“I didn’t have time to get to it.”
“Something happened to pull me away from the task.”
“It’s on my list of things to do.”
Do these statements (or their countless variations) sound familiar? Are you surrounded by others’ excuses? Or maybe you find that excuses easily “trip off your tongue” when you have failed to meet expectations?
A culture of excuse-making diminishes organizational value and delays organizational progress. The blame game weakens team performance. Team members’ procrastination impacts the ability to achieve results.
Adopt a “zero-tolerance” approach to excuses – at all levels of your organization. Encourage an environment where one is not chastised for what they didn’t do, but instead celebrated for what they did do.
Many excuses are generated from our desire to look good among our peers and our leaders. As we mature and assume responsibilities in the workplace, much more personal accountability is required. No longer can we get away with pushing the problem to someone else (the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”). The effective team member is accountable for his/her actions.
Channeling the spirit of Dr. Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we each have a choice. And our choices can turn us into a victim or a victor.
In the Forbes article, “Excuses, Excuses: Leadership that Avoids the Blame Game”, Rodger Dean Duncan interviews Dr. Margaret Bradley, author of Wouldacouldashoulda: Rapid Results, No Excuses. Bradley states “Eliminating excuses gives your team an edge by enabling it to work faster while maintaining a high level of quality.”
Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.
– George Washington Carver
To create an excuse-free environment:
- Start with clear expectations. Encourage honest, up-front, two-way, non-judgmental communication. Cultivate an engaged and purposeful environment.
- Listen to yourself and your teammates. Are you hearing excuses? Awareness is the first step on the zero-tolerance journey. Instead of excuses, take the “high road”. If you didn’t do it, say so – without excuse.
- Be a leader and model the appropriate accountability behaviors by eliminating all types of excuses from your vocabulary. And, encourage that same honest approach among your team.
It’s about accountability – to self and others. No excuses. Simple.
On a related note:
Excuses often incorporate the blame game. If you are seeing rampant finger pointing in your organization, I recommend that you take a quick read of John G. Miller’s book, QBQ, The Question Behind the Question. Miller’s content helps you reframe your questions from the you-oriented blaming “who”, “when”, and “why” to the I-oriented information gathering “what” and “how”.
A question for you:
What techniques do you use to eliminate excuses from your workplace?
As we think of teams, we immediately envision one of two types. One is the high-performing team where a mind-meld exists among members; they move in unison. And then there is the dysfunctional team. Yes, the type from which “horror stories” emanate; the team that actually moves backwards as they try to move forwards.
Naturally, we would all like to be a member of the first type — the high performing team. That takes work and attention.
High performing team members are devoted to each other. Think of the struggle this may cause. For example, you are a member of an executive team and you also lead a functional team. Can you say your first priority is to your fellow team members as opposed to your direct reports?
You may think of this as heresy. But, Patrick Lencioni, known for his on-point description of dysfunctional teams, points out that this shift is paramount to team effectiveness. Without acknowledgment of your priorities, you may find yourself waffling back and forth with your allegiance.
“A functional team must make the collective results of the group more important to each individual than individual members’ goals.”
– Patrick Lencioni
Once priorities are straight, I look for three ingredients, that when combined, indicate the existence of a high performing team. What’s in this secret sauce?
And I mean true listening. Not just a nod of the head while one waits for the speaker to take a breath so he/she can jump in with their own thoughts.
True listening means suspending your thoughts and being open to others. Listening is letting go of your ego and internalizing the speaker’s words. Listening is a singular focus on what the other is saying and the nuances that appear in tone and body language.
As with listening, clarity goes deeper than just a head-nod to the words. High performing teams ensure that each member has a deep understanding of the words they are communicating. High performing teams, in fact, use the same words.
I am always startled by the outcome of a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop exercise that asks the attendees to spend one minute writing synonyms for the word “trust”. Certainly, we all know or understand what the word “trust” means, don’t we? However, without exception, each participant group fails to have a commonality in terms. I have done this exercise with groups of three and with groups of thirty. The outcome is always the same. No one synonym is common among all members of each group.
We will quickly agree that we all know what the word “trust” means. But this exercise shows that we know the meaning of the word “trust” through our own filters — which may not be the same as your filters. High performing team members take the time to dissect each word of their shared outcome so they have a singular frame of reference.
Once again, it is easy to say yes, we collaborate. But does the team actually do that? Collaboration is all about mutual benefit. Collaboration is working toward the Third Alternative described by Dr. Stephen Covey.
At times collaboration may be messy. As each team member shares from the heart, passion may turn into frustration. The true litmus test of a high performing team is shown in the manner by which frustration and conflict are resolved. Resolution comes from the true desire to understand and the need to achieve a solution that is better than any one individual input – not through avoiding, accommodating, or compromise.
The collaborative team doesn’t settle. The collaborative team takes the time required to achieve excellence.
Take your team to the next level. Listen. Clarify. Collaborate. Mix up the secret sauce for your team and enjoy the taste of high performance.
Trust and credibility are irrevocably linked. Think of someone you find trustworthy. Isn’t your trust based on this person’s credibility? Conversely, think of someone you believe lacks credibility. Do you trust this person?
Relationships are built on trust. (And, remember, it is all about relationships!) What may we do to build the credibility needed to establish trust? I answer this question by offering up the three Ps: Preparation, Presence, and Participation.
The words “I am going to wing it” send shivers down my spine. Preparation is vital to demonstrating credibility.
A meeting without an agenda is not a meeting. It is a waste of time.
An agenda, distributed to all participants before the meeting, is critical. The agenda represents your playbook. The agenda is your “call for preparation.” Once you have this framework, you can then prepare. What information can I add? What questions do I want to ask? What materials do I need to bring with me to the meeting? Do I need to talk to colleagues to gain more information before I attend this meeting?
If you are giving a speech, think through the outline, draft your key points, and practice saying the words out loud. Each and every time you give a presentation, you must be present in the moment – aware of your intentions and the impact your words will make. With this mindfulness, you are able to react in a manner that further communicates the content.
Avoid the “I have done this a million times” trap. That trap lulls you into a false sense of security. This complacency is often accompanied by rambling, hmmmms and pacing. Distractions always intrude upon the message.
In addition to knowing what you are going to say, anticipate what you will be asked. A prepared, credible speaker is one who is not flustered by unexpected questions. As a benchmark, research conducted by the Center for Risk Communication states that 95% of the questions that will be asked about a subject can be anticipated. That means, that the speaker is able to identify answers to 95% of the questions before they are even received. This same level of preparation, regardless of the topic, prevents the post-mortem disappointment of “oh I wish I would have said …”.
Throughout Your Workday
Planning your day is akin to preparation. Taking the day as it comes says, “I’m going to wing it.”
Hyrum Smith, co-founder of FranklinCovey, is well known for his time management work. Both he and Dr. Stephen R. Covey crafted a system that encourages users to plan their day and week based on their priorities.
You may choose to use the FranklinCovey system or another system. The important message is: use a system! Spend time before the workday to organize and prepare. What projects must you complete? What are your task priorities? What meetings are critical to accomplishing your goals? How will I ensure my work/life balance, including time for self? Answers to those questions serve to prepare you for the job to be done.
It’s not just the words you say, it is how you say them and the way you say them. Presence is key.
Reviewing Amy Cuddy’s research and TEDTalk about body language is a must for anyone who spends time with others. (That means all of us.) When you stand in a room, sit at a desk, or talk with a colleague, be aware of your self. What is your body saying? Does it support your words or betray your words? Face your fears and insecurities and act as if you belong.
Credibility is diminished by those who are not aware of their body’s messages: for example, the inattention from those who play with their hair, the lack of self confidence from those who look down or up when talking with someone, the nervousness of those who fidget with their jewelry or the wandering mind of those who click their pen constantly (my pet peeve).
Your Words and Inflection
Listen to yourself talk out loud. Do you declare, or do you question? Do you use a voice that can be heard by all, or do you whisper? Make yourself heard. Be clear. Be concise. And, pronounce your words correctly!
Control the emotion. The hardest thing to do at times is to harness your passion. But, harness you must. Emotion distorts your message. Instead, exhibit your passion in a concise, clear manner. (You prepared for this by following the first P above.)
“Emotional leakage refers to emotional information that we pass on to others through our body language. This information might be conveyed unintentionally, through a threatening gaze, a haughty stare, or a cold or aloof manner. These micro-expressions may be fleeting, but audiences are able to detect them. Guard against emotional leakage.”
― Bruna Martinuzzi, Presenting with Credibility
A Seat at the Table
We have all been in situations where the unspoken rules of seating arrangements exist. “You can’t sit there because (fill in blank with name) always sits there.”
My advice – be bold and take that seat – or take any seat – at the table. Reserved seats should be indicated by signage. If there is no sign, it is open seating.
And, whatever you do, if there is a seat at the table. Take it. Don’t relegate yourself to a corner or against the wall. A caution: if there is not a seat at the table, don’t insert yourself by pulling up a chair and squeezing in, unless you are the only person not at the table.
In some organizations, a seat at the table seems to be tied to gender. Let’s counter that by being gender-neutral. If you have been invited to a gathering to share your expertise, then take the seat that allows you to exhibit your credibility.
Those who sit on the sidelines are only as credible as the players they support. If you want to forge your own credibility, you must “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg states.
Credibility is gained by “offering” instead of “receiving”. Step up. Volunteer ideas, resources, and your services. Don’t wait to be asked. (For you won’t be asked. Those who have volunteered are already doing what you want to do.)
One becomes a trusted colleague when he/she thinks beyond the moment and beyond the task. In all of your work, ponder the purpose behind each job or task. Continually think about ways you can add value or improve the process. One of my favorite phrases – “participate in making it happen.” The credibility gained from that participation leads to trusting relationships.
Respect – Don’t Defer
We were all raised to respect authority. But sometimes we get caught up in the shining lights of a “title”. You may think to yourself, “I can’t disagree with this person – that’s the CEO.” Or, you may find yourself sitting in a meeting nodding yes, thinking no, and leaving grumbling.
If this is you – stop it. Always remember, you were not hired to be a “yes person.” (If you were – run, run, run from that job!) You were hired for your skills, knowledge, talents, attributes, etc. So use them!
Deferring to a superior does not gain you credibility. Instead, it makes you a puppet. Your role in an organization is to be your own person and to have your own thoughts and ideas. Do that. Don’t be afraid to speak up in any room.
The secret to speaking up and even countering the ongoing dialogue is in respect. Be respectful as you speak – in your tone, in your words, in your mannerisms. Always remember that you have the right to a differing opinion. Let the light shine on a divergent way of thinking. That idea/thought just might turn into the next star.
Organizations are communal. As you know, communal living takes collaboration.
Credibility is given to those who know how to operate within a team. Credible people eschew egos for the greater good. Credible people offer themselves and their resources. Credible people find power in the “we”.
Contributions by all, as opposed to one or two, drive collaboration. Trust is awarded when one is found to be dependable, transparent, and open to other’s ideas. So much more can be gained through synergy than through isolation.
The pathway to credibility is lined with preparation, presence, and participation. This is an easy route to follow. It just takes self-awareness and a desire to exist for a purpose beyond one’s own ego. Go ahead – take the journey!