There is a word that seems innocent but wrapped up in it is deception, arrogance, passivity, and ultimately, slavery. I can’t believe how naive I am to the danger and the effects this word has not only on my life, but also on the lives of the people around me. You may think I am overreacting, but I’m going to show you just how dangerous this word is.
You watch my three-part series on The Most Inappropriate Word I Use on Regular Basis here:
The word “busy” is overused. It doesn’t mean anything when we use it as a response to “How are you doing?” These days, most everyone is “busy.” As a leader, you risk losing influence when you say “I”m busy.”
Busy is deceptive. Our Western culture has taught us that busyness equals importance. But that’s a lie. Significance comes from quality, not quantity. It’s about adding value to people and your community.
Every January I choose one word that serves as a theme for the upcoming year. I’m not the only one, either. Just search #oneword2020 and you will see all the people who also chose one word for the year.
For me, this word isn’t a replacement for my goals but rather a complement to them. This word usually helps me to be intentional with accomplishing those goals.
In the midst of this pandemic and economic hardship, this word has become a rallying cry for how I want to love and serve those around me.
So what is my word for 2020? You can see it here, and learn how can you use this word to bring value to your sphere of influence.
Many of us have a little more time on our hands these days. For me, this “extra” time has given me the opportunity to re-learn some key lessons.
One of those lessons is about what I like to call The Socially Acceptable Addiction.
Most addictions like alcohol and drug abuse are frowned upon, which is a good thing. But those are not the addictions I’m talking about.
Within the last 25 years or so, there has been an addiction that has grown exponentially, plaguing millions of Americans. And even though this addiction will eventually kill one’s leadership, influence, relationships, and career, as a society we actually enable and reward it.
You can see what this socially acceptable addiction is, and the steps needed to detox from it here:
Vulnerability is contagious. Have you ever tried being vulnerable with another person, or group of people? Opening up and sharing something as personal as a struggle you’re having or a weakness you are dealing with? As I learned from a group of 7th grade boys, vulnerability is contagious.
To say that our entire world is going through a season of adversity is an understatement. It’s rare that something affects the entire world at once. But that is where we find ourselves.
So what’s our next step?
We have a few options. We could stay in a state of denial or cling to false hope. The former meaning that we try to ignore our current reality and hold fast to the way life was a few weeks ago. The latter meaning that we are holding out for life to return to normal soon.
I believe that both mindsets are naive, unproductive, and potentially destructive.
But there is another option. We can finish mourning our former lives, embrace this new reality, and thrive within this paradigm shift.
“We can embrace adversity or run from it. To succeed at the highest level we have to take a step of faith in the face of adversity rather than run in fear.” –Golf’s Sacred Journey
This story I heard about Zig Ziglar illustrates how to embrace adversity…
Zig was in the airport and proceeded to his gate to get an update about his flight. When he arrived, he asked the employee about the flight. She replied that unfortunately the flight was delayed. He responded, “Great!” This response surprised the employee. You see, other passengers who had previously asked her the same question didn’t respond in that way. They directed their frustration and dissatisfaction at her, acting as if she had any control over the delayed flight. So when Zig responded with such positivity, she had to ask how he could take this inconvenient news so well. He simply told her that this delay meant he had more time to get work done.
Zig was prepared for the unexpected. He didn’t know when it was going to happen, but he was ready to make the most of unforeseen circumstances.
Clearly, what we are going through is much more severe than a delayed flight. We have seen catastrophic medical and economic hardships and will continue to see those in the upcoming weeks and months. But the principle stays the same, regardless of the severity of the adversity. We must take responsibility for the things within our control and battle against worrying over those things that are out of our control.
Once we recognize our level of control (or really the lack thereof), we are ready to make the best of our current situation and thrive within it.
Here are some ways to thrive in adversity…
Confront Your Current Reality
It’s easy to want to avoid hard situations. But if we are going to thrive within them, we must have a good pulse on our current reality. Whether that be personal finances, job security, or living situations (aka isolation and quarantine), the next step forward is leaning into our fears, frustrations, and disappointments. I heard a pastor say, “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay there.” Embrace those deeper emotions, process them with a trusted friend, and then start moving beyond them.
I go into more detail on how to confront your current reality in a blog I wrote entitled Leading in Uncertainty. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so since this post is essentially a sequel to that one.
Readjust Goals and Expectations
Once you have a pulse on your current reality, it’s time to readjust those goals. If you are a business leader, it’s time to change your revenue projections. If you were planning a vacation this month, postpone those plans to the fall. If you normally work from home and have school-aged kids, your work schedule and productivity expectations must be adjusted.
We must be realistic in our expectations with ourselves, our family and friends, and our co-workers. Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t get stuff done and try to accomplish goals. It just means we reshape our goals to fit our current context.
Remember: frustration and disappointment come from unmet expectations. It’s time to create a new norm for your goals and arrange your schedule accordingly.
See the Opportunities
One of the opportunities that most of us have been given is time. Our schedules are not as busy as they used to be. I’ve talked to many friends who have said that normally they would be running around taking their kids to five different practices each week. Others have mentioned that they would consistently miss dinner with the family due to late nights at the office. Now they are at home all together.
What can we do with this “extra” time?
Invest your time in the people and projects that are most important.
Here are a few examples:
Catch up on your reading list (or create a list of books that you want to read right now)
Learn a new skill (like a new language)
Find a quiet place and carve out some time for reflection and introspection
Reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken with in awhile
Create a movie or TV show list and then begin watching through it (but don’t binge)
Explore new music
Be intentional with your meals (actually talk instead of watching TV)
Have game nights (we have been doing virtual game nights with our extended family)
Enjoy the nice weather (my wife and I now go for a walk every afternoon together)
Take a drive out into the country (you don’t even have to get out of your car, just enjoy the scenery)
Allow your employees to take some time off and give them grace while working from home
Have your team identify and then improve existing inefficiencies and productivity killers
Encourage employee development (provide resources for them to learn a new skill, take an online course, or read some books pertinent to their role)
We have two choices when it comes to this unprecedented situation. We can complain about it or we can use it for investment. We can invest in ourselves, our family and friends, and our co-workers.
If you are a manager, you have probably been given the task to keep your department and its employees functioning at a high level in the midst of this unprecedented time.
If your company traditionally resides in a physical office, you have the added challenge of figuring out how to lead and manage your team while working from home. And my guess is that you have received little training and direction on how to accomplish this.
I understand what you are going through.
Back in the fall of 2018, I moved from Texas to Nebraska. The organization I was working for (before I started SWCo) was very gracious and allowed me to work remotely for them through the end of that year.
I knew this transition wouldn’t be seamless, but I also didn’t realize just how difficult working from home would be especially when you are a manager. What made my situation even more challenging was that I was the only person working from home. Everybody else worked in our two office locations.
As I navigated through how to lead my team remotely and stay connected with the rest of the organization, I realized one important lesson that has forever changed the way I approach working from home and remote teams.
Working from home exposes both organizational inefficiencies and communication shortcomings.
My guess is that many of you are starting to see this. Issues that seemed small or you didn’t even know existed within your company are popping up and hurting your productivity.
The silver lining is that you (as the manager) can use this opportunity to make improvements to both your organizational efficiency and communication that will not only benefit you now (working from home) but, most importantly, will increase your and your team’s productivity when you get back into the physical office.
In order to be an effective manager working from home and lead a successful remote team, here are a few areas that you need to be excellent in:
Communication and Technology
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges I faced when I started working from home was that I was the only person working remotely. As a result, we didn’t have the necessary resources in place to maximize my effectiveness as a manager.
As you navigate this journey, the first step is to think through your communication strategy. There are 4 key communication areas that you need to think through:
Internal Communication: How do your employees communicate with one another?
External Communication: How do you communicate with clients (and anyone else outside of your organization)?
Collaboration: How do you collaborate on projects? (I also include meetings in this area.)
File Sharing: How do your employees access key files and documents?
As you think through your strategy or methods for each one, you also need to consider what technology is out there to help you accomplish this strategy.
Here are some resources, methods, and systems that will help you accomplish your communication strategy:
Note: If you don’t have an internal communication system and simply use email right now, I would highly recommend you take this time to research the tools listed above and consider moving to an internal communication system. When implemented with excellence, they are highly effective and increase productivity.
For this area, you probably don’t need to make any changes. Pretty much everybody uses email and phone calls. But you do need to think through what hardware your team needs.
Are you going to be providing a laptop, tablet, etc. for your team? Are they going to use their cell phones for calls or do you have a VoIP system that they can use?
Most organizations (and managers) don’t do a good job of communicating their expectations or “rules” around communication in a physical office setting. Most of the time an employee or manager just walks up to someone’s desk and interrupts them. (Which is not the most effective method, usually.)
Of course you can’t do that when everyone is working from home. So you need to develop other strategies that go beyond just calling and texting every time. As the manager, you need to let your team know your expectations when it comes to how they communicate using the tools above.
For example: If something is not urgent, what tool do I use to communicate? Is it an email, text message, phone call, or carrier pigeon?
Author and leadership guru, Carey Nieuwhof, has a great outline for what working from home communication expectations look like. Here are his team’s expectations:
One of my soapbox issues is using time to manage employees. Meaning that you measure an employee’s productivity and “success” by how many hours they log. I actually know of one company that makes their full time, salaried workers clock in each day. That’s so demotivating.
Effective managers don’t focus on the amount of hours an employee works but the amount of productive hours they work.
I know many of you are thinking, “This sounds good. But you still haven’t answered the question. How do I ensure that my employees are working and not watching Netflix all day since I can’t physically be around them?”
Here are few things to think about:
Manage work not people
If the expectations are clear on what your employees need to get done, when it needs to get done, and what excellence looks like, you don’t need to manage them. Their work will speak for itself. Most of the time when our employees are not getting their jobs done the problem is not with them, it is with us, their managers. We don’t do a good job of clearly defining what projects need to get done and their completion date.
Give your people meaningful work. Show them why this project or task is important to helping the company accomplish its mission. Communicate clear expectations while also giving them latitude to provide their insight on the work. And then get out of their way to let your people actually do their work.
I’m a huge fan of 1:1 meetings and I think every manager should have them with their direct reports. I recommend having these meetings on a weekly or biweekly basis. If you already do 1:1’s, just move them to a Zoom meeting. If you don’t, then this is a great time to start them.
The 1:1 meeting is where you check in with your direct report to see how they are doing and get an update on the progress that they are making. Ask them about the benefits and difficulties of working from home. Ask how you can better set them up for success.
1:1 meetings are the antidote to micromanagement.
You can still connect with your team and have fun, these times just need to be moved virtually.
If your team normally does a happy hour on Thursdays at 4pm, have everyone grab their favorite drink and hop on a Zoom call at that time.
If you have Slack, create a channel for random, fun conversations where people can post memes, videos, and gifs. (Just be sure to communicate what is appropriate.)
Connection is not dependent upon proximity; it’s dependent upon intentionality.