“For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.” —Jeremiah 29:11 AMP
Leaders know that decision-making always involves some level of uncertainty. You’ll never see the result of an option until it’s chosen, and the decision is converted into action. The more information, advice, and experience you have to decide, the higher your confidence level will be. You’ll be able to anticipate potential outcomes and assign probabilities.
On the other hand, incomplete, inaccurate, and unreliable information, a lack of wise counsel, and inexperience will lower your confidence level. You’ll be unable to adequately assess potential outcomes, let alone foresee likelihoods.
Your role as a leader is to reduce uncertainty. How?
- Build knowledge: Learn as much as you can about each option. What are the required information and parameters you need to decide? The Bible says, “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out” (Proverbs 18:15 NIV). Do your best to validate the information’s completeness, accuracy, and reliability. At the same time, be at peace when you don’t know everything.
- Involve people: Seek advice from others. Listen to people who listen to God. The Bible says, “Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers” (Proverbs 24:6 NIV). Pursue different points of view, encourage debate, and listen carefully.
- Determine predictability: Based on your knowledge and advice you’ve received, rank each option according to its positive outcome likelihood; 1 is a low positive outcome probability and 10 is a high positive outcome probability. The higher the probability, the lower the uncertainty. The lower the probability, the higher the uncertainty. You want to lean toward options that have the highest likelihood of success.
- Understand and accept risk: I learned a long time ago from Dale Carnegie to ask myself, “What’s the worst that can possibly happen?” Consider what you might lose. What’s at risk? If you understand and accept what’s at risk, you’ll reduce the anxiety that comes from uncertainty.
- Remember your values: Grounding a decision in your core values and guiding principles will help you navigate uncertainty. Without values, you’ll be tossed about and be at an even more significant disadvantage when faced with doubt.
- Remain flexible: Keep all of your options open to accommodate an uncertain future. You may need to course-correct and select another option as a contingency plan.
Check out my new book, Discipled Leader, launching on Tuesday, July 20, 2021
The goal of improving decision quality is about reducing uncertainty and increasing the probability of positive results, not guaranteeing them. Let’s take this a step further.
For the believer, you can reduce uncertainty to a large extent and make the best decision possible. You may make a terrific decision and not achieve your objective. Or, you may make a lousy decision and somehow achieve your goal. Uncertainty remains. Either way, there is one thing that is for sure: God is in control. You can trust him with the outcome.
Think about some Bible heroes who made decisions and weren’t so certain about the outcomes:
- Noah decided to follow God’s direction and build an ark but wasn’t exactly sure how everything would unfold.
- Abraham faithfully followed God’s call and left his home, not knowing where he was going.
- At Jesus’ invitation, Peter courageously stepped out of the boat and walked on water, moving from certainty to uncertainty as he sank.
In all three examples, each person decided in the face of uncertainty and trusted God with the outcome.
- Rain covered the earth, but Noah and his family were rescued in the Ark.
- Abraham settled down and his descendants became a mighty nation.
- When Peter began to doubt and sink, Jesus grabbed his hand and pulled him up.
Noah, Abraham, and Peter trusted God with the outcome. You can too! Why? God promises that he is for you, not against you (Romans 8:31). He has wonderful plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11). And he works all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
When faced with uncertainty, consider asking
- How do you reduce uncertainty when deciding?
- Do you trust God with the outcomes?
- Do you believe he has a plan for your life and will help you make sound decisions?
Look to him when you’re faced with a decision and uncertain outcomes. Whether you experience a successful result or make a mistake, know that God is in control. Place your trust in him.
Do want to learn more? Visit http://www.prestonpoore.com
 Dale Carnegie, The Leader in You (Diamond Pocket Books Pvt Ltd, 2020).> Read More
“My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, for they will refresh your soul. They are like jewels on a necklace.” —Proverbs 3:21–22 NLT
Indiana Jones is one of my all-time favorite cinematic heroes. In the climactic scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and the Nazi collaborators, Elsa and Walter, find themselves in a cave after an arduous journey searching for the Holy Grail. Legend has it that the cup was used by Jesus during the Last Supper. The Grail is purported to have mystical powers granting eternal youth, happiness, and abundance. Whoever finds the highly sought-after relic will possess great power, and the Nazis wanted it for evil purposes.
The old and weary Knight guarding the Grail stands in front of a broad shelf displaying several vessels, all different shapes, and sizes, many of which are ornate. Any one of them could be the Holy Grail. The Knight proclaims, “Choose wisely. The true Grail will bring you life. The false one will take it from you.”
The villains go first. With glory in her eyes, Elsa chooses a lavish chalice and hands it to Walter. He admires the chalice and says, “It certainly is the cup of the King of Kings.” Walter fills it with water, toasts to eternal life, and takes a drink. Walter looks satisfied when suddenly he starts to shake and cough. Expecting to find eternal youth, he experiences quite the opposite. In horror, his age accelerates, and he disintegrates right before their eyes. Life was taken from him.
The Knight states, “He chose poorly.”
Next, Indy surveys the vessels, discerning which one to choose. He knows history and looks for a humble cup. “The cup of a carpenter,” he says. Indy reaches to the back of the shelf, past all of the lavish chalices, and chooses a simple goblet. To test the cup, he fills it with water and takes a drink. Nothing happens.
Indy turns to the Knight and hears, “You have chosen wisely.”
Check out my new book, Discipled Leader, launching on Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Indy exercised discernment. He had good sense, a particularly keen way of seeing things that seemed hidden or obscure. But what exactly is discernment? Scottish Theologian Dr. Sinclair Ferguson sums up the attribute beautifully: “True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, and the permanent from the transient. And, yes, it means distinguishing between the good and the better, and even between the better and the best. . . . It is the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between, and recognize the moral implications of, different situations and courses of action. It includes the ability to ‘weigh up’ and assess the moral and spiritual status of individuals, groups, and even movements.”
God-given discernment will help you go deep below the surface of an issue or problem to see the motives, causes, and agendas. Additionally, it will enable you to distinguish good from evil (2 Samuel 14:17) and to see through outward appearances (Proverbs 28:11). Discernment will also help you to be sensitive to potential trouble, be keenly aware of danger, and prevent unintended consequences.
Do you choose wisely? Consider these self-reflecting questions.
- How can you exercise discernment in your daily life?
- What’s blocking you from being more discerning?
- Would people say you have “good sense”?
- Why or why not?
When faced with a decision or problem, don’t be like the Nazi collaborators who lacked discernment and made the wrong choice. Be like Indiana Jones, exercise good sense, and “choose wisely.”
Do you want to learn more? Visit www.prestonpoore.com
 Sinclair Ferguson, “What Is Discernment?” Ligonier Ministries, last modified May 8, 2020, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/discernment-thinking-gods-thoughts/.> Read More
“Think over these things I am saying [understand them and grasp their application], for the Lord will grant you full insight and understanding in everything.” —2 Timothy 2:7 AMP
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein, one of the best thinkers who ever lived, asserted, “Thinking is hard work; that’s why so few do it.” I assert that not only do so few do it, but they also don’t know how to do it.
My dad, a college professor, and Cal Tech Applied Mathematics Ph.D. always told me that schools teach people what to think but not how to think. The challenge is that sound decision-making, exercising good judgment, and problem-solving require your ability to form an opinion or idea. If you don’t know how to think, you’ll be handicapped; you may make the wrong decision or be unable to solve a problem.
But the good news is that you can learn how to think. God created you in his image. He’s given you the capacity to reason, evaluate words, and assess the truth. I believe there are four essential thinking skills or mental processes needed to become a successful leader:
- Analytical: Using comprehensive data, you can break down the complex into the simple, detect patterns, and develop insights.
- Critical: You can carefully evaluate information, determine what’s relevant, and interpret data when making decisions.
- Creative: You can consider problems or issues in a new way and generate ideas. You can also offer a fresh perspective with unconventional solutions through brainstorming.
- Strategic: You can leverage unique insights in a changing environment. You can synthesize information, consider opportunities and threats, and imagine a future direction. This leads to a clear set of goals, plans, or new ideas required to survive or thrive in a competitive setting.
Check out the trailer for my new book, Discipled Leader, launching on Tuesday, July 20, 2021
How do you develop superior thinking skills?
Take a class, volunteer for a special project, engage a subject matter expert, read books, or play games. Have a learning mindset. Stretch yourself.
Your role as a leader is to think, but it is the Lord who grants you understanding. He will give you the ability to perceive the nature and meaning of problems to be solved, issues to be handled, or decisions to be made. He’ll illuminate your thinking and shine a bright light on events. If you do the hard work of thinking and seeking God’s insight, you’ll be on the road to making sound decisions, developing good judgment, and solving problems.
How to self-evaluate your thinking skills
- Rate yourself from 1 to 10 (1 = deficient, 10 = mastery) on each of the thinking skills: analytical, critical, creative, and strategic.
- Which is the lowest?
- How will you improve your ability?
- Which is the highest?
- How will you strengthen the skill?
- How will improving or enhancing the skills benefit you?
- When will you start?
If you do the hard work of thinking and seeking God’s insight, you’ll be on the road to making sound decisions, developing good judgment, and solving problems.
Want to learn more? Visit http://www.prestonpoore.com
 John C. Maxwell, Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work (Center Street, 2005).> Read More
Each decision you make reduces your ability to make good decisions. It can quickly reach the point that you’ll actually avoid making decisions once a certain threshold is reached. There are only so many good decisions you can make each day.
Decision fatigue also leads to impulse spending. Self-regulation also suffers during decision fatigue. There’s a reason you’re more likely to eat unhealthy food or do something else detrimental to your well-being at night.
Have you ever noticed that many influential and successful people tend to make inadequate decisions at night? These self-destructive decisions often come after a long day of making important decisions at work.
Use these strategies to avoid decision fatigue and make wise decisions:
- Make important decisions early in the day and during times of low stress. When you’re relaxed and in your safe space, you can kick back and make decisions without any pressure or distractions.
- Choose your clothes the night before. It’s mentally exhausting to search around for clothes that match when it’s time for work.
- You can also limit the scope of your wardrobe and achieve the same effect. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama were famous for their limited wardrobes. Both felt that the fewer decisions they had to make each day, the better.
- You can also limit the scope of your wardrobe and achieve the same effect. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama were famous for their limited wardrobes. Both felt that the fewer decisions they had to make each day, the better.
- Plan your day the night before. Then, you just need to put your head down and get to work. You’ve already made the basic choices of how you’re going to spend your day. All that’s left to do is perform the necessary actions.
- For example, know what you’re having for lunch, breakfast, and dinner before going to bed.
- What are the most important things you have to do tomorrow? When will you do them?
- This will leave you with a more exceptional ability to make good decisions the next day.
- For example, know what you’re having for lunch, breakfast, and dinner before going to bed.
- Keep your life simple. A complicated life is fatiguing. The fatigue extends to your ability to make decisions. Our brains weren’t designed to handle ongoing complexity. A simple life is easier on your mind and will allow you to make better decisions.
- Delegate decisions. Not all decisions have to be made by you. Let someone else pick the restaurant and the movie. Allow one of your employees to make the less-critical decisions. Let your kids decide what you’re going to do this weekend. Avoid decision fatigue by requiring others to make some decisions.
- Take a nap. A nap is a great way to rejuvenate your mental faculties. Sleeping for just 10-30 minutes will recharge your decision-making capacity. Make a daily nap part of your day, if possible.
- Know your priorities. When you know what is important to you, decisions become easier to make. Quick decisions don’t induce a lot of decision fatigue. You’ll avoid torturing yourself over all of your choices if you understand which decisions matter and which don’t.
The quality of your decisions influences the quality of your career, health, relationships, and overall success. Inadequate choices lead to personal challenges. These challenges include financial issues, work and school difficulties, health problems, and other personal and social issues.
Each decision you make has a biological cost. After making too many decisions, you’re more likely to argue with your partner, make unnecessary purchases, and eat junk food.
As your brain fatigues, it searches for shortcuts. One of these shortcuts is to make decisions quickly and recklessly. After all, thinking takes energy. The other alternative is to refuse to make a decision at all.
Decision fatigue is something everyone should be aware of. The consequences of inadequate decision-making can be severe.
*** Stop wasting time in the aftermath of bad choices when you can make decisions that deliver extraordinary results. Get the “Nine Point Sound-Decision Making Check List” sent straight to your inbox and start seeing exceptional results today. Visit: https://prestonpoore.com
Thanks, and take care,
Have you ever dealt with a head-scratching, complicated problem and you weren’t sure how to solve it? I have. . .. Here are my story and seven steps to solving unsolvable problems – if you’ll follow them, you’ll gain credibility and increase your influence. . ..
The anticipated announcement was made: The large beverage company I worked for agreed to purchase two competitive beverage companies. The incoming water and juice brands were fantastic and complementary acquisitions to our existing portfolio.
However, the acquisitions came with complications and created internal competition. Each acquired company had its own sales team and making their plan. My role was similar with a focus on my company’s legacy brands.
During my tenure, I’d established strong relationships with the bottler. However, my influence slowly eroded as the new sales teams began integrating. The new team members leveraged exciting incentives, expensive dinners and premiums to woo the bottler. Excluding me, they tied up meeting times and market visits. Our mutual bottling partner became enamored with the shiny new penny and took their eyes off the ball.
Execution of all the legacy brands began to slip, and total sales stagnated. I discovered that the newly acquired business only contributed 10% of the total bottler’s revenue contribution — all of the legacy brands I represented contributed 90%. I determined that our problem boiled down to focus; if we didn’t re-calibrate our focus on the 90%, we wouldn’t make the plan. At the same time, we needed the newly acquired brands to flourish.
I began considering my alternatives. The only solution I could think of was to fight fire with fire. I’d need to double my efforts. Get back in the game with more attractive incentives, fancy dinners and premiums to woo the bottler’s attention back. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this approach but believed there was a solution somewhere. I just didn’t know where.
I was stuck. . ..
I prayed to God and asked for wisdom to meet the challenge and identify a game-changing solution.
Then it happened. . .. Inspiration hit. . ..
I remember watching my all-time favorite movie, the 1959 Academy Award-winning Ben-Hur. There’s a scene when the movie’s main character, Judah Ben-Hur was observing a chariot race practice. The chariot was pulled by a team of four strong and fast horses. However, the chariot driver lost control of the horses as the team ran wildly down the track. Just before the chariot approached a curve, Ben-Hur commented that the chariot would never make the turn.
And he was right . . .. The horses ran straight through the turn and off the track. When asked how he knew that the chariot would run off course, Ben-Hur told the owner he raced in the Roman circus. Based on his experience, he observed that the horses were strong and fast, but they weren’t positioned to leverage their individual strengths. They were running as individuals, not as one. Ben-Hur rearranged the horses with the slower, more steady horse on the inside to anchor the team during turns and the fastest horse on the outside. The owner said, “Show me.” To the owner’s amazement, Ben-Hur raced the chariot around the track in record time without incident.
The parallel was striking to me. We have a strong team of people representing our brands to the bottler. I wondered, “What if we worked together and everyone achieved their goals? What if I harnessed the team, positioned them by strength and we ran as one?”
Said another way, if you can’t beat them, join them.
After some internal alignment and planning, I invited 15 new brands and bottler representatives to a groundbreaking “Brand Partner Summit.” Our objective was to build trust, open lines of communication, initiate collaborative planning, enable dynamic execution, make the plan, and most of all, stem internal competition.
The meeting’s theme was “Running as One.” We began our time together horseback riding in the Smokey Mountains – a chance for everyone to connect outside the office and get acquainted. After the team building exercise, we gathered for a Roles and Responsibilities dinner. All of the individuals shared how he or she added value to the company. The next day, I opened the Summit with the Ben-Hur chariot practice movie scene and asked the team to consider how we begin to run as one. Participants started making connections and collaboration recommendations as we reviewed each other’s business updates, priorities, and plans.
Ultimately, the Brand Partners concluded that our initiatives needed to be integrated into a comprehensive monthly Sales Plan. The Sales Plan captured and communicated all of the execution priorities allowing the Brand Partners and our bottling partner to all be on the same page.
The Sales Plan solution mitigated internal competition, collaboration improved, execution excelled, and everyone hit his or her business plan. We ran as one. So much so that our Brand Partner Summit and Sales Plan were deemed a best practice and adopted by other parts of the company.
If you’re faced with a problem like I was, I recommend you follow my seven steps to solving unsolvable problems:
1. Define the Problem – Articulate the problem in writing. Distill the problem into its simplest form. For my above example, the problem was focus. Identify the implications and consequences of not solving it. Also, ask repeatedly why? that is a problem. This will help identify root causes
2. Provide Context – What is the history of the challenge you’re trying to solve?
3. Believe There is a Solution – Have the attitude that all problems are opportunities and that they can be addressed. Be creative, use your imagination and brainstorm with others
4. Identify Alternatives – It’s always best to determine multiple solutions and evaluate which one will best solve the problem
5. Develop a Recommendation – Based on your alternative evaluation, allow the best one to surface
6. Plan and Act – Once the recommendation is made, put a plan in place and execute it
7. Pray – For the person of faith, I highly recommend praying and seeking God’s wisdom when faced with problems or decision making. The Bible says, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all”. (Proverbs 3:5–6 – The Message)
The fastest way to gain credibility and increase your influence is to solve problems. If you, define the problem, provide context, believe there is a solution, identify alternatives, make a recommendation, plan and act and pray, you will become a leader who makes a positive difference.
> Read More
After completing my short-term stint with Hershey’s Sales Development department, I was anxiously awaiting my next assignment. I’d invested two years learning everything about the confection business and knew that my new role could be anywhere in the US.
The phone rang. “Hi, Preston. This is Dave. We’d like you to become the Giant – Carlisle key account manager and stay in the Hershey area.”
My heart began to sink because I’d heard how difficult it was to call on Giant.
Dave continued, “Your role won’t be easy at first. As you know, Giant is in our backyard. A majority of our employees shop in Giant’s stores. You’ll be under a microscope.”
Microscope? – I imagined thousands of Hershey employees complaining about something.
“And, our company has a lot of baggage with Giant. Things haven’t gone well with them over the past few years. We’ll want you to “bend the trend” – restore relationships, turn the business around and deliver results. Are you up to the challenge?”
With a lump in my throat, I quickly processed the opportunity and said, “yes.”
Dave said, “Great and welcome aboard. I’ve already set up a meeting with Giant’s confectionary buyer tomorrow. I’ll brief you on the way to the meeting. No better way to do than to begin.”
Boy, this will be a quick transition. It’ll be sink or swim.
In the car ride to our appointment, Dave briefed me on Giant and Matt, the candy category buyer. He told me that Matt was one of the most stringent buyers in the Northeast. In his opinion, Matt was arrogant, very demanding and hard to get along with. He was ambitious and only approved innovation or promotions that made him look successful. No one at Hershey had been able to materially breakthrough with him. The most recent Key Account Manager was run over by Matt and was highly ineffective.
The two company’s relationship was purely transactional with little hope of developing a strategic one. To complicate matters, our key competitor took advantage of Hershey’s challenges with Matt, and he showed a preference for their brands. It didn’t look or feel good having our key competitor beating us in our home market.
Dave and I met Matt for lunch. Right off, Matt was defensive and began telling us all of the things that were wrong with Hershey’s customer service. He said we had great brands, but we didn’t deliver on promises; he’d throw us out if he didn’t absolutely need us.
The conversation turned to the “baggage” Dave mentioned. Giant made big plans to promote Hershey brands during last year’s Halloween season. However, Hershey couldn’t deliver the product due to an untimely SAP data platform conversion; multiple candy truckloads were “lost” in the system and never made it to Giant’s warehouses. And as a result, Giant lost millions of dollars in sales. Matt felt burned – he didn’t receive an incentive, and he’d lost favor in management’s eyes.
After lunch, Matt looked at me and said, “I’m not sure you want this role. I’m not going to be of any help to you or Hershey.”
Leaving the meeting, I wasn’t fearful; something arose in me, and I embraced the challenge. I figured if I could somehow breakthrough with Matt, we could turn the two company’s relationship and business around.
I began with a series of short sales calls to connect with Matt. I asked him questions about Giant’s strategy, operating model and what mattered to him. I listened to him with an open mind and a solution bent.
After learning what was important to Giant and Matt, I began proposing promotion or new item opportunities that aligned with Giant’s strategy. . .. He said “no” to me so many times I lost count, but I kept plugging away.
Matt continued to keep me in the penalty box because of the previous year’s Halloween delivery debacle. To prove his point during my first few months working with him, Matt only ordered 10% of his regular Halloween candy order. The small order put our business in a huge hole and I needed to figure a way out of it.
I decided to take a different approach and try to win Matt’s heart first; then, I’d ask for his hand. I took a risk and invited Matt and his girlfriend to a Washington Redskins football game. Why? Matt told me that he was a huge Redskins fan but hadn’t ever been to a football game in D.C.
I secured four company tickets on the second row. My wife and I rented a chauffeured limousine, picked up Matt and his girlfriend and made our way to the stadium. Matt wore his Redskins jersey; he was like a kid in a candy store (pun intended). He was genuinely excited and seemed to loosen up. I was very intentional not to bring up business during our conversations and wanted to connect with him on a personal level.
Shortly after we arrived at our seats, Matt brought up business. He told me that I’d been in the penalty box too long; “nothing personal,” he said. He’d seen how hard I’d tried and really appreciated some of the business opportunities I’d shared with him. I asked him what it would take to turn our business around and restore the relationship between Giant and Hershey. He told me, “do what you say you’ll do.”
I responded, “Ok, I’ll do everything in my power to deliver. With that in mind, what can I deliver?” We began brainstorming ideas for a game-changing promotion where both companies would benefit. He shared best practices other manufacturers used to help grow Giant’s business. I listened to all of his ideas, and we aligned on a plan. I asked him if Hershey delivered on our collaborative concept, would Giant be aligned? Matt answered “yes.”
I went to work with my cross-functional team to develop a “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” movie tie-in and partnership with Coca-Cola. We developed a shopper marketing program before shopper marketing was cool. The program included joint POS, in-store merchandising, an exclusive movie premiere and supporting radio promotion.
I presented the plan to Matt, and he loved it. I showed him how the plan’s execution would grow his business and align with Giant’s strategies. The proposal met all of the promotion elements we discussed. Only hitch. . .. The moment of truth. . .. The close. . ..
I took a risk and asked for an unprecedented order. I asked Matt to quadruple his Holiday candy order versus last year. I knew that If Matt did, the order would overcome the Halloween deficit and put Hershey over our annual plan. Matt didn’t hesitate and said, “Ok. Write a suggested store level order and have it to me by next week.”
“One other thing,” he glared and demanded, “you’d better deliver!”
I confidently grinned and replied, “We’ll do what we said we’re going to do.”
And, we did. The promotion was a smashing success. Giant and Hershey both exceeded their annual business plan. It was gratifying to play a role in bending the performance trend and restoring relationships. To boot, my team won Hershey’s prestigious “President’s Cup” – highest sales performance in the company versus the prior year. And, Matt got promoted.
What about me? Well, that’s a story for another time. Let’s just say that bending the trend sometimes comes with a price.
If you are faced with the opportunity to drive positive change, I recommend you:
- Connect with Others – John Maxwell’s Law of Connection states, “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.” Begin implementing a change by getting to know the key stakeholders. Find out their interests, ambitions, hopes, dreams, challenges, and fears. Listen intently and be authentic. Make changes based on the feedback you hear. You’ll find trust and credibility begin to develop as you make the genuine effort to connect with others.
- Create Momentum – Once you know what makes someone tick and understand what they want, help them get it. Secure quick wins that will help you create and build momentum. Work hard and follow through; deliver on your small commitments, and they’ll have the potential to turn into big ones. If you create momentum and consistently pursue your goal, you’ll eventually experience a breakthrough and go beyond what you thought possible.
- Be Persistent – Change doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t give up. Always be willing to try something new if what you’re doing isn’t working.
If you’ll connect with others, create momentum and be persistent, you’ll become a trend bender too.
Maxwell, J. C. (2007). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: follow them, and people will follow you. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.> Read More
One of the most challenging roles of my career was on the Strategic MerchandisingTeam. For three years, I led a group of folks responsible for developing retail outlet point of sale and racks that enabled irresistible shopper experiences. The responsibilities included:
- 12 project managers and multiple cross-functional partners
- 10 suppliers
- ~$100M annual spend
- 10,000s of POS elements and racks produced, shipped and deployed
- 100s of projects in various stages of design and commercialization
- 100s of customers
- 70+ bottlers
- 30 yearly objectives developed by management
- Multiple daily meetings with key stakeholders with no margin to work
The role was very complicated, high pressure and thankless at times. Chaos was the norm. Every day, I was pulling my hair out; multiple fire drills or problems occurred daily. The tyranny of the urgent ruled the team. Everything was a priority.
Because of the job stress, I began not sleeping and always worried about what challenge was around the next corner. The work was controlling me, I was burning out, and dropping balls. What’s worse is that I wasn’t leading my team well.
One day, I was sitting in a meeting, and someone presented a priorities 2 x 2 grid. I’d seen the concept before but never used it. The presenter showed how the grid helped segment initiatives and prioritized them based on levels of urgency and importance:
- High Importance/High Urgency: The work that matters most. Do these first
- High Importance/Low Urgency: Valuable work that can be added to the daily routine
- Low Importance/High Urgency: Complete these quickly or delegate
- Low Importance/Low Urgency: Low-value work that should be eliminated if possible
The light bulb went off in my head. I realized that I needed to go back to a very fundamental practice that I’d ignored – prioritization. Then, I blocked out some white space on my calendar to think and walk through the priorities grid. I identified areas where I could invest my time, leverage my strengths and make a difference. Once the grid was complete, I shared it with my manager who loved it. We agreed to use the document during our weekly 1:1s as our discussion focal point. We’d align on the priorities and what could fall off the to-do list.
Eventually, I began to gain control of the work and my schedule. I became more productive, less stressed and a better leader. My team noticed the difference and asked what changed. I shared the priorities grid with them, how I used the tool and how it helped me focus on the essential work. I recommended that they implement it as well. The team members were hesitant at first, but they slowly adopted the priorities grid. They began seeing the difference prioritization made in their work and how it impacted their well-being.
I’ve since moved into another role. Recently, I ran into one of my former Strategic Merchandising Team members. She smiled and asked me if I remembered the priorities grid. I nodded “yes,” and she told me that she still uses it today – a very gratifying moment for me.
If you struggle with a complex environment, need help establishing priorities and staying focused on the work that matters most, here are a few helpful thoughts and tips:
- Initiatives vs. Priorities: People confuse these two words. There can be many initiatives, but it’s up to you to prioritize them. Nothing is a priority if everything is a priority.
- Spending vs. Investing Time: Time is one thing that we can’t manage. However, we can manage the priorities on which we focus and the corresponding level of energy we expend. This is a mindset. Think about it. When you spend, you’re just passing the time. When you invest, you’re actively engaging in something or someone with the objective of gaining a return. What if we began investing our time in the highest impact people or projects versus just spending our time? Ask yourself, “what will give you the greatest return on my time?” and invest there.
- White Space– We all need time to think. I’ve found that most folks don’t purposefully schedule time on their calendar to block everything out and intentionally reflect on the work that matters most. Look at your daily and weekly calendar. Do you have time to invest in yourself? If not, how do you take control of your schedule and build in white space to think without distraction? It’s hard to do but worth the time.
If you’re faced with a complex work environment where the tyranny of the urgent is managing you, I recommend you take time to think, determine the work that matters by working through a priorities grid and invest your time where you can make the most significant difference. If you do, you’ll become a more effective leader.> Read More
Ever get one of those meeting invites, and something seemed a little fishy? I did.
The meeting invitation subject line read, “Summer Promotion Planning Session.” The purpose of the meeting was for directors, like me, to present our Summer promotion plans to the Marketing Vice President, Edward. No other description or direction was provided.
While Edward was a brilliant and accomplished marketer, he had a reputation for being volatile and flying off the handle at any given moment. He’d been known to verbally abuse his team when someone didn’t know the answer to one of his questions or work didn’t meet his expectations.
I had a number of my peers ask me why we were being summoned to the planning session. I told them I had no idea but encouraged them to have their facts together; the meeting could be a rough one.
Because of a scheduling conflict, I attended the meeting virtually. I logged onto the meeting website, and I could see my peers sitting in the quiet room looking a little apprehensive. Edward stormed into the room, sat down and asked who wanted to go first. One poor soul raised his hand to volunteer.
Before the first presenter could get a word out, Edward began peppering the individual with questions. Edward’s tone was condescending and became more intense as the dialogue progressed. The first volunteer didn’t have some of the answers to Edward’s questions.
Edward stopped the individual in mid-sentence and said, “Either you are incompetent, or you don’t care. Which is it?”
I felt like I was watching a shark that smelled blood and began circling its prey.
After a long, uncomfortable pause, Edward said, “You obviously don’t know your business. What are you worth? I ask again, either you are incompetent, or you don’t care. Which is it?”
The first volunteer’s face was bright red, and steam was coming out of his ears. However, out of fear, he didn’t respond.
Edward turned to the next person and demanded, “How about you? What are your Summer promotion plans?”
As the next person bravely began presenting, Edward pounced on the individual with pressing questions. The person became flustered and couldn’t spit her words out.
Edward sarcastically asked, “You too? Either you are incompetent, or you don’t care about our business. Which is it?”
Edward then proceeded to ask everyone around the table the same question. When he finished, Edward stood up and said, “I think I made my point. Everyone had better know their facts next time!” He stormed out of the room just as quickly as he entered.
I was spared the berating because I attended virtually and Edward didn’t call on me. I couldn’t believe what I just saw. It wasn’t right. No one should be marginalized like Edward did to the team; it was utterly demoralizing.
The next day, I told my manager what happened. He told me that he’d already heard the negative feedback and assured me that Edward’s behavior would be addressed.
Then, I got a wild idea that I could positively influence the situation. I thought to myself, “Meetings don’t have to be like the one Edward just held. They can be productive, effective and constructive all at the same time while treating people with respect and dignity. Why don’t I volunteer to lead the next plan presentation meeting and show there’s a better way?”
I mentioned the idea to my manager. He paused and asked, “What will you do differently?”
“I’ll let people know upfront what’s expected of them, create a positive environment where ideas can be exchanged, and feedback can be given,” I replied.
My manager smiled and said, “I like it. Let’s give it a try on our next go around.”
To make a long story short, my approach was successful. I reached out to different VPs to align with my proposed format. I developed and provided a plan report template outlining information expectations. Lastly, I facilitated a planning meeting with all of our cross-functional partners in a very positive environment.
I received great feedback, including a note from someone that worked for Edward, “the plans shared today were excellent, and definitely instilled the confidence for success against this critical initiative. Thank you for all of the collaboration with your customers in building out the details.”
Because of how I influenced the situation which led to a positive outcome, I was asked to lead other innovation launch and program plan presentation meetings. I proved that there was a better way to do things by treating people with dignity and respect.
As Christians, we are called to be salt and light; to influence. The Bible says,
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth… Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5.13-16 – The Message)
It’s our job to shine and influence the world around us. So, what does it mean to be Salt and Light, to influence? Vocabulary.com defines influence as “the power to have an important effect on someone or something. If someone influences someone else, they are changing a person or thing in an indirect but important way.” To be influential means having the ability to shape and mold people, events or the environment around you. Influence is leadership.
How do you become influential?
- Build Trust: Walk with integrity and establish people’s confidence in you – Do what you say you’ll do. Trust others and be trustworthy.
- Care About Others: People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Treat people with dignity and respect. Take time to listen to people genuinely. Also, determine what interests others, what motivates them and then, help them get it.
- Lead by Example: Remember, actions speak louder than words.
In the above story, I influenced the situation and the people around me by building trust with the team, creating a positive work environment, treating folks with dignity and respect and leading by example.
How about you? When you see something that isn’t right, do you have the influence necessary to make a change? If not, what will you do to become influential and make a positive difference in your world (e.g. business, community, school or church)? If you build trust, care about others and lead by example, you’ll become an influential leader.> Read More
“Hi, Preston. Guess what? I got the job”, said Linda with a glow in her voice.
“That’s awesome and congratulations. What was the deciding factor?” I asked.
“Influence. It was my demonstrated ability to influence and drive results,” Linda replied.
She continued, “I told them about the blueprint you taught me: 1) Know your business, 2) Know your partner’s business and 3) Have an assertive agenda. I walked them through specific examples of how I applied the blueprint and the positive results the team achieved.”
I was thrilled. “Fantastic Linda. I knew you’d begin to realize your potential if you learned how to influence others.”
“I can’t thank you enough. I appreciate your help in developing my analytical skills and ability to lead well. I’ll never forget it,” Linda said.
“My pleasure,” I replied. “You’ve got what it takes. Best wishes in your new role.”
When I hired Linda, I saw all kinds of potential. She had great people and communication skills but she lacked a key ingredient… Analytical skills – the ability to review market level data and develop insights. To improve her ability to influence her business partner and differentiate herself in the industry, Linda needed to be able to evaluate market data, identify value creation opportunities and solve problems.
Why are analytical skills so important and a critical part of influencing? W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management, once said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” I agree. Over the years, I’ve observed many sales associates or company representatives rely heavily on relationships to influence others without the use of facts. Relationships only go so far. Don’t get me wrong. I believe the ability to connect with people and develop lasting relationships are paramount.
But, I also believe that we can move beyond relationships and become strategic partners by leveraging analytical skills. We’ll have greater influence with others if we can show them how to make more money, solve problems or become more productive. To do these things, one must develop analytical capabilities and turn insights into action. If we couple relationship and analytical skills, we’ll become valued business partners. Without this differentiating combination, we’ll just be another salesperson, consultant or company representative without a seat at the table.
To develop Linda’s analytical capabilities, we invested time walking through internal and external reports. I taught her the metrics and measurements critical in evaluating business performance and identifying opportunities. Then, I showed her how to translate the information into valuable insights and turn the insights into action. Lastly, Linda was assigned projects where she was required to review data, draw conclusions and develop solutions.
As her confidence grew and skill developed, she began sharing her insights and potential revenue generating solutions with her business partners. Over time, her insights, ideas, and solutions were adopted and the team began delivering results. Linda’s credibility and influence grew as she moved from a business relationship to a strategic business partnership.
What was Linda’s blueprint for success?:
- Know your business – Understand your organization’s strategies, plan, priorities, and business performance.
- Know your partner’s business – Understand your business partner’s strategies, plan priorities, and business performance
- Have an assertive agenda – Identify gaps in your collective business plan, develop solutions, and create action plans
Linda’s influence grew over time. She made a difference and helped her business partner deliver positive results. You can do the same if you couple relationship and analytical skills. In the context of your ability to connect with people, you’ll be able to help businesses make more money, solve problems or become more productive. If you do, you’ll become a strong influence and always have a seat at your business partner’s table.> Read More
I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
Let me help you reach your potential.
I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.