Articles by Matt Heemstra
You Can’t Be Aware by YourselfClick to open You Can’t Be Aware by Yourself
Being aware of ourselves is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. Everyone is watching you all the time and you need to recognize what they’re seeing. You need to be intentional about the messages you’re sending, and you can’t do that if you don’t know what some of those messages are.
What Does Leading Look Like?Click to open What Does Leading Look Like?
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’ “ – Lao Tzu
There are a lot of ways to look at leadership. For centuries, it almost meant something like “dictator”. Leaders ordered people around and people did what they were ordered to do. If they didn’t, there was usually some kind of punishment.
That is not the world we’re living in today. The majority of today’s workforce won’t just do what they’re told because you said so. You’re not just ordering people around; What you’re really doing when you lead in today’s world is influence those who are following.
Sometimes as leaders we prefer the old way; It’s definitely simpler. We say what we want and that’s that. Everybody gets the same message, and if they don’t understand it, too bad for them. We don’t have to take time thinking about what motivates and energizes people, and we certainly don’t have to worry about the fact that they’re all motivated and energized by something a little bit different.
If that’s what you’re hoping for, too bad. That method is gone and it’s not coming back. If you really want to influence people, you have to actually think about the best way to do that.
A good first step is thinking about the person or people you’re trying to influence. What gets them out of bed in the morning? If you’re asking them to change, or to try something different, or do something more, you have to understand what would make them want to do that. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but “because the boss wants me to” doesn’t motivate people. They’re not really interested in what’s in it for you. They need to hear what’s in it for them.
And why shouldn’t they? As leaders we all know we’re not some all-knowing being that people should blindly follow. People’s lives are their own and they have a right to know why they’re doing things. Besides, if you can’t explain why, then maybe you don’t really know either.
Your job isn’t to order people around, it’s to influence them. You don’t influence by making demands, you influence by helping others see why it’s in their interest to do what needs to be done, and then helping them do it.
Knowing Who You AreClick to open Knowing Who You Are
As leaders, we are continually placed in positions where we feel like we need to have answers about outside things. We spend so much time as leaders thinking and planning and worrying about how to handle situations and people outside of us, that we forget to think about how to handle ourselves. Your job as leader is to help others be successful, but you can’t be successful if you aren’t getting the things you need.
FocusClick to open Focus
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston
In normal times, those leaders who are able to maintain focus in spite of all the noise nearly always outperform those who don’t. Being able to put aside things that don’t matter, or things they can’t control is one of the keys to their success.
Never has that been more true than this year. More than ever before we are bombarded with things we can’t control. Some of them may not directly impact us, and some of them change our lives permanently. Regardless, some days it feels like we’re drowning in problems and challenges and change and noise, and there doesn’t seem to be a life boat anywhere around.
Focus is the life boat. Being able to maintain focus on things that really matter and that you can control is what allows you to keep swimming. Which sounds great, but it’s easier said than done.
Here’s one place to start. If you’re going to focus on what really matters, then you probably better have a clear understanding of what really matters. What’s really critical to your business? What’s really critical to your people? What’s really critical to your customers? Too many leaders don’t really know the answer to those questions, so they spend hours chasing things that are irrelevant.
Here’s another idea. If you can’t control it, then stop obsessing about it. Being consumed with things we have no control over isn’t new, but in 2020 we’ve managed to take it to an entirely new level. We see things on TV or on the internet that we have absolutely no ability to impact, and then we spend hours stressing about them.
Be disciplined. When you feel yourself going down that rabbit hole, stop, remind yourself you have no control over it, and pull back. And pay attention to the conversations you have. Obsessing about scary things we can’t control is contagious. As a leader, you cannot allow yourself to drag everyone around you into the abyss. They’re already struggling with the same things you are. You can’t be the anchor that pulls them down.
Keep a list of what matters at your desk where you can see it. Look at it every day. Make sure that your time, your energy, your engagement is focused on those things. Stay focused on what matters and what you can impact, and let the rest fall away.
Today is SomedayClick to open Today is Someday
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” – William B. Sprague
I hear the phrase, “It’s just not the right time”, or some variation, a lot. I hear it a lot regardless of what’s going on in the world, but right now it’s maybe at an all-time high. We always want to wait to do things we know we need to do until stuff quiets down, or until we get through this particular challenge, or until we’re not quite so busy. Then it will be the perfect time.
There is no perfect time. Things won’t ever quiet down, after this challenge there will be another one, we’re always going to be busy. But we keep telling ourselves that someday the right time will arrive and then we’ll be able to make the changes we need to make, to have the conversations we need to have, to create the business we want to be.
So start now. It will be hard. You will be busy. You will have to make some difficult decisions about how you spend your time. You will have to recognize that there are things that are taking your attention and your energy that shouldn’t be, and that you need to remove those things (or people) from your universe.
You may fail at first. You may fail a lot. That doesn’t mean you weren’t right to attempt to do what you thought needed to be done. Regroup and go at it again. Don’t let initial – or in some cases, repeated – failure stop you. If you are convinced that what you’re doing is right, then keep hammering away. Don’t just look for the easy button, because it doesn’t exist.
Look around your business. There are things you should be doing. There are things your people should be doing. There are critical, strategically important things that need to be done, but nobody’s doing them because it’s not the “right time”.
It is the right time. Make sure that you & everyone around you are doing the things that matter today and will matter tomorrow. Don’t wait until some imaginary “someday” when everything will be rainbows and unicorns and everything we touch will turn to gold. Get to work.