Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

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Be a Yes-Person

Everyone hates a Yes-man. A flunkie, a stooge, a sycophant.  But there’s another type of “yes-person” that’s good. In fact, I believe there are two types of people – Yes-people and No-people. And, especially in business, you want to surround yourself with the “yeses” and avoid the “nos”.

A No-person isn’t just someone who doesn’t say yes. They’re afraid of new ideas and find ways to ridicule them and undermine them. They come up with reason after reason for not doing things – “we tried that already”, “it will never work”, “the client won’t buy it”. They’re threatened by the success and confidence of others. So they sap energy and undermine other peoples’ efforts.

On the other hand, Yes-people are full of energy and excitement – and enthusiastically open to new ideas. They are supportive and help build on them. And they listen, collaborate and help succeed. Teams full of Yes-people win – good luck if you’ve got a team full of No-people. Speaking about team success, a member of the British Royal Marines said, “It’s not about skills. It’s about attitude and the effect on the team. One wrong team player can sap all the energy from the group.”

So how do you be a Yes-person?

Do stuff. Say yes to doing things, trying things, helping with things. Read about new ideas and stay current. Keep up to date on culture, entertainment, science, politics. And get out there and be present – physically and mentally. This keeps your yes-muscle exercised.

Exchange “no, but…” with “yes, and…” Be open to ideas you haven’t had before or wouldn’t normally agree with – and phrase your comments and builds in a way that is additive and overcomes potential issues, vs. tossing out roadblocks and hand-grenades. Don’t let negative thoughts kill the seedlings of ideas before they’re allowed to germinate a bit. And if you have prior experience or knowledge that identifies watch-outs, use it as a way to avoid mistakes and difficulties.

Be the dumbest person in the room. One potential issue leading to “no-ism” is some people’s need to be the smartest. Instead, you should happily surround yourself with smarter people, and feel confident in your role as helping to facilitate other people’s greatness and success. And never worry about ownership or proprietariness of ideas – a Yes-person just wants good things to happen, regardless of credit.

Be solution-focused. Don’t spend much energy or time focused on what is WRONG. Instead, get people directed on what needs to happen to make it right. Too much time, especially in groups, is spent on grousing and carping about the problem and the blame. Energize and infuse your teams with optimism about what is possible.

Be a “first responder” for those needing help. Another exercise for your “yes-muscle” is helping others. Have an open door to people looking for help or advice, regardless of whether they are directly on your team. Join groups, cross-functional teams, and skunk-works projects that are developing innovations or providing organizational recommendations. Be viewed as someone who is involved and wants to participate.

Be a “Radiator”. Another simple segmentation of people is there are “Radiators” and “Drains”. You can imagine what a Drain does. So always be a Radiator – radiate energy, enthusiasm, and possibility. And smile, dammit!

Avoid the seduction of the No. It’s easy to fall into the “no” trap. To build on the carping and the pessimism. But don’t take the bait. Steer clear of the negativity, brush off the comments, and stay focused on building yeses.

So the next time you’re on a team project, focus on being a Yes-person – and do your best to contain the No-people. Better yet, avoid them altogether, if you can.

Love to hear stories about your No-people!

Up With People!

No matter what your business is, from making ads to making widgets, there’s one aspect in driving excellence that’s more important than anything else.  It’s not your technology or systems, not the quality of your product, not specific expertise you have. And it’s not having audacious goals, having a bold mission-statement, or a brilliant vision. It’s your focus on developing your internal talent that makes the biggest difference.

The number one role of leaders should be growing and developing new leaders. Period.  As Tom Peters says, it’s “people first, second, third, fourth”. Do you provide inspiration, education, opportunity and support for your employees? Which is why, in a recent Mercer What’s Working global survey of nearly 30,000 people in 17 countries, “being treated with respect” ranked as more important to employees than even salary or benefits.

Jim Collins says that good leadership is empowering employees to do what they’re good at in the service of something bigger than themselves. Do your employees feel they are a part of something? And do they see a role for themselves, beyond the specific output they are creating. Collins also says “the best leaders don’t worry about motivating people, they are careful to not de-motivate them.”  So how do you not de-motivate your most important resource?

Say the following mantra: “my job is making others better”
This means that a leader should worry not at all about getting credit for doing specific things; that he or she succeeds or fails on those on the team getting credit for doing them. This can be tricky for a confident and experienced leader with a healthy ego. Why? Because they have gotten to where they are by getting credit for things.  But a leader needs to let go of ownership and proprietariness and the need for having their name attached to accomplishments. It’s enough to know they led the team and individuals to success.

Engage with your team
Your team needs to know your are connected, in the loop, and not above-it-all. This is why listening is as important as speaking (maybe more important) – they need to feel heard, understood and respected. An approach I endorse comes from early Hewlett-Packard philosophy, but I got from Tom Peters, is the idea of MBWA – “management by wandering around”. Get out of your office and walk the halls amongst your team. It helps you, and it helps them.

Respect and empower
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what you want to do and let them surprise you with their results,” General Patton

Lots of leaders still lead via an out-dated command and control style that de-motivates and disrespects their employees. Your team doesn’t need you to do their work or tell them how to do it. And they want to know that you care about their thoughts and ideas. Thus, the most important thing you can demonstrate is that you don’t know everything – and want to know what they think.  In fact, “what do you think?” may be the most empowering and motivating thing you can say to your team. With the second most being “how can I help?”

Show appreciation
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated”, William James

This may be obvious, but it’s the most often forgotten part of the equation. People are the most important part of any business – “lead people, not projects” is the best bit of management advice I’ve ever gotten. However, since it all comes down to delivering projects, accomplishing tasks, getting work done, we tend to forget that it’s our people who do it all. Take the time to acknowledge that, and it won’t be forgotten. According to Herb Kelleher, treating his employees like customers is the #1 secret to his success.

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