Leadership and Influence

It’s Harder to Change the World When Your Kitchen Sink Is Busted

You may have noticed a recent post or two about car troubles. It’s been a crazy season for breakdowns in my house. In the last five weeks, both our cars have broken down (multiple times), the freezer quit, then the fridge started freezing our food. We even had to fix the kitchen sink, and not just in the proverbial sense.


These crisis repair sessions drove home in my own life what I’ve been talking about with my leadership development clients: Your strategy doesn’t matter if you can’t execute the fundamentals with excellence. Tweet This

In my family, the fundamentals are food, transportation, and a working kitchen sink. When they break down, everything else stops. In soccer, it’s the ability to kick the ball accurately, the fitness to run for a long time, etc. If those fundamental skills aren’t strong, it doesn’t matter what formation you use. For Chick-fil-A, it’s things like friendliness and speed. For manufacturing companies, it’s things like quality and downtime. And for leaders, it’s things like interpersonal communication and delegation.

For years I dismissed the importance of punctuality. I was a big picture guy, not a details guy, right? But I found that for some of my followers, my vision didn’t matter if I couldn’t be on time.

The fundamentals are not exciting, alluring skills. But nothing else is possible unless you get them right. And many of the best got to the top just by doing the basic things better than anyone else. Everyone in his day knew Vince Lombardi’s sweep play. It wasn’t a secret strategy. But he coached his teams to execute it so well they won multiple NFL championships, often running that play eight or nine times in a row, marching down the field to score.

What are the fundamentals in your personal life? In your organization? Many of my clients, recently, have listed out each of their fundamentals, then rated themselves 1-5 on how well their organization delivers on those (5 being awesome). If it’s not all 4’s and 5’s, then maybe you should slide that area to the top of your development plan.

Because your strategy doesn’t matter if you can’t execute the fundamentals with excellence.

photo credit: the plumber via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakIt’s Harder to Change the World When Your Kitchen Sink Is Busted

How to Protect Yourself From Toxic Relationships

My last post mentioned how crucial it is to keep contaminants out of our “fuel tanks”. I was asked, “How do you do that if the problem is a person, especially one hard to keep out like family?”

Book Cover - Boundaries

My answer: Read the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. This book has sold over 2 million copies for a reason. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend are psychiatrists with a Christian worldview. So get ready for a mix of practical psychology (e.g. the family you grew up in is key to understanding your current boundaries) and scripture (e.g. Galatians 6 on the law of sowing and reaping). Bottom line: this book helps you get clear on what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for, and how to talk to others about honoring each others’ boundaries.

For example, speaking only what edifies others is my responsibility (Ephesians 4.29). How someone else feels about what I say is their responsibility. Again, their feelings are not my responsibility. And many, many of us have been taught that it is our responsibility to keep the other person happy—or that it’s their fault if I feel bad. It’s not. It’s my job to manage my own emotions.

Another example is the danger of trying to help our kids (especially older kids) by shielding them from the bad consequences of bad decisions. By taking on too much of the responsibility for fixing their problems we rob them of the ability to take responsibility for their own life. We teach them that they can do what they want and others will handle the fallout.

Leaders not only need to manage their personal boundaries, but the organization’s boundaries. Some customer requests you have to say no to, even if there’s money to be made doing it. That’s not what your company has decided to be about. And healthy organizational boundaries won’t happen if the senior leader makes all the decisions. The boss can’t be directly responsible for it all and have fully empowered staff.

This book brings clarity to one of the most confusing aspects of life. I highly recommend this book. It’s on my short list of best books of all time.

Amazon link: Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

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Scott WozniakHow to Protect Yourself From Toxic Relationships

How I Decide Whether To Ask Questions Or Tell The Answer

Too often we try to help others by telling them what to do when we should be asking them questions. And too often we ask questions when we need to tell them what to do. Neither is right in every situation. Here’s how I choose when to do what (not that I always get this right).

Deciding Which Door To Choose

Telling is ideal when you need to solve the problem as fast as possible. It’s efficient. And, assuming you have a real expert giving the advice, it solves the problem. Telling puts you in a position of authority. Having an authority figure make the decision can feel good for both sides. But it can also create distance in the relationship. And if you haven’t been invited to give advice, it won’t be received well. (See my previous post for more on this). But if you’re in a crisis, where speed and a sense of security are critical, then telling is likely the best approach.

Asking is ideal for developing people. It is slower and sloppier than telling (in the short-term). But asking stimulates growth in others, prompting them to consider the issue for themselves and create a solution that is truly their own. Asking (when you want to tell) requires a bit of humility, honoring the other person’s ability to think and decide, and it draws people together. Tweet This It’s more risky than telling, but it builds trust fast. If your goal is to help a person become better, and you have the time to get to the solution more slowly, asking is better than telling.

When deciding whether to ask or tell, I consider these factors:

  • Do I have stated permission to tell them what to do?
  • How urgent is the problem?
  • How big are the consequences if they get this wrong?

photo credit: Deciding Which Door to Choose 2 via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakHow I Decide Whether To Ask Questions Or Tell The Answer

The Better Your Advice, The Less Likely They Will Receive It

My life’s aim—put very generically—is to help people as much as I can. (The full version addresses my relationship to God, my family, leadership, and adventure). For a long while, I thought being helpful meant giving great advice.

So I began to learn as much as I could, growing my stockpile of valuable knowledge. But eventually I realized that giving advice isn’t always the best way to help others. In fact, I discovered that unsolicited advice is received as judgement. Tweet This By the way, the more insightful the advice you want to share, the more you want to share it. But the better your advice, the less likely they will receive it when they didn’t ask for it. When your advice is spot on, it exposes their lack more clearly. It’s a tragic irony. There is a time when giving advice is what they are asking for and helps. But more often, asking great questions is more helpful than telling others true answers. Tweet This

Question Man

When I learned this, I helped others by telling 95% of the time, only asking 5%. And even though much of my work these days is delivering presentations, I’ve worked hard to change that. Even in my workshops (where I could get away with pure telling if I wanted) I ask the participants questions and give them time to discuss. And I’ve found that people at my workshops rate me as much more helpful when there are lots of questions and discussion time.

What’s your default? Asking or telling? In your key relationships (work, kids, best friend) what’s the percentage of time you spend telling vs. asking? 60% telling (40% asking)? 90% telling? What do you want it to be?

This holiday season, what if you didn’t give advice to any of your relatives? What if you just asked questions and listened?

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Scott WozniakThe Better Your Advice, The Less Likely They Will Receive It

Baking a “Change Cake”

Creating concepts is hard work, but it pales in comparison to creating change. I’ve tackled both idea creation and change management many times. A big part of my work at Chick-fil-A has been serving on teams charged to design and lead change. We know what we need to do. The research is done and the ideas are validated. But if no one changes their behavior, then the idea wasn’t actually helpful. Tweet This

So I get asked often: What’s the key to making change happen, especially in a big organization? Is it a grand event to inspire them? Is it active support from top leaders? Is it sharing measures? Is it coaching? Which element makes change happen?

The answer: None of them. And all of them.

Inspirational moments boost of energy and shift mindset. And we also need to track progress, ideally every day. The key people in our lives need to support, not undermine what we’re attempting. And having someone walk alongside you as a coach adds energy, accountability, and specificity to your change efforts.

Each of these elements is awesome. Each of these elements is a complex craft in its own right. But none of them alone results in lasting change.

chocolate cake

Creating real change is like baking a cake. No single ingredient makes a good cake, not even pure sugar tastes as good as a well made cake. (Trust me, I know. To properly research this post, I ate a piece of chocolate cake last night.) The better quality each of the ingredients, the better the cake. But all of the ingredients together result in something far greater than each item on its own.

This recipe works for a person trying to get in shape and it works for a multi-billion dollar company. Maybe you’ve tried changing something before and failed to sustain it. Maybe you were trying to make a cake with only one ingredient. This time, try using all the elements. You might be surprised at what’s possible.

photo credit: chocolate cake via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakBaking a “Change Cake”

Match Your Hands And Feet (Cowboy Leadership 3)

There was one more leadership principle I saw in action when we rode horses earlier this year. When the wrangler taught us how to steer, he explained that all we needed to do was gently move the reins to the right (or left) in order to have the horse turn that way. The change in pressure of the reins resting on the neck of the horse was enough. But then he added that if we really wanted to do it right, we needed to match the pressure of our feet with the movement of the reins, otherwise you would confuse your horse.

I’ve seen leaders make this mistake many times. I’ve made this mistake. We send a message, but contradict that with another action.

Lost Valley Ranch - View from horseback

It’s not enough to cast vision with skill. People are constantly being pitched to do this and think that, from friends and ads and bosses. To break through people’s distraction and distrust, every word you say and every choice you make has to send the same message. Tweet This A single contradictory element can keep your message from being believed.

A dramatic example might be the three automotive executives who appeared before congress a handful of years ago, pleading for billions of dollars in government bailouts to save their companies. They spoke passionately of the crushing lack of cash and the many jobs at risk—and then each flew back home on their company’s private jet. Their leadership credibility still hasn’t recovered.

But even small things matter. For example, I once gave a presentation on the importance of excellence in the details. But I had to play the video clips for that presentation by holding a microphone up to the speaker on my laptop. (We didn’t have the audio cord needed to plug directly into the speakers.) It pretty much ruined the moment.

What message are you sending with your words? With your actions? With your spending? With your clothes? With how you spend your time?

Align all your actions and cast a clear vision. Send only one message. The difference in your followers’ response might surprise you.

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Scott WozniakMatch Your Hands And Feet (Cowboy Leadership 3)

Cowboy-Style Leadership

This year, I was invited to lead a personal development retreat for some high caliber business owners and they chose a Colorado dude ranch as the location. One afternoon we took a break to ride horses. We were at a dude ranch, after all. And, yes, I appreciate how cool my job can be. 🙂

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a horse. Getting to ride again was awesome. While alternating between grinning like a kid and trying to look cool, I realized cowboys know a thing or two about leadership.

Lost Valley Ranch - Scott just on horseThe first thing our guide said was, “Remember, these are horses, not machines. They have a mind of their own.” You don’t control a horse, not the way you control a car. You persuade a horse to become your traveling partner. And you won’t persuade a horse through force. They are much, much bigger than we are. They can go anywhere they really want—as one of the other riders discovered when her horse ran off from her group despite her repeated pulling on the reins and shouts of “Whoa!”

You don’t ride a horse by pushing the animal or jerking on the reins. You’ll just confuse it or make it mad. Cowboys don’t control their horse, they partner with it. And it’s the same with leaders. For a short time, you can fool yourself that you have control. But in the end it’s all about persuasion. They have to truly believe that where you want them to go is the right path. You have to be aligned on the same goal—like partners.

Leading isn’t about lording over people. Leading means partnering with those you lead.Tweet This

It can seem so much simpler and faster to decide the path and force them to do what we want. But the hard truth is we can’t avoid the need to persuade. At best, we can delay the consequences of their disconnection. This is why some kids look obedient but go wild in college. They never truly agreed with the rules their parents enforced. They weren’t actually working toward the same goal.

What or who in your life do you need to stop trying to control? Maybe it’s time to let go of that illusion. When you do, you might discover you can finally enjoy the ride.

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Scott WozniakCowboy-Style Leadership

Walk A Mile In Their Non-Slip Shoes (Lemonade Lesson 1)

A little while ago, I had the chance to spend the day working in the kitchen of a Chick-fil-A restaurant. All staff at the corporate headquarters of Chick-fil-A are asked to spend at least one day a year working in a restaurant.Why? Do IT managers and marketing creatives really need to take orders on a register? Yes. Because every great idea eventually degenerates into hard work.

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Scott WozniakWalk A Mile In Their Non-Slip Shoes (Lemonade Lesson 1)