Four Questions Every Effective Leader Needs to Answer

As 2020 is coming to a close (good riddance), I have decided it is time to start writing my next book. Instead of blogging, or writing it in a quiet place, I have decided to write it through my podcast. A new and untraditional approach to writing a book.  You, my audience, will get a sneak preview of the content and can send me comments, suggestions, and ideas for the book.  Kind of a crowdsourcing approach.  There are two working titles to the book: Improv for the C-Suite and Leadership in Hyperdrive Powered by Improv.  My first call out to you is which of the two do you like?  Send me an email at peter@petermargaritis.com on the title you like the best. 

Over the past two years, I have been doing much research on the topic of improvisational leadership. I have curated 43 articles, 23 books, and 23 YouTube videos based on improv or improv leadership characteristic references. In the book “Getting to YES AND” by Bob Kulman, he discusses that effective leaders can answer four questions about themselves – Why this? Why now? What do I have to do? What’s in it for me? Bob discusses these four questions as if he was to bring the tenets of improvisation into his firm. I will answer those four questions and frame my answers as to – why you should consider bringing improv into your organization.

Why this? 

Improv is where strategy & planning meet implementation. Improvisation is a communication-based technique that requires leaders to be present and, in the moment, to listen as the business depends on it, to respond honestly, put other’s thoughts and needs ahead of theirs, and adapt to the unexpected challenges and opportunities.

Improvisational communication lets the leader focus on the things they have control over and ignore the things they have no control over. This helps the leader to be able to have clarity during chaotic times. By doing so, your brain will slow down to focus on the details, the context, and subtext of the conversation to guarantee nothing is missed. The principles of improvisation are respect, trust, support, listen, focus, adapt, and maintain the Yes And mindset.

Improvisation is all about reacting and adapting to a changing landscape by accurately assessing a given situation’s needs, which allows the conversation to move forward in a positive new direction. Improvisation is about building stronger teams, being creative and innovative, collaborate with others, negotiate from a place of win-win, highly focused during times of stress, setting your ego aside for the good of the organization and others, demonstrating empathy, and being very comfortable with the uncomfortable. Improvisation strengthens the leader’s emotional intelligence and their interpersonal skills.

Why now? 

I am writing this book during the COVID-19 global pandemic. If there ever was a time to adopt the improviser’s mindset, it is now. Change is happening all the time – change is either imposed or designed. Leaders need to be adaptable, collaborative, creative, innovative, and embrace risk.  

Embracing risk is not punitive to those who come up with the ideas; it celebrates those ideas even when they F.A.I.L – First Attempt In Learning. If you don’t allow your team to FAIL and punish them for taking a risk, it will take you longer to solve the problem because everyone is living in fear of being punished. Give you team the freedom to fail and watch them grow.

Showing vulnerability as a leader makes them relatable and human. Your leadership inspires your team to become vulnerable and requires the team to set aside their ego for the organization’s good.  The improvisational philosophy is not the 1950s – 1990s leadership, “I will tell you what to do” leadership style.  It is the collaborative and inclusive leadership style that focuses on the team, and not themselves.

Improvisational leadership provides phycological safety to the team. In the article titled “The Five Keys to a Successful Google team” phycological safety is defined as – the ability to speak your mind and feel safe taking risks in front of each other. Google feels “far and away” that phycological safety is most important dynamic behind a successful team  

It is also the exact opposite of the traditional methods of learning and development.  Sitting in a classroom being lectured to for hours upon hours does not increase retention. It increases boredom. It is just a mind mind-numbing data dump of facts, figures, and content that is uninspiring.  We have lost the motivation to engage the audience to action.  When you take the improviser’s mindset, we turn the content into stories, analogies, and metaphors so the audience will pay attention, which increases retention. This is the reason I wrote the book “Taking the Numb Out of Numbers.”

Change is a constant. You can either lead change, follow change, or ignore change.  Leading change gives you a voice in the conversation. Following change allows you to be a witness in the conversation. Ignoring change will lead to unemployment. Which do you prefer?

What do I have to do? 

Leaders need to learn to live in the moment and become engaging with their team. Improvisation helps in building and maintaining relationships while strengthening their focus. Do you have the ability to park your ego and to suspend judgment? If not, give it a try.  Think of it this way – naturally cross your over your chest.  Now cross them the opposite way.  Uncomfortable right? Of course, it is AND if you began crossing your arms differently, at some point it will be comfortable.  That is exactly what change feel like.   Uncomfortable at first AND you will get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Be respectful, be trustworthy, and provide support to others. Influential leaders are better communicators because they “listen to understand,” not “listen to respond.” Empathize with your team and be more vulnerable. Embrace the principles of improvisation into your leadership style and the way you live your life. This sounds simple, and it takes work. Here is an analogy that I have used when taking on large tasks, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!  Practice improvisational leadership every day and watch your team respond positively and become more productive. The best thing is that it doesn’t cost a thing other than changing your mindset to an improviser’s mindset. 

What’s in it for me?

There is a lot in it for you, as the leader—more tremendous respect from your team and others in the organization. You will be the improviser/leader that everyone admires and wants to work with. I have never felt that people work for a leader, that is, a boss. 

Today’s leadership demands more collaboration, less “it’s all about me” approach.  You may have the authority and the power, and that is not leadership. Leadership is the POSITIVE effect you have on another person – Simon Sinek. When you adopt that mindset, you teach everyone in your organization that they are all leaders, no matter the title. Create a culture that inspires others to action, and your influence will be contagious to all. Ask for bad ideas because in the world of improv, “bad ideas are bridges to good ideas – no ideas lead to nothing.” Show that your idea is the setup, not the end solution.  Involve your employees in decision-making, problem-solving, and strategy.  Listen to their ideas, their issues, listen to their feelings with empathy.  Increase your emotional intelligence, along with your teams. Don’t be afraid.  By doing so, your turnover will reduce, engagement will increase, problem-solving with require less time, and your bottom line with grow in ways you could ever imagine.    

Join me on this journey of writing my next book through the vehicle of my podcast.  If you would like to be in this next book on improvisational leadership, please submit stories to me about your improvisational leadership at peter@petermargaritis.com and if I use them in the book, you will receive a free autographed copy once it is published. 

Faster Meetings Mean Better Meetings

37072Who among us loves long, drawn-out meetings? No one. Yet somehow the people managing meetings seem to think that longer must mean more productive. I am on the side of less is more.  Here are my tips on how to make meetings shorter and get better results, and they center around the planning process.

Have a specific agenda that includes key discussion points.

•  Send out the agenda in advance so attendees know what to expect.

• Start on time, end on time. It’s really just another discipline.

• Anything off topic is discussed later.

• Anything that is does not involve all meeting attendees is discussed later.

• If appropriate, ask subject experts to provide necessary information to the group.

• Set a timeframe for each discussion point.

• Allow a specific time for Q&A. Any topics that cannot be answered are passed on to whoever can give the answer.

This article offers 6 Ways to Make Meetings Go Faster. Personnally, I like the last way: don’t schedule a meeting at all!  Time is so valuable that without a specific purpose, meetings can be more habit than productive.

 

 

 

Worth A Second Look

Ringing-doorbellThere are so many good books out there that I haven’t read yet that it’s a difficult decision for me to re-read a book. The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley is definitely worth a first and even a second read!  Kelley runs IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm that does remarkable work. One chapter in the book resonated with me: “The Doorbell Effect” talks about waiting…the pain, disappointment and confusion created when a service business forces customers to wait.

Kelley’s analogy is when you walk up to a door and ring the bell you have no idea what is happening on the other side.  Are they home? Are they hiding from you? You just wait until someone else makes a move. How does that apply to your business?

To me, communication – both internal and external – is the virtual Doorbell that either allows a firm to move forward or holds them back. Within your company, poor communication can create confusion, poor business practices and high staff turnover. Unless the firm’s leadership takes control of communication, the staff works according to their own priorities, manages clients as they choose and fails to support the mission of the firm.

Take that further and develop a standard for communicating with clients. How your staff treats clients is part of your company’s culture. Let me tell you a story that makes my point.

Recently a friend told me about her accountant, rather her former accountant. They didn’t return calls on a timely basis, ever. She asked for their thoughts on her business accounting processes, but didn’t get a response. She asked again, leaving a very specific message…nothing. She “rang the doorbell” four times, and nothing. So she took her business elsewhere.  She fired her old accounting firm by email (because they didn’t return her calls), telling them that they clearly didn’t value her business or her time.  Guess what. They never reached out see if they could save the relationship.

Eliminate “The Doorbell Effect” by creating best practices focused on client communication. Keep clients aware of the process for their project upfront. Will it take days, weeks, months…how many? How frequently will  you update them on progress?  Is it okay for them to call you with questions?  Never leave clients in the dark.  Set up a standard, develop the process and hold everyone in the firm to it.

Firms that commit to excellent communication are more likely to retain clients and improve referrals. It takes effort and a commitment to communicating with staff and clients

Short, Sweet & To the Point

images 4.16.36 PMHow does your firm handle internal communication? If you currently use or are thinking of using conference calls, maybe it’s time to reconsider.

One idea out there is to take a Twitter-like approach to calls and meetings – keep it short, to the point and relevent. 140 characters may not work but these ideas might help:

  • Always have an agenda and keep to it
  • Set ground rules for asking questions, changing topics, adding comments
  • Ask participants to prepare in advance on specific topics
  • Stay on task and on time – most meetings meet their expiration at 1 hour

Maybe the best advise is to reconsider having that meeting or conference call. If the meeting doesn’t solve a problem or improve a situation, why have it at all?

There’s a good article on this topic, “Why Conference Calls Should be More Like Twitter” from the Incidental Economist. Maybe short and sweet could work for you. Take a quick read and see if it doesn’t influence how you manage conference calls and group communication.

Embrace Your Inner Superhero!

It’s true…every CPA has Superhero potential. One of my most popular keynotes and presentation, Embrace Your Inner Superhero, presents helps break down barriers and provides tips and tools for pushing yourself to a placed that allows you to perform great feats!

Here’s a portion of my presentation…Enjoy!