, you have to look and listen for the real issue. This requires crafting questions that help get to the root of things. Ask “why?” multiple times (I like the rule of thumb to ask it at least 3 times). The goal is to probe and listen so you can hear past the symptoms and deal with the root cause.

THEN (and only then) can you objectively create a change strategy. This Listening Assessment is useful for implementing new business processes, or even for getting a teenager to improve their performance in Algebra. Whatever the change you’re spearheading, be sure to Listen…Then Lead!

What You Focus on Grows

I love the old adage “What you focus on grows”.  It speaks to investing our time and attention to the things that matter. And in return, you’ll get dividends. Most times, people intend to focus on the important relationships, tasks, and projects in their lives, but it can be difficult. There are so many things vying for our attention, competing for our energy and focus. This can be especially frustrating when we talk about goals. Making goals is important, but sticking to them is even more vital. Here are a few ideas you can consider as you put your goals into place for this year:

  1. Put First Things First – As Dr. Covey states in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. Put the important things in your life (or day) at the top of your to-do list. Focus on getting those finished first, and THEN dive into something else.
  2. Drown out the noise – Distractions are all around us. Even the best laid out day can be filled with calls, emails, and other matters that take your focus away. Try methods like the Pomodoro (which has an app for your phone) to time your productive times. You intentionally focus during that interval and then take a break. This did wonders for me and kept me from chasing squirrels in my mind!
  3. Make a visual plan – I like vision boards, but they only remind you of what, and not when. OK, you’re saying “here goes the project manager” …but honestly, creating a visual timeline of tasks and goals will help you stay focused. There are tons of tools that will let you create something electronically, but what’s even better is to PRINT it out, put it somewhere visible and mentally check in with it.
  4. Setup an Accountability system – That visual plan you created is useful for keeping you accountable, but sharing its contents (milestones, etc) with someone else is the key to accountability. Whether it’s your spouse, a friend, a prayer partner or a mastermind group, sharing your goals (the what and the when) will help you remain focused on the promise you made to yourself. As you setup your goals, be sure to add some accountability to keep you focused on achieving them.

So, what do you want to grow this year? Whether it’s your health, your wealth, or your relationships, you’ll need to focus to make them grow. Because if you don’t…they won’t.

Change We CAN Control – It’s YOUR Attitude

Life always boils down to choices, and when it comes to dealing with difficulty, we really have two. As the famous poet Maya Angelou put it, “We can change our circumstances or we can change our attitude.” I am a proponent of changing circumstances, no matter how difficult they may seem. But even the most aggressive overcomer can’t change everything. So, what do we do if a situation is beyond our control and we can’t change it no matter how hard we try? That’s when we focus on changing our attitude. These three strategies will help if you need to change your attitude:

 

  1.  Choose to remain positive. John C. Maxwell said, “Remaining positive in a negative situation is not naïve, it’s leadership.” As leaders, whether we are leading ourselves personally, leading a team, or leading an entire organization, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to remain positive. A positive attitude is infectious, and that is what you want to infect the people around you with. It’s not a matter of smiling or faking through difficulty, but choosing to not grumble and complain can make a huge impact on how you endure the situation. I can’t remember the last time a bad attitude changed the outcome of a dilemma anyway.
  2. Look at the trial as a lesson. Everything that we go through has a purpose in our lives; whether it is difficulty at work, a project that failed, a relationship that failed, or even the loss of a job. Those hit us very hard and can be deeply wounding. But what they all do is that they help us grow by giving us lessons. And every time that we’re in a situation, especially things that are beyond our control, we have to ask ourselves, what is it that I can learn from this situation? Why is this happening? Why was I given the opportunity to learn in the situation? When we encounter our obstacles that way it helps us maintain a productive outlook. The most beautiful flowers are those that have had the most fertilizer!
  3. Prepare to share the lesson. Finally, and in my opinion, most importantly, you want to look beyond you. It’s one thing for you to learn a lesson. I always say, “I don’t lose, I learn.” But every time we learn we have an opportunity … There’s something else that we’re able to impart to someone else. When we share our lessons learned we grow personally, but we grow our community immensely. So, when we take those opportunities to look beyond ourselves, to find the purpose in that situation, the purpose behind that pain. Whatever trial that you’re dealing with, find a reason for that too, not just be about you because it never is just about us anyway.

 

So, remember, if you can’t change your circumstances, you can change your attitude…it’s yours. Keep this in mind as you prepare your goals for next year. Some things you can (and should) change, while some things you need a change of heart toward.

Delegation Done Right

Fountain Pen, Text, Leave, White, SpringAs a project manager, I have found delegation to be one of the most valuable tools in my toolbox, but it is one that I have seen often misused.

Why is it misused? Well, quite simply because often times people don’t understand the difference between true delegation and just telling someone to do something. Anyone can tell someone to do something, especially the “bossy” people, but can you properly delegate a task to someone? We’ll take a pen for instance, if I pass a pen to someone and say, “Here, you take this pen.”, that’s me telling them to take the pen, but I’ve not told them what to do with the pen and when I would like to see the results of what they’ve done with the pen. If I throw them the pen and say, “Here’s a pen and I would like you to write a one page letter on your life and I need that by Friday at noon.”, then that is clearly delegating.

The difference is in the detail. The amount of detail that I gave to help the person understand what it is that I’m asking them to do, but then also for myself to understand and to clarify what I need them to do so that I can remember what I’m holding them accountable to. Because the key in delegation as well, is that I’m delegating  not just the task, but the authority along with the task. Who’s going to write that letter? The person I delegated it to. Who’s going to return the letter? The person I delegated it to. So, the key is that all authority had been granted to the person who is now responsible for the task. If I come following up on a Wednesday for something I’ve asked to be done on Friday, I’m then questioning the authority that I’ve given them.

The beauty of delegation in a team environment is that it is empowering. It empowers the team around you to contribute to the greater good, to contribute to the project as a whole, but the only way that that can  effectively take place is if you have properly delegated the task with the necessary details and that those necessary details are understood by both myself, (the sender) and by the person doing the task (the receiver) because we all know what happens in communication. We’ll follow up with that later, but for right now, the whole point is how do we make sure that what we have delegated has been clearly outlined so that everyone understands not just what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. That deadline is very important and helps people remain on track and hold themselves accountable to what they’ve been asked to do.

If you’re a leading a team, I encourage you to think about how you delegate. To think about the level of detail that you’re providing and a level of detail that you’re getting back. Remember, you’re delegation should be a two-way conversation, so as you’re communicating with people on your team and delegating to them, ensure that they have responded in the affirmative to understanding what task has been delegated to them. By doing so, you will improve the performance on your team and you’ll see a return in your time investment in the people around you.

Are You Part of the Solution?

Growing up, my aunt would ask my cousins and me “Are you part of the problem, or are you part of the solution?” Have you ever been asked this question? Even as a child, I knew that if the answer to this wasn’t “SOLUTION”, then I was in trouble. We all knew what was next: the statement of the problem and how WE could solve it. This method of questioning was a long-standing family secret (and my aunt will tell you that she got it from my mother). And if I needed help with the solution, that was often followed with “Look it up”.

I didn’t realize it then, but this self-leadership tactic became a model for how I would lead and develop my own children and those on my team. While this is a parenting tip, it applies to people form 6 to 66. As leaders, we reap 3 key benefits from utilizing this strategy:

  1. It creates independent thinkers – Ask yourself, “Do I want a team of people who do what I tell them to, or a team that knows what to do?” Of course the answer is the latter, but that only comes when people are allowed the room to think independently. When you’re a leader, it’s not beneficial that you point out the problem, but that you encourage your team to frame the problem, and thereby develop a solution. That is, unless you enjoy being the smartest one in the room, encourage critical thinking.
  2. They will have much more buy-in – You don’t have to sell someone on an idea they came up with. Your team will have more buy-in to a solution they created, so they’ll put it into practice without “force”. Don’t make the mistake of thinking rebellion ends with the “terrible two’s” or teens; adults on your team want to create their own plan…and you can just make sure they don’t set anything on fire.
  3. They will feel empowered – Empowerment is the antidote to defiance.And empowered team (and family) members contribute more and with a positive attitude. Try going through massive change with unempowered people…it’s no fun!
I love having people on my team who are independent, buy into solutions THEY create, and feel empowered. Now I feel like there are more benefits, though, so why don’t you ask yourself “the question”, and see if you come up with some added benefits. If you do, post them here.

Spring has sprung – let’s all wear yellow

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad Spring is here. And while I look forward to the warmer weather and the sunshine that it brings, that’s not why I’m so happy about it. Three years ago, my husband and I suffered a tragic loss: our oldest son died from a rare form of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma (yellow is the ribbon color for Sarcomas). And because his passing was in January, these past few years have started off dark and heavy. But thank God for sunshine!! The sun doesn’t make the hurt go away, but it does make it bearable. I still don’t know why he had to leave us, but I trust God through it all.

It is that trust that is the focus of my heart these days. It’s easy to trust God in good times, but how do we trust him with our grief and loss? I’d like to share some lessons that helped me, and should you ever need it, I pray that they will help you as well:

1. Grow in the dark until the light comes back on The Sunday after my son’s passing, our pastor’s sermon was titled “Where is God in My Pain?”. This is a common question, as grief feels like being in the dark all alone. But the good news is 1) we’re not alone AND 2) mold is not the only thing that grows in the darkness. Our strength, character and compassion get developed during those dark times. Trust in the process, and be patient with yourself as you sprout new buds. When the light does come back on, you will be amazed at the blossom. Your family, colleagues, and friends may not notice immediately, but in time they will, and you will, too!

2. Decide not to sink One of my favorite passages in the bible talks about Peter walking on water. The description of doing the impossible fills me with hope and reminds me of what’s possible. But this story is intended to remind us that we can only do the impossible (and difficult) when we keep our focus on our faith. When Peter took his eyes off Jesus while he was walking on the water, he began to sink. He turned his focus to the storm, and not his help. The next time you hear the expression “trying to keep my head above water”, think of Peter, and do what he did, and decide not to sink. Help is available, choose to take it.

3. Nothing happens to you just for YOU On Jan. 11, 2014, I became a member of a club I never wanted to be in. A club of parents grieving the loss of a child, and more broadly of a person having to live without someone they love. If I had thought for one minute that the pain I was feeling (and the healing I receive daily) was just for me, I would have missed the point. The world is full of hurting people, we see them in the break-room at work, in the mall when we shop, and in the pews next to us on Sunday. They are our neighbors out for a walk, or the teachers in school with our children. And as a result of my own experience, I can empathize with them. And it’s why I’m so passionate about giving back and helping others…I’ve been there. I needed support, and people gave it. When we find the purpose in our pain, we are able to bless others and be part of the cycle of giving.

To continue the cycle of giving by learning more about Team Malcolm and how you can help children battling cancer find comfort in the Arts in Medicine Program. We are raising funds through the month of March.

When to Communicate from the Heart

We’ve learned that effective communication should come from the heart, and I wholeheartedly believe that (no pun intended). When trying to motivate, inspire or even just relay a simple message, speaking with compassion is usually the best way to go. I still remember how profound it was when I heard a conference speaker say that our EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) is just as important as our IQ (Intelligence Quotient), and some thought leaders say it’s even more important.  It wasn’t a new idea, but it was new to me, and a refreshing reminder that I wasn’t alone in my quest to bring compassionate leadership into the workplace. But I’ll admit, it took some more digging to understand that it’s more than just being a “heart talker”. After years of applying this with my clients (and even at home), I have found that there are times when communicating from the heart is mission critical, and times when it should be avoided.

Here are 5 examples of when to Communicate from the Heart:

  1. There is already emotional noise on the line. If the person you are communicating with is noticeably emotional, consider matching (not countering) their emotion. Once the feelings in the room have subsided, you can proceed with the topic. While you may not be able to (or want to) validate their feelings, responding with empathy will allow them to collect themselves without being forced into premature acceptance. Statements like “I understand where you’re coming from” go a long way in working together.
  2. What you need to convey may be difficult to hear. Mary Poppins said it best (or should I say sang it best) “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Speaking with warmth and compassion can help a team member receive some feedback that might not otherwise be heard. And the harder the message, the softer you want the heart that is delivering it. Yelling “You’re Fired” is good for TV ratings, but not so good for morale. Letting someone down easy is as much an art as it is a skill, and it takes practice. Delivery the news to yourself to prepare for the emotions the news may elicit.
  3. The problem is not clearly defined. Have you ever noticed that when people are trying to figure out WHAT caused a problem, they often skip to WHO caused the problem? This type of fact-finding-mission can get ugly quickly if those involved start off pointing fingers. If the analysis turns into a “witch hunt”, take a step back and interject some compassion and objectivity. Putting down the torch will not only calm the waters, it will help you and your team find a solution faster as cooler heads prevail.
  4.  Relationship AND results matter. It is an unfortunate reality that sometimes to get results, you may have to drive, scold, or correct people on your team. But this does not have to come at the cost of the relationship. When communicating that someone has done something you are in disagreement with, speaking from your heart can help preserve the relationship; using it is a teachable moment for everyone’s sake. Remind the person of things they have done well to reinforce the message that they matter, but don’t water down the problem so you can find an amicable solution.
  5.  Having casual conversation to set the tone. You don’t need to wait until you are engaged in “Crucial Conversations” to speak from your heart. In order to connect to those around you, find opportunities to have casual conversations that reveal and announce your humanity. Otherwise, speaking with compassion will be an indicator that something is wrong and will backfire on you. Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to bare your soul, but you should share your heart with those around you.
However,

if your heart is full of frustration, anger, or pain, you’ll want to revert to a matter-of-fact approach. Clouding a discussion with negative emotions is even more harmful than not interjecting positive ones into a neutral conversation. Be prepared to delay a conversation so your emotions won’t hijack it.

And in every case, check your heart BEFORE you speak from it. It is the spring from which all words flow! And as with all sound leadership advice, use this at home, too!

Do a new thing! 3 Questions for making lasting change

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Ahh, the new year. For my family and me, New Year’s Day is a time to enjoy family and black-eyed peas. It marks the end of the holidays and all the celebratory eating that seems to come with it, and it marks the beginning of new challenges. Over the Christmas/Winter break, I tend to rest, read, binge watch, and spend time with extended family. (there’s nothing like a game of Taboo to get the blood flowing!) Then, I end the week with reflection, I clean out my closets and drop off donations. This physically and emotionally makes room for new things. Then we return to work to catch up on what was missed during the holiday all the while thinking of what changes you’re going to make.

In preparation for all this “newness”, allow me to share some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  1. Why am I making changes? Are you making a change because it’s necessary (for a defined benefit), or because you’re bored with what you have? Sometimes people make change for the sake of changing, and find that they didn’t really need to move that cheese after all. Figuring out the real motivation for change will help you stick with it, or allow you to put your efforts elsewhere.
  2. What do I need to change? To satisfy your “why”, you’ll want to come up with a clear “what”. This will also require some soul searching. Do you need a new car or just a new coat of paint? Maybe you just need to tweak something instead of inventing a whole new wheel. Consider doing an old thing a new way. Sometimes changing a running route can motivate you to run more consistently.
  3. How will you create (or apply) the change? It’s easy to say “I’ll start running” or “I’ll read more”, but how will you actually achieve it? The key is to set SMART goals – Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Time-Bound. The only difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline and a plan. For example, “I’ll run 3 miles per week” or “I’ll read 2 business books per month”. These can be measured, and that is a key element to success.

 

Need help setting and sticking with your goals? Coaching helps you move forward and stay the course. How do I know? I got one myself! I’m looking forward to great things this year, and I pray that for you as well.

What Compassionate Leaders Know About the Holiday Season

wreathThe end of the year is upon us, temperatures have dropped, stores are filling up and so are our schedules. People are focused on closing out projects, wrapping up obligations and meeting the added demands of holiday stress. To maximize the potential of the people in our charge, compassionate leaders need to consider a few points while navigating their teams through this season:

Make room for extra Life
I always tell my project management students and clients to “make room for life” in their project schedules. Well, no time is this more true than during the Holidays. Suddenly your expert has had to run to the airport to pick up his mom,
or his daughter has a program at school. Schedules change, children have programs, relatives arrive, and personal schedules really pick up, so make room for the extra responsibilities. With Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s all occupying the same season, it’s no wonder people get partied out. So, instead of dreading the Holiday season schedule, plan for it.

Keep the light on.
This time of year marks a time of jubilant celebration for many, but not everyone on your team is rejoicing right now. On the contrary, this may be a very dark time for members of your team who have lost loved ones. The holiday season can be a painful reminder of loss and create a roller coaster of
emotions. So how can you help? Chances are you can’t (unless you are a trained therapist), and this leaves people feeling helpless and unsure of what to say or do. But you can be sensitive to not further the hurt, and provide the compassion their hurting heart needs. Privately acknowledging how your team member might feel is an important step in removing the isolation that can come and will help shine light in the dark time.

People have a different “Reason for the Season”
As a Christian, I believe that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, and you may, too. But, chances are not everyone on your team believes this. Compassionate leaders accept that people have
different belief systems, and they should all be able to express them. That’s what makes diversity so wonderful. Since US-based companies have Christmas off as a holiday, it’s not uncommon to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, after all, everyone will likely be able to enjoy the holiday, however they choose to spend that day. Have an internationally diverse team? Consider a Traditions around the World theme for your holiday celebration.

So go ahead, drink a gallon of egg nog, eat a pound of cookies, and spend way too much. However you celebrate the season, consider the ideas above to help you do so while considering the feelings of those you lead to excellence.

STUMBLING THROUGH THE DARKNESS

One of my favorite movies is Ray, the feature film about Ray Charles. When Ray Charles was about five years old, he developed glaucoma and gradually became blind. One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie occurs in his mom’s home. He was stumbling around the humble shack in the darkness and began to get frustrated. He sat there and cried out to his mother who sat in the chair crying, wishing she could just take it away. But she knew it was best that he learn how to navigate this situation. He knew she was there because he could hear her breathing and crying, so he knew he was not alone. Before long, he began to move around the house, using his touch and hearing, which were both heightened by his loss of sight. She could have sprung out of her chair to “rescue” him, but instead she lovingly watched and cried as he listened for a grasshopper and made his way over to it. As he picked it up, he smiled and began to clearly hear all the other sounds in the background.
We often visualize God as a doting parent, there to pick us up at the first sign of trouble. While this image is comforting, it’s not a full depiction of God’s true nature and “parenting style”. There are times when God will rescue us, but there are times when He will lovingly sit and cry while we navigate dark seasons of our lives. The important thing to note is that He is there, watching and loving us as we work our way through the revelations that come from the darkness. In the darkness, we can hear things we wouldn’t hear, and smell things we wouldn’t otherwise smell. And most importantly, we would learn the things we wouldn’t have otherwise learned. There is always a purpose for the darkness.