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September 2015

Why habits are the foundation for change

Sep 1, 2015 9:26 PM
Nicki Weiss

It's a contradiction, I know. How can habits - doing the same thing again and again - be the basis for change?

Well, sometimes you need a habit (creative) to jolt you out of a habit (not productive) that's got you stuck.

Having one or two go-to rituals that shake things up for you will leave you more creative, more productive and having more impact.

From the good folk at 99U, 10 Creative Rituals You Should Steal. I'm a fan of #8 in particular. Which one speaks loudest to you? And what else would you add?

http://99u.com/articles/21137/10-creative-rituals-you-should-steal

Business Ideas, Leadership, Professional Development   Add Comment
  

March 2015


Leadership lessons from bees #1

Mar 25, 2015 9:06 AM
Nicki Weiss

Managing the hornets in your hive
In my spare time, I am one of three co-chairs for the Toronto Beekeepers Co-op. We are a 40-person organization of volunteer urban beekeepers who build and care for 40 hives around the city. We are also committed to educating the public about the critical part bees play in keeping our planet healthy and productive.

Caring for our beehives is the easy part. Caring for the hive of people who manage the bees is much more troublesome. Those attracted to our Co-op come from all walks of life. Most are wonderfully eccentric, opinionated and caring. However, some haven’t figured out the co-operative part of a Co-op.

Many people are attracted to the idea of urban beekeeping but not to the actual work and learning involved in caring for the hives. We thought we had a good interview process to weed out those who couldn’t commit to the hours and to our guidelines of co-operation and respect. But we recently accepted someone who turned out to be a vicious bully (think of a hornet wasp). Our usually calm, positive hive turned toxic. She constantly challenged and interrupted fellow members at meetings, influenced others to do the same, sent an unending stream of complaining emails, and didn’t show up for her volunteer hive hours.

As a volunteer organization, we had no mechanisms to deal with troublesome members, unlike a business where HR policies can sort out malcontents. We three co-chairs felt helpless to expel the bully hornet and her followers. Then the situation became unbearable for the entire Co-op: arguments were increasing and hours consumed at meetings and on email resolving minor disputes. Many of the quieter members stopped attending the increasingly raucous and unproductive monthly meetings. The chairs had to act or our organization would fall apart. We agreed to:

  • Stop being afraid of the hornet and send a clear message to all members about our concerns.
  • Repeat our Rules of Engagement at the beginning of every meeting, which include respectful communication, a positive tone, and equal time for everyone to talk.
  • Require that members fulfill at least 25 of their 60 hive-caring hours by June every year. Any who don’t comply will be asked to leave the Co-op.

We now have policies in place to terminate members who cannot abide by our Rules of Engagement or Work Requirements. The troublesome members decided not to renew their memberships.

Leadership lesson: Address disruptive behaviour early in your organization, or it will escalate. Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations that bring issues forward.

Managing Teams, Business Ideas, Leadership   Add Comment
  

April 2014


The Pencil

Apr 24, 2014 10:27 AM
Nicki Weiss

I recently heard an inspired talk by Robin Mednick, the woman who started Pencils for Kids www.pencilsforkids.com Pencils For Kids is a not for profit organization dedicated to “Making a difference in the world by providing every child the opportunity for an education.” Her inspiration came when she heard about a school in Niger where 30 kids shared one pencil.

She related a metaphor of the pencil. The message can help all of us can remember what it is to be human, how to be a leader, and that our presence in the world makes a difference.

THE PENCIL

The pencil maker took the pencil aside, just before putting it into the box.

"There are five things you need to know before I send you out into the world," he said. "Always remember these five things, and you'll be a great pencil.

ONE: You are capable of many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone's hand.

TWO: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you'll need it to become a better pencil.

THREE: You have the ability to correct the mistakes you make.

FOUR: The most important part of you will always be what's inside.

FIVE: On every surface where you are used, regardless of its condition, you must leave your mark.

The pencil understood and promised to remember.

 ~Author Unknown 
 

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March 2014


Top 3 business lessons learned from my kayaking trip

Mar 25, 2014 10:40 AM
Nicki Weiss

During the never-ending winter some girlfriends and I escaped the frigid Canadian weather for an eight-day kayaking trip in Baja, Mexico with a group of strangers. I hoped we would come back to inklings of spring. We didn’t, but my time paddling in Baja is still with me and I am grateful for the memories on this cold March day.

Activities like kayaking are great metaphors for business and life. The adventure is all about heading out in a particular direction, correcting your course along the way, paying attention to your environment, and adapting as you go. I was in a tandem kayak with a partner and we had to communicate constantly to steer the kayak in the right direction and to maintain stability. Here are a few lessons about business I learned, or relearned, from my time paddling.

1. Use what you know to guide you into the unknown

Unknown

My imagination almost stopped me from going on the trip as I fantasized about the number of things that could go wrong:

Will I like the other people enough to be with them for eight days in close quarters?
Do I want to put my life in the hands of strangers?
What if the weather and wind and water conditions turn scary?
Do I really want to do this, given how nervous I get before kayaking trips?
How will I manage with my knee injury?

Known

Realistically, I know I can rely on previous experience and my automatic reactions to situations:

I can get along with most people and know how to ignore those who bug me
I am open to adventure and have paddled in challenging conditions before
I know how to get back on track when I’m feeling overwhelmed
I am not alone on this trip and am capable of asking for help
My knee constantly hurts and I always get through the day

I can rely on the credo I use when broaching a new situation: “Go slowly, go slowly, go slowly, keep going.”

In business, we often step into the unknown. We regularly find ourselves in circumstances where we are scared, or confused, or stepping onto a bigger stage. Moving into the unknown is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

2. Miracles are everywhere

Since a kayaking trip by definition is outdoors, it’s easy to spot nature’s miracles. One morning we saw a hundred manta rays flinging themselves out of the ocean, flapping their “wings” with pure abandon, looking like they were trying to fly.

At work in my home office, miracles are more mundane and harder to spot. Going outside has been tough during this relentlessly cold and long winter. One day I got fed up, bundled up, and was humbled by the sideways-blowing snow and wind chill. A cat locked eyes with me, then started escorting me towards a coffee shop. Inside, a conversation with a stranger ended up solving an ongoing marketing problem I’ve been struggling with. Hallelujah.

3. When someone looks nervous, paddle alongside and chat

When the weather turned unbelievably windy and paddling became a challenge, Kathleen, an experienced paddler, noticed that less experienced kayaker Pat was very anxious. Kathleen sidled up and they paddled, chatted and laughed until we landed, about an hour later. Along the way, Pat became more confident and comfortable, and they both enjoyed their conversation.

At work, I am always grateful for a calm and friendly presence when my boat feels tippy. It reminds me to be the one to reach out and provide support when someone needs a steady hand.

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January 2014


Keeping those private dreams alive

Jan 14, 2014 9:42 AM
Nicki Weiss

When my children were little and I had a hectic work life, I secretly fantasized that I would get into the car and just drive away. Of course, I never did. But I found it comforting to retreat every now and again into this harmless daydream in which I drove to a quiet, beautiful place where everything was slow and peaceful and I could just be alone.

Many people harbor a little private dream of what they would do if they just couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out. Maybe their Plan B is spending six months working and six months bumming around the world, or it could be moving to the country and opening a bed and breakfast.

Hectic pace taking a toll

Here’s an unwelcome dash of cold water on those blissful images of escape. We seem to be retreating to them less often in this stressful, always-too-much-to-do business environment. The hectic pace of our daily work is creating a fallout you probably have not noticed.

A psychologist friend recently told me that she is seeing a significant jump in anxiety and feelings of overwhelm among her patients. She attributes this increase to a sense of mourning for the death of their Plan B. Without these dreams of escape, we feel we have no options or control. And a sense of at least some degree of control over our lives is essential to our well-being.

The demise of Plan B comes courtesy of reduced circumstances. A September 2013 Reuters poll found that, four years after the most recent recession officially ended, many North American adults are still struggling to recover financially. A Pew Research Center poll, conducted about the same time, indicates 54 percent of North Americans feel their household incomes have “hardly recovered at all” from the downturn. So instead of daydreaming about one day saying, “Take this job and shove it,” many of us have no choice but to put up and shut up.

This new reality is making itself felt in every age group, even among those not yet launched in the work force. We’re all concentrating on landing, or holding on to, a secure position that pays cold cash. No room for fantasies.

Start daydreaming again

In these trying times, is it possible to bring back some feelings of optimism and possibilities? Yes, but you need to apply some discipline to the process. Here’s how:

Make a conscious effort to put aside your “to-do” list for at least five minutes a day and take that time to nurture your Plan B dreams. You might even come up with a way to make them come true. Where and when can you daydream? Try Albert Einstein’s method. He said that his best ideas came to him in the shower.

Take a time out

To keep your creative juices flowing and manage your stress level, go play once a week for an hour or two. Pick something you find relaxing and fun, but do it alone.

In our work lives, we often can’t find the solitude necessary for the free-flow of ideas. Our creativity is blocked by ringing phones, emails and meetings. By giving yourself some relaxation time, you let your ideas percolate in the back of your mind, away from conscious concentration. Kierkegaard swore by a long walk; Steven Spielberg claims that his ideas flow while he’s driving; and a friend extols the benefits of an hour puttering in the garden.

So begin your solo activity, whatever it is, and stick to it. Just because the economy is still suffering a bit, you don’t have to be. A new year is here.

Perhaps finding your alone time can be first on your resolution list.

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December 2013


Why Trying To Be Liked Can Kill Happiness and Success

Dec 17, 2013 10:19 AM
Nicki Weiss

Do you want to be liked?
 
Most of us do. But wanting to be liked by everyone can have a chilling effect on your happiness and success.
 
As an example, I don't believe leaders need to behave like arrogant jerks to be successful. But many are so afraid of being disliked that they err on the opposite end, unwilling to make unpopular decisions or have difficult conversations.

When the need to be liked trumps your best efforts as a leader, you're not doing anyone any favors.
 
Here are two common fears that hold leaders back:
 
1. Fear of addressing poor performers

 
I see bad behavior and rotten performance everywhere in organizations.  I truly believe others’ poor performance sits squarely on their manager’s shoulders. If the manager won’t address the problems, who will?

I recently worked with a group of leaders and early on in our first meeting one confessed she has avoided a conversation with a problem employee for months. She lets her get away with whining, complaining, interfering with others’ work, and low sales numbers. She said, "I am afraid of what might happen during the conversation.  This employee is also a friend of mine outside of work, so I don’t want her to dislike me.” 

The results? The rest of the team was demoralized, their work starting to slide, and they grew increasingly annoyed at their boss for not calling out this difficult employee.

To her credit, the  manager rehearsed what she could say and had the conversation.  Not only did the poor performer become aware of her negative impact, but she actually appreciated the conversation and started to change her behavior.

What if the opposite happened, and the employee reacted badly to the conversation?  Oh, well.  It is not your job to stifle your good leadership instincts because you fear an employee won’t like you.
 
Reality check: When you let a slacker slide or allow negativity to reign, whether it is in a corporation, a volunteer organization or even a family, the people who are earnestly doing their best to meet the standards resent you for it.
 
2. Fear of people talking about you
 
I confess: I want to be liked too. But I've come to recognize that I can't make everyone happy.
 
The turning point came when I took on the responsibilities of Co-Chair for my Beekeepers Co-op.
 
I made a few changes that bothered some members. My worst fears surfaced when I discovered they were discussing my awfulness at a social gathering. The anxiety about being unpopular feIt like high school all over again.
 
"They don't like me," I lamented to a much wiser friend. She said, "If all the people who dislike someone are whiners, that tells me the person they are gossiping about is probably a go-getter who doesn't coddle others."
 
Then the situation became clear:  Why should I care if they liked me since I wasn’t very keen on them either?  Being liked is nice. Being happy and successful is better.

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November 2013


Great or Garbage?

Nov 19, 2013 8:40 AM
Nicki Weiss

I am in the throes of reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  Saying I can’t put the book down is an understatement. 

As we all know, Steve Jobs was an incredibly complicated person who was passionately dedicated to creating great products that were uncomplicated to use.

Jobs had a strict two-sided – and often brutal – perspective on how to evaluate people and products: they were either great or garbage (he used a different word for garbage).  His passion for clarity, elegance, and simplicity played a huge role in how Apple and Pixar created and developed beloved products and user experiences.

I’ve been trying out his “great-or-garbage” yardstick to see how my efforts measure up.  I’m humbled by the experience.

  • Recent sales conversations: garbage.  Oh, how I wish there were some wiggle room here, because many conversations I am having are quite rich. But I could talk less and ask more, and I need to get better at telling stories, using metaphors, and offering challenging insights.
  • Taking care of my health: great. I shine at eating healthy foods, exercising and flossing.
  • Website: garbage. I see all kinds of ways to improve it.
  • Professional development: great. I’ve read a number of excellent books and articles this year,  and taken many inspiring workshops.
  • Delegating: garbage. I outsource a lot but still end up working six days a week.
  • Networking: garbage. I know I need to find more events where I can meet people in person.  But knowing and doing aren’t the same thing.

I invite you to try the “great-or-garbage” perspective as a way to highlight where you need to pay attention.  But be kind to yourself when you look at the “garbage” pile: remember this is a black-and-white equation and doesn’t include the grays in between.

And if you haven’t already, read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  You will learn so much.

Talk back:  Let me know what happens when you evaluate your efforts against the “great-or-garbage”  yardstick.

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October 2013


Pay attention to moments of happiness

Oct 22, 2013 8:35 PM
Nicki Weiss

I’ve been married for quite a while (26 years, and counting). 

Before I got married, I remember thinking the secret to a meaningful life and a good marriage is about being happy. I also remember thinking that I was pretty shallow.

But as I muse, 26 years later, about what gives life meaning, I think the idea of intentionally looking for happiness is valid. While my marriage, like everyone’s, is a journey with major potholes along the way, I think what has helped me (mostly) enjoy it is that I concluded happiness matters.  At some point, both my husband Mike and I decided to pay attention to and place a high value on occasions of happiness rather than on occasions of disappointment or hurt.

I don’t know if Mike would put it this way, but we each decided to assume that the other was acting in good faith and with good intent, even when the other was royally screwing up.

Is yard work trivial or sexy?  

I distinctly remember the day I made a big deal out of Mike’s announcement that he had mowed the lawn. In a flash of insight I realized I had a choice: I could dismiss his announcement as trivial or I could tell him that he and his arm muscles looked sexy as he pushed the mower.

I chose the latter. Yes, I was joking, but in that moment a truth came to light: happiness is available when we look for it. The value and implications of Mike’s mowing the lawn lay entirely in how I chose to view it.

Business is like a marriage

You are in business, whether you work for yourself or for others. And being in business is like being married. You get out of the relationship what you put into it.

If you regard your business as a necessary evil, you'll find plenty to dislike. It will be easy, even natural, to give power to negative thoughts. And the vicious circle of discontent will perpetuate itself.

When you decide that you and your business could be happy together, the relationship changes dramatically. You begin to look at where your gifts and resources can serve your business and vice versa. Instead of asking
why business and work is such a drag, you start looking for crumbs of joy.

And where there are crumbs, there can be cookies.

When you look in the direction of happiness in your business, the more responsive you will be to the needs of your business and the more appreciative you will be of how your business enables you to do the work you love.

You'll be more creative and willing to be bold. You’ll naturally give power to random positive thoughts. It's a virtuous circle, and it begins with the decision to be happy.

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September 2013


11 Things Good Bosses Believe

Sep 19, 2013 10:08 AM
Nicki Weiss

What makes a boss great? I’ve been thinking about that issue for awhile, and talking with teams and their leaders to gain more understanding. Then I read an article by Dr. Robert I. Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and author of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.

I’ve combined the best of Sutton’s ideas with my observations into a list of 11 key beliefs that the best bosses hold and the worst bosses reject, or more often, never consider.

The bottom line? All the technique and behavioural coaching in the world won't make a boss great if that boss doesn't also possess a certain mindset.

Here’s the list:

I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
 
How I do things is as important as what I do.
 
My success – and that of my people – depends largely on being the master of obvious     and mundane processes, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.
 
Setting ambitious and well-defined goals for my people is important, but I need to focus on the small wins they achieve every day to assess their progress.
 
One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
 
My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe. That idiocy also includes my own.
 
I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often wrong.
 
One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is the answer to "what happens after people make a mistake?"
 
Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. My job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help them kill off the bad ideas, and many of the good ones, too. Sometimes good objects aren’t aligned well with what we’re trying to do. And sometimes there are just too many good ideas to be able to implement well.
 
Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk, and not realizing when I cross the line. 
 
My job is to pay attention to, and continuously elevate, the culture of my team. I need to keep asking questions such as: Is our culture all about ‘me’ or ‘we’?  Do team members have each others’ backs?  Does my team work collaboratively or as lone rangers?  I regularly take time with my team to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, and how to fix any problems.

Talk Back: If you're like most people I meet, you've had your share of bad bosses — and probably at least one good one. What were the attitudes the good ones held? And what workplace-transforming beliefs could your worst boss never embrace?  Email me your thoughts at 

What makes a boss great? I’ve been thinking about that issue for awhile, and talking with teams and their leaders to gain more understanding. Then I read an article by Dr. Robert I. Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and author of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.

I’ve combined the best of Sutton’s ideas with my observations into a list of 11 key beliefs that the best bosses hold and the worst bosses reject, or more often, never consider.

The bottom line? All the technique and behavioural coaching in the world won't make a boss great if that boss doesn't also possess a certain mindset.

Here’s the list:

I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
 
How I do things is as important as what I do.
 
My success – and that of my people – depends largely on being the master of obvious     and mundane processes, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.
 
Setting ambitious and well-defined goals for my people is important, but I need to focus on the small wins they achieve every day to assess their progress.
 
One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
 
My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe. That idiocy also includes my own.
 
I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often wrong.
 
One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is the answer to "what happens after people make a mistake?"
 
Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. My job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help them kill off the bad ideas, and many of the good ones, too. Sometimes good objects aren’t aligned well with what we’re trying to do. And sometimes there are just too many good ideas to be able to implement well.
 
Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk, and not realizing when I cross the line. 
 
My job is to pay attention to, and continuously elevate, the culture of my team. I need to keep asking questions such as: Is our culture all about ‘me’ or ‘we’?  Do team members have each others’ backs?  Does my team work collaboratively or as lone rangers?  I regularly take time with my team to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, and how to fix any problems.

Talk Back: If you're like most people I meet, you've had your share of bad bosses — and probably at least one good one. What were the attitudes the good ones held? And what workplace-transforming beliefs could your worst boss never embrace?  Email me your thoughts at nicki@saleswise.ca. Better yet, give me a call at 416-778-4145 if you want to discuss how you can become a better boss.

   Better yet, give me a call at 416-778-4145 if you want to discuss how you can become a better boss.

Managing Teams, Leadership   1 Comment
  

August 2013


Why Smart Bosses Start Book Clubs

Aug 15, 2013 9:51 AM
Nicki Weiss

Searching for a new way to engage your employees? Try asking them to read the same business or management book in the next 30 days. Turning your company into a reading group gives you a chance to understand employees better and allows them to freely share their passions and ideas. Everyone is guaranteed to have something in common to discuss. Book clubs offer employees a way to take a break from their chaotic work lives, increase their creativity and develop shared goals with their colleagues.

How to begin

Work with your executive team to decide on your top four to six titles.  Then read one book as a company every two to three months.

If you are a small company, host an all-employee conversation every two weeks around one chapter or theme. Ask someone to facilitate the discussion as each person gives their opinions and ideas.

If you are a large company, ask each VP to lead their division’s discussion.  If the divisions are too large, the VPs can organize conversations for groups of 20.  This approach works for both in-person and virtual discussions. Again, assign a facilitator and a chapter or theme for each discussion.

Suggested books

Below are some possible choices to begin:

1. The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
2. Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan and John King
3. Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company by Tom Searcy and Barbara Weaver Smith
4. Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
5.Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition by Ann Rhoades
6.Snap Selling: Speed up Sales and Win more Business with Today’s Frazzled Customers by Jill Konrath

How to make a company book club successful

Don’t lecture to your employees during discussions. Listen carefully to what they say during and after each session.

At the end of each discussion, ask the group which practices in the book would be helpful for your company to adopt.  Create team agreements and actions that will turn those suggestions into reality.

What else you might notice

Employees who love their company, appreciate their job and care about their career will dive right in. Almost immediately you will see their ideas, their work, and their enthusiasm grow (along with the company’s revenue).

Employees who make excuses, complain, or refuse to read the books typically show similar attitudes and behaviors on the job. You may glean a fresh perspective as to who should (and should not) remain “on the bus” after two to three book assignments.

Talk back: I’d love to hear if your company has a book club and the impact on productivity and innovation when an entire organization reads the same book at the same time. Or let me know if you plan to start a club in your organization.

Leadership, Professional Development   Add Comment
  
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