Are you a Coach, a Leader, or a Manager? I hope ALL three!

Are you a Coach, a Leader, or a Manager? Is it better to coach or manage your team? What does ‘coach or manage’ even mean? From my experience in the information technology and information security fields, most people in charge of supervising people are nothing more than managers. Hardly any of these people in positions of power and influence are leaders in the truest sense of the word. And even fewer are coaches. Unfortunately, this means that most organizations and employees are not living up to their true potential. So, where has the magic gone of once spectacular startups like Google, where innovation was the norm and the best and brightest people flocked to join the phenomenon? Why has mediocrity become the new norm?

 

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So what? Why should you even care? Before I answer this, let me first provide some clarification to what the terms manager, leader, and coach mean and how they differ.   If we imagine a factory that makes widgets, a manager could be the floor supervisor keeping watch over the assembly line workers. They make sure that the workers arrive to work on-time, punch the correct buttons, perform their job correctly, and punch their time card out at the end of the day.

6 Crucial Steps To Handle Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations are a part of leadership.  Next time you’re ready to have a tough conversation, try these 6 steps:

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1. Get Your Emotions in Check
First, if the situation just happened and you’re feeling emotional, get ahold of those emotions before reacting.  In his book, “Just Listen”, physiatrist Mark Goulston notes that one of the best ways to get ahold of your emotions is to name them.  Identify your emotion and slowly and silently tell yourself you’re feeling that emotion.  Doing this takes a different part of the brain and helps to distract from the emotions you’re feeling.

5 People You Must Always Serve To Be A Successful Leader

Do you know who your critical stakeholders are as a leader? This concept is important even if you are not currently a leader. In this post I will describe the five people you must always serve to be a successful leader. I am sure that some of you may ask innocently, ‘What or who is a stakeholder?’ A stakeholder, according to Dictionary.com, is a person or group that has an investment, share, or interest in something, as a business or industry. Simply put for our discussion, a stakeholder is someone who has a vested interest in how you or your team performs, communicates, provides a service, delivers a product, etc.

These are the people who either directly or indirectly benefit or are impacted by your success. Knowing your stakeholders and especially knowing their wants, needs and expectations will help you map an efficient and effective plan towards maximum success for you and your company. Serving your stakeholders by providing great value and exceeding their expectations is a great way to live a fulfilling and very successful life. Here are the five high-level groups to help guide you to answer the question ‘Who are my stakeholders?’

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1. Your Leadership Team

Most people are aware that they should know and at least meet their boss’ expectations. However, this brings up a great question: Do you know what your boss’ expectations are for you? When was the last time you asked? What are their expectations for your team?

Now let me tell you something that many people do not consider: Who is your boss’ boss and what is their expectation for your boss, you, and your team? It is fairly obvious that it would be important to know their expectations for you and your team. I challenge you to also investigate what the expectations are being placed upon your supervisor by their leadership. If you know this, then you can help them achieve those expectations, resulting in a win-win for everyone. I cannot overstate the importance of knowing, networking, and communicating with the multiple levels of your upper management. Make sure you sit down with your supervisor on a regular basis to get feedback on your performance, identify what you can do better to reach the next level and have great impact, and verify if their expectations and goals for you have changed or not (NOTE: They will often change their expectations and not necessarily communicate this directly or clearly).

You are responsible for your own success. Take ownership and gain clarity on what the goals and expectations are for you and your team from multiple levels of leadership on a regular basis. How often you do this really depends on the operating pace of your organization and industry. It could be anywhere from having a meeting weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Identify what works best for you and your situation, but be consistent in meeting with them.

2. Your Peers

It is just smart business to work closely with your peers. Teamwork is the secret of organizational success since the power of the team is greater than the power of the individual. But, teamwork does not only apply to your team. Instead, optimal teamwork spans across teams. I have seen too many unhealthy and counterproductive rivalries between teams in my two decades in the technical trenches and in leadership. It is a waste of time and creates a ton of people drama.

Stop the madness by being proactive in identifying and working with your peer leaders and teams. These teams may be small technical teams or entire divisions in your organizations. They may at first seem unrelated to your goals and not a direct stakeholder, but at the end of the day, all individuals in an organization truly need to strive to maximize organizational success. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin discuss this in their book entitled Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.

3. Your Team Members

This is where most leaders put the majority of their efforts and focus. This is natural since most of our time is spent with our teams. However, there is a growing trend these days where leaders are neglecting to effectively mentor, lead, coach, and communicate with their team members. This is largely due to the expansive growth of people working from home or teams being composed of one or more remote people. As I reflect back on my own experiences as a leader, I can clearly see times when I gave a significant amount of attention and guidance to the people that worked directly in the office, but neglected the individual team members that worked remotely from a different city or state.

There have been several occasions where I was the remote employee. When you have leadership that does not manage that remote relationship effectively, it feels as though you are alone or on an island. You are kind of on your own and feel like have to wing it and hope for the best. Communication completely breaks down and the remote employee either does not succeed to their true capacity or they leave out of frustration. Make sure you are giving each team member the value and time they deserve and need. They are a critical stakeholder in your leader blueprint for success.

4. Your Customers

Who are your customers? They may be the purchasers and users of a product you developed. They may be the employees of the company you work for if you are part of an IT support team. They could also be a team of software developers that you are providing database support towards. You will be surprised at who your customers are if you really give it some thought. And you may have more than one group of customers that exist both in and out of your company.

Thinking of customers as a stakeholder is difficult for some technical teams. I have been on many development teams where they perceived their ‘customers’ as more of a pain in the rear annoyance than someone they are actively seeking to serve to the best of their ability. Know who your customers are and serve them well.

5. Your Organization

In addition to serving your leadership team, peers, team members, and customers, you must never forget the big picture in the end. We are all part of an organization. And if we are great leaders, we want that organization to succeed. If you couldn’t care less about your organization’s success, that is probably a good sign that you need to change your perspective or go find a new organization.

Do you know your organization’s mission and values? Do you know who their customer is and how they serve them? How can you help your organization meet its goals, give significant value to its customers, and exceed the customer’s expectations?

I encourage you to sit down and write out who your stakeholders are from each group: Leadership team, peers, team members, customers, while keeping in mind the big picture that your organization as a whole is a stakeholder. Seek to become a leader who is actively seeking to serve and exceed the expectations of these people and groups.

Now that you know why you lead and who are your stakeholders, in the next session I will explain to you the importance of knowing what your goals are and how to achieve them.

If there is anything I can do to assist you in your leadership journey or help you in your technical career, do not hesitate to email me at Greg@LeaderBlueprint.com.

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7 Easy Steps to Learn and Grow in a Busy World

Do you want to learn something fun or new? Do you want to create new opportunities?  Would you like to grow in your technical skills? Do you want to be able to communicate intelligently with people when discussing technical topics?

Whether you are a trying to stay relevant for the work place or you are a stay-at-home mom interested in learning something new, then this blog post is for you.  In this blog post I will provide you with seven things I have used to live a rich life full of learning.  I have used these steps to learn new and exciting hobbies, learn how to be a better husband and father, and stay technical and relevant as a leader for my career.  Here are the seven different ideas that I have used successfully and you can too.  No matter how busy you are or how strapped the budget is, there is something here that can work for you.

1. Start your day with learning something new

I am a big fan of time blocking. Essentially, time blocking is where you focus on one thing for a dedicated period of time. This is discussed very well in one of my favorite books entitled The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

I recommend that you start your day learning one new topic of your choice. The key to success with time blocking is to avoid all distractions, especially your electronic devices. Yes, that means no phone, no email, no news, no social media…yes, I said it…TURN OFF FACEBOOK…at least for your dedicated learning time. In the beginning, I would suggest dedicating fifteen to thirty minutes each day. If you commit to this Monday through Friday for a couple of months, you will see a dramatic growth in your understanding of the topic(s) you are learning.

Here is an Amazon link for an audiobook book, Deep Work, by Cal Newport to help with time blocking that I heard about from Dan Miller at 48days.com.

2. Initiate conversation with your team, co-workers, or neighbors to learn something new

Each day most of us are surrounded by people we know that could teach us something valuable and new.  Make time to initiate conversations with these people and ask some probing questions.  Be an eager learner.  For example, if you wanted to learn technical stuff, you could seek out the right people at work.  Most organizations these days have at least one or more highly technical teams. Make a point each day to have a conversation with them about a technical topic. This could be you asking about the technical design and implementations details of a project one of your team members are doing. Alternatively, you could ask one of your team members who is taking college classes to teach you something that they learned. This has an added benefit of helping members on your team become more effective communicators and provides an opportunity to build rapport around a shared interest.

3. Read one book a month

This is a common technique of many of the most successful people. I have read that Bill Gates reads about 1 book per week and Mark Cuban reads a few hours each day. In an effort to maximize my productive time, I have become a big fan of audio books, especially while I am in the car. This adds up to a lot of great learning time each day.

Here is an audiobook describing the works of some the greatest digital innovators. The title rather appropriately is The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. Here is an Audible version available via Amazon.

4. Take a class at a community college/university or take classes online or through a specialty group

I have to admit that I am a big nerd when it comes to school. I LOVE to learn and I deeply enjoyed my time attending the university for my undergraduate degree in Mathematics and my graduate degree in Computer Science. I have also taken a seemingly endless number of technical courses and certification courses on my own and often on my own dime. In these I have learned about a number of technical topics including networking, computer programming, cryptography, computer forensics, reverse engineering, and other highly technical topics.

If you do not want to invest the of time or money necessary to get a complete degree you could look at taking individual courses. Most schools offer non-degree programs which allow students to take a small number of courses (usually 3-5 courses) without committing to a full degree.

Another alternative is taking advantage of online institutions that offer free or low cost courses in a multitude of topics including technology. Here is a list of some of the ones I am familiar with:

Within the technology space, there are a ton of high priced specialty courses conducted by a number of professional organizations. I have taken countless courses through these organizations. Many of the courses are 1-5 days in length. It is an excellent way to get force-fed a lot of information in a short period of time. The courses range in difficulty from beginner to highly advanced. Here are some of the organizations I am familiar with:

Another thing I have done in the past is joined volunteer organizations.  Depending on the organization, they may offer specialized training.  For example, I joined a search and rescue organization that specialized in human tracking to help find people lost in the wilderness.  I took a ton of classes that taught me the fundamentals and advanced techniques of search and rescue, land navigation, tracking, and emergency medicine.  It was such a blast to learn and practice and really increased the quality of my life.  And it was an opportunity to meet some really incredible people.

5. Attend conferences

I love attending great technical conferences. Unfortunately, many conferences these days have speakers that end up presenting nothing more than a glorified sales pitch for their product or service with no real value. So, do your homework when trying finding a good conference to attend. One thing I really like is that there are conferences for most technical niches including programming, information security/hacking, social media, big data, machine learning, leadership, etc.

In general, conferences will have a line-up of different speakers presenting on a variety of topics or a specific theme. Some conferences will have breakout sessions or actual training courses.

Another thing I really love about conferences is that they are an excellent way to network and build relationships with very friendly and knowledgeable people. I have met many friends at conferences as well as deepened relationships with coworkers.

Here are a few technical conferences that I am familiar with if growing technical skills is one of your goals:

There are a huge number of conferences available beyond this short list. Just hop onto Google and find the one that best suits your needs.

6. Watch YouTube videos

I am constantly amazed at how much wonderful and free learning content is available on YouTube.   There are so many people willing to take time and generate content to help people. There are tutorials that can give you a big picture understanding of a topic or intense, masters level course depth on a topic. The sky is the limit on how much you can learn in any topic on YouTube. I am a huge fan!

7. Listen to podcasts

I must admit that I am new to the world of Podcasts although they have been around for quite some time. Podcasts today are what radio was twenty years ago except for one added feature. Podcasts can range from very general topics to very niched topics. And similar to YouTube, you can find Podcasts on a variety of topics. I tend to listen to a lot of podcasts that include a variety of topics. Similar to audiobooks, I listen to podcasts on my trips and work commutes to help make the drive time significantly more productive. Here is a list of categories I personally listen to:

  • Leadership: Entreleadership, Andy Stanley Leadership, and others
  • Entrepreneurship and Online Business: Dan Miller – 48 Days, Cliff Ravenscraft, Ray Edwards, Pat Flynn, Amy Porterfield, Michael Hyatt, etc.
  • Personal Finance: Dave Ramsey
  • Technology: Leo Laporte

Also, keep a lookout on my website (http://LeaderBlueprint.com) and in popular podcasting software (iTunes, Stitcher, etc.) for my soon to be released podcast titled The Leader Blueprint. Here is the description of my new podcast that will be released soon in 2016.

The Leader Blueprint is a weekly resource for CEOs, Executive Management, and Technical Leaders inside companies with technology teams.  Has your company ever experienced issues resulting from having leaders who are not well equipped to manage eclectic technical members, resulting in people drama, missed deadlines, etc., costing the company money and valuable resources dealing with these issues? Are you concerned that if these issues are not resolved, you might be in serious danger of losing your most skilled technical leaders and team members?  If so, The Leader Blueprint is for you.  My name is Greg Jones and my passion is to help leaders of technical teams lead with purpose.  The topics discussed in The Leader Blueprint podcast exist to assist leaders in empowering their teams and creating a thriving culture of results-based success, effective communication, and relevant innovation.

If you are not already a life long learner…BECOME ONE!  I cannot state too much how much richer, fuller, and more successful my life is due to my constant learning and growing.

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All links in this page for books, audiobooks, etc. are affiliate links when possible.  This does not increase the price of the product for you.  Instead, companies like Amazon pay me a very small portion of their profit when people use the link.  This helps pay a little for my time and allows me to continue to bring you free valuable content.

5 Reasons You Must Learn To Speak Geek

Do your eyes glaze over when members on your technical team start speaking geek? Do they sound a little like the teacher saying ‘wah wah’ from Charlie Brown? Here are 5 reasons you must learn to speak geek as a leader of a technical team.

Technology

So what do I mean by learning to ‘speak geek’? Essentially, I am indicating that you as a leader need to take time each day or week to grow in your technical understanding in a multitude of topics, especially those relating to the projects your team members are working on. Here are some potential tech topic areas you may want to explore:

  • Computer programming or scripting language such as Python, JavaScript, or C++
  • Data science topics such as statistics, databases, neural networks, and machine learning
  • Computer/network security topics such as cryptography, firewalls, computer forensics, etc.
  • Networking (both hardware and software)
  • Data storage trends and technologies
  • Other topics such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and distributed computing
  • The list goes on and on!

We all know that time is short. Is it really that important? I believe the answer is absolutely ‘Yes’! I have witnessed firsthand the power of being able to truly relate to your team on a technical level. Although I personally started out as an information technology and information security specialist, there are plenty of topics that I just did not know that well as there are so many topics to learn. When I had a team member working on a new project that involved a technology such as machine learning, I started taking time each day to read up and understand more about it. I found research papers, presentations, and watched YouTube videos as a crash course in the topic. That 3-4 hours of effort paid dividends that I have reaped for many years.

  1. You will actually begin to understand conversations.

Once you become a student of technology the ‘wah wah’ sound will start to go away. You will begin to slowly start understanding what your people are saying. I have witnessed so many excited techies explaining their latest pet project. When I understand what they are saying I can sincerely share in their enjoyment and excitement.

  1. You will gain your teams respect.

I have worked with some of the best technical minds in the information security field in the world. I can tell you up front that these men and women are not fast and loose about giving out their respect to just anyone. If you do not have your teams real respect, it will be difficult to lead them for any significant amount of time.

  1. You will be able to provide useful advice, technical guidance, and project management

Have you ever had a team member describe a project and ask for your help? Have you had a time when you drew a total blank on what to say? Once you begin to have a true understanding of these advanced technical topics, you will begin to provide valuable insights, opinions, and practical guidance to your team.

  1. You will more effectively understand and communicate with discussions outside your team

You will be able to understand and speak intelligently now as other teams within your organization or outside personnel (conferences, competitors, contractors, etc.) begin to explain or pitch some technical topic. This will position you as a minority in many environments since many leaders do not invest time to grow in technical understand to anything other than superficial depth. This will help you stand out to your senior leadership in a positive and powerful way.

  1. You will grow in your problem solving skills as you gain skills

One often overlooked but truly amazing benefit you will gain from learning various technologies is that you will be smarter! Your brain will begin to see many problems from a different angle and you will improve in your problem solving abilities. I personally am a life-long learner. I truly believe that learning will help your mind age more gracefully than if you spend all your time vegging out in front of the TV.

I want to make one final but important point with regards to learning technical topics to aid and understand your team. They can smell a technical fraud a mile away. So do not fake it with them. Better to be honest and up front about what you do and do not know. My advice is to take a survey of what your team is working on and identify a priority technology area in which you should invest some time. Then start learning. Seek advice from your trusted team members on resources they recommend you should use. Strive to learn each technical topic beyond just a superficial, vocabulary understanding.

If you are interested in some recommendations on technical topics you should start learning, feel free to email me at greg@leaderblueprint.com. I am happy to discuss with you your situation and offer some suggestions.

Additionally, if you found this article valuable, then you would enjoy subscribing to my email list. I will periodically send out more information and opportunities to learn and grow in leadership and technology.

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5 Compelling Reasons Why You Must Create An Awesome Team Culture Now

I have worked in a number of places over the past 20 years in information technology. During that time, I have been part of struggling teams and thriving teams. Do you know what a key difference was between the struggling teams and the thriving teams? Culture.

The thriving teams had an awesome culture composed of people who did amazing work and an environment that made working fun. Without a doubt I would rather be a part of a thriving team. Most people today feel these cultures only exist in the rare tech start-up or a company like Google.

Culture

However, we all can help create these amazing work environment no matter where we work. Believe it or not, you are making a big mistake if you do not start creating an amazing culture in your workplace now. Don’t believe me? Failing to create a thriving culture may cost you your sanity, begin to erode your success, and possibly cause your team to fall apart.

Here are five compelling reasons why you must create an awesome team culture now. Investing in creating an awesome team culture will:

4 Critical Things You Must Know To Lead Successfully

Are you serious about become a successful leader? If so, then there are four critical things you must know to lead successfully.

Know Yourself

The first critical thing is to know yourself. I know this sounds like a famous philosophical quote from Aristotle or Socrates, but that is not my intent.

"Sócrates"

“Sócrates”

In order to know yourself you need to be clear about a number of things such as:

  1. Why do you want to lead – I discussed this in a separate blog post, but, in a nutshell, knowing ‘why’ you lead will be the motivation that gets you through the tough times and helps to act as a compass on your leadership journey.
  2. Know your strengths – Look to leverage these areas. For example, if you know you are strong at teaching others, then you will want to employ this during your various interactions with your team.
  3. Know your weaknesses – Look to improve these areas. For example, if you have poor written or verbal communication skills, then you will probably want to invest a significant amount of time improving these skills as they are a critical element of effective leadership.
  4. Be clear of your short-term and long-term personal goals – If you desire to be a chef in the next year, then it will hard to be a committed leader long-term for your team. This may encourage you to spend a significant amount of your efforts finding and training your successor.

Know Your Organization

Once you have grasped the concept of knowing yourself, the next step is to become familiar with your organization. Organizations are full of drama, painful history, politics, group-think, etc. It is important to know these sticky points.

The Single Most Important Thing You Must Know Before You Lead

Do you want to know the most important thing you must know before you lead anyone anywhere?

First, let me paint a picture with which we are all familiar. Have you ever set a really big goal or New Year resolution such as losing weight, getting on a budget, or changing some bad habit? Here are some thoughts and actions that you may do prior to beginning your new adventure towards success:

  • You picture yourself on the beach with your new swim suit all trim and toned.
  • You can picture yourself achieving your goal and basking in the success.
  • You spend money to prepare, buy equipment, and start making your plan.
  • You are excited to begin and change your life.
  • The night before you start your plan of action, you get everything ready.
  • You have your action plan written out with times and steps to follow.
  • The next day you wake with a purpose. You execute the action plan flawlessly.
  • You are on a high of power.
  • You know you are unstoppable.
  • You are sure things will be different this time.

3 Simple But Powerful Steps to Give Negative Feedback

Have you ever received negative feedback or “constructive” criticism? This may have been from a tyrannical boss, sincere spouse, or caring, but brutally honest friend.

We all have been there at one time or another. It is never fun to receive this type of “negative” feedback. Typically, we immediately take it personal, get defensive, and then tune the person out. However well-intentioned or true the feedback was, it is still a very hard pill to swallow sometimes.

Giving Negative Feedback
flickr photo by weltbildschweiz  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This is the perspective we need to strive towards when it is necessary for us to give negative feedback or constructive criticism. We need to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. So that leads to some important questions: How do we give negative feedback effectively? How do we insure that the person does not tune us out?

How to give Negative Feedback Effectively

This is a method I learned about a decade ago and have successfully used it since then. However, I want to clarify, the most important ingredient for giving negative feedback is sincerity and true care for the other person.

Step 1: Provide positive feedback – Start the conversation by greeting the person in a warm, friendly manner using their name. Be sure to look them in their eyes and provide a genuine smile. Provide positive feedback for something that they do right. Depending on the person, this may require some creative thinking. For example, you may tell them that they did a phenomenal job on their last project. Provide specific examples. Be sincere. People can smell empty praises a mile away.

Goal Setting: 5 Minutes to Your Most Important Goals

Do you have goals?  Try this 5 minute exercise to identify some of your most important goals.  Become a life-long goal setter.  Make goal setting a part of your everyday life. Without goal setting we will be at the mercy of life.  We will be ruled by the fires and distractions of the moment.  Time will slip away.  These words are reaffirmed by the giants in business and life success.  Without goals we will miss the target.

Goal Setting
flickr photo by gothick_matt  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Goal Setting

Here is one technique I use for goal setting that can help you get started with finding some of your most important goals quickly.  List the most important areas in your life. These may include:

  • Family
  • Health
  • Career
  • Finance
  • Friends
  • Faith