If You Lead a Team, You Need to Do This

by Andy Kaufman on November 21, 2016

If you look back at your career thus far, think about the teams you’ve been a part of. If you had to pick a team that truly stands out as one of the best, which would it be? Whether you were the leader or a team member, what factors led to that being your best team?

I’ve had the opportunity to ask that question to team members from all over the world. Though the answers vary, there are common themes.

  • “We trusted each other.”
  • “Team members were highly competent and totally bought in.”
  • “We could disagree but still enjoy each other.”
  • “The leader helped us all do our best.”
  • “We delivered great work.”

Great teams are often the result of great leadership. By that, I don’t mean just the brilliance of one good leader who is the boss. Rather, it’s leadership demonstrated across the team, including the person charged with heading up the team.

There are many helpful definitions of leadership. One of my favorites comes from Justin Menkes, author of Better Under Pressure. Justin told me during an interview about his book that “leadership means maximizing potential—in yourself and in the people you lead.”

If you are the leader of your team, I’d like to challenge you to consider that definition. What are you doing to maximize your potential? And how could you maximize the potential of your team members?

Maximizing Your Potential

I’ve had the opportunity to coach over 250 executives. Every once in a while, I come across someone who says they have 20 years of experience. But after spending enough time with them, it becomes apparent they have one year of experience repeated 20 times! They haven’t been actively, intentionally growing. They’ve been living off what they know and it’s keeping them from maximizing their potential. Liz Wiseman suggested in our interview about her book Rookie Smarts, that you must continue to seek ways to be a rookie—not just relying on knowledge you’ve already mastered. That’s risky yet required territory to travel if you want to maximize your potential.

And The Potential of Your Team

And how about your team? Perhaps not every team member has the same potential. Certainly, not everyone has the same levels of ambition or talent. But what are you doing with the team you have? How are you challenging them to experiment and grow instead of stagnate and wilt?

In our keynote Lead Teams That Deliver the Goods, we have an open discussion with the audience about characteristics of best teams and practical strategies we can employ to maximize the capabilities of our teams. It’s easy to think that we could do better if we just added stronger team members. Yet, as Donald Rumsfeld has said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have.”

Don’t Settle For Less

Once you’ve tasted what it’s like to work with a high-performing team, your tolerance for mediocrity significantly diminishes. Don’t settle for less.

Your responsibility as a leader is to maximize your potential and the potential of your team members. Develop a great team and you can deliver great products.

Join the conversation! What was one of the best teams you’ve been on? What made it such an effective team? What questions or comments do you have about maximizing the potential of your team? Leave a comment below.

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Your Long-Term Success Comes Down to This One Thing

by Andy Kaufman on February 14, 2016

What are you supposed to be doing right now, instead of reading this post?

I ask because there are countless demands competing for your attention, right? Your inbox. Text messages you need to return. Headlines in the news. A stakeholder who needs something. A problem at home. The deliverable due in a few hours. Something that went wrong on a project. An angry customer. A demanding boss. Something that you’re supposed to remember to do but can’t quite remember right now. Oh yeah, and this article.

Distractions bombard our lives. It’s an unrelenting attack of competing demands, all vying for at least a moment of our attention. Gloria Mark’s research finds that typical information workers are interrupted once every three minutes. Lest you want to lay the blame at the feet of millennials, open floor plans, or technology, Mark found that 44% of the time we interrupt ourselves!

Life in the Shallows

We live in the shallows. Getting time for deep, focused, uninterrupted work is rare for most of us. If deep work was a species, it would unquestionably be on the endangered list. And it takes a toll on our projects, our organizations, and on our very selves.

What if your ability to succeed wasn’t really about your IQ? Or the number of hours you work? Or your title? Or your looks or the family you grew up in or the college you graduated from?

What if your ability to succeed as a project manager in the years ahead came down to this: your ability to focus. I’m talking about your ability to carve out undistracted time, pushing your cognitive capabilities to their limit, allowing you to create new value and improve your skills.

After coaching hundreds of executives, one common thread I’ve seen across the most successful leaders comes down to what they focus on. The most successful have developed the ability to focus on the most important things, most of the time. They are less susceptible to being distracted by the trivial.

We all are gifted the same 24 hours a day. The difference is what we pay attention to.

Deep Work

I recently interviewed Cal Newport about his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Newport offers up his Deep Work Hypothesis: the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate the skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Makes sense. But certainly you must be tempted to think, “Cal is an academic! What does he know about the realities of my business life? He doesn’t know my project load. Or boss. Or demands at home.” Or whatever objections come to mind that convince us that deep work is no longer possible in today’s work culture.

Well, before you get back to what you’re supposed to be doing anyway, here’s the seed I’d like to plant. I’m taking Newport’s hypothesis as a challenge and I invite you to join me. I’d like you to join me in cultivating the ability to get more deep work into our weeks, making it the core of our working life.

In my next post, I’ll share some practical insights from Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. For now, here’s where you can listen to Cal Newport talk about his book, in his own words: http://PeopleAndProjectsPodcast.com/144.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! What are some practical things you do to stay focused on the most important priorities, most of the time?

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20 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Your Decisions

by Andy Kaufman on October 10, 2015

In an earlier post I gave an overview of cognitive biases that can impact us as leaders and project managers. Here’s a helpful infographic that summarizes 20 of those biases that we need to be aware of:

For more information about these biases, see the Business Insider article here.

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