This week has been a great time for the family. We have spent the week on a friend’s farm. The children enjoyed working on the farm and helping out around the place. They also got to experience many things that you do not get to do in the city. For myself it has been great to be able to have the week off work and be able to spend some time doing activities that are not part of my normal routine.
The children have helped out by rounding up the sheep and cattle by day; they have helped out looking for foxes at night. They have also helped out with spraying the cattle and a number of other tasks around the property. Even some of the other farm activities like travelling around the property on a four wheeler, have been a novelty for the city children.
Though farm work can be very hard work and the children have been very tired each day, they have each had a great time. The experience has taken them from their comfortable city lives to a new experience. They not just got fresh air, they also learnt a little about farm life. Something that I think city folk could learn a lot from.
The children have really enjoyed the lambs, there are newborns everywhere and they wanted to take a lamb home as a pet…. However lambs grow up and a sheep is not what we need in the back yard. I certainly look forward to the next time that the family spends some time on the farm. It is a great holiday for the children.
In the busy world we live in it can be difficult to get time for yourself. I find that there is so much to do that I often leave myself last. Can you relate to this? In the short term this may work, but in the long term it is quite damaging. Damaging to your health, mental well being, relationships and even your productivity. I know this from personal experience. I have a packed life and I easily fall into the trap of overloading my schedule. Between work, business, army reserve, volunteer roles in scouting and studying when do I have time for family and myself? This year I have been reorganising my life and enjoying life more.
This is not something that you can fix overnight, but I am implementing a staged approach to achieve a healthier and more balanced life. This will even improve my productivity. My first step was to review all the roles in my life. Though this is an ongoing process I have decided to change some of the roles I hold and also the expectations of what I can achieve in those roles. In addition I have allocated time to myself for exercise, sleep, reading and thinking. I have found getting up early and taking a few hours for myself works best for me. This means that I am also going to bed earlier and getting more sleep. Now is this happening everyday? No….. There is still days that I do not keep to the schedule, but for the most part I have been.
Though I am only on the start of my journey to taking time for myself and taking better care of myself, I have been feeling better, more energised and even been more productive. By doing less, I have been able to do what I am doing better. I have heard for years that you need to take care of yourself and I have paid lip service to this.However it truly works. Since the beginning of the year I have lost ten kilograms, without weight loss even being my focus…. just by eating right and exercising. I am still a little overweight, but I am sure that my new regime will bring me to my healthy weight range this year, as I also increase my productivity in the areas of my life that I focus on.
- Have you been to busy to look after yourself?
- What is one thing that you can do to better care for yourself?
- How can you start to do that this week?
I have been a little quiet online over the last few weeks, due to being on an Army Exercise for a week and then coming back to wrapping up a number of projects. While away on the Army Exercise I was amazed, as I always am, at how much gets done in a short period of time. I have often wondered what is the reason for achieving so much. Is it the long hours in the field working away? Is it the teamwork? Is it having a common base training level that we all operate from? Is it the Army’s Mission Command framework?
The answer to all the above questions is Yes…. And I would like to add what I believe the most important ingredient that makes it all possible, FOCUS. While we were on exercise, we did not have the distractions of life, we just had one thing to do and that was to achieve the mission. As Combat Engineers this involved completing a number of tasks from warfighting through to construction and engineering. The whole team for 24 hours a day was focused on the task at hand…. which in this case was to win the war.
Okay, I hear you say, how do we apply this in our lives? We have work, families and other interests to balance.
This is true, it would be unhealthy to focus all your efforts and time into one part of your life and only one. I have some suggestions:
Be Present. Focus on the task at hand. By that I mean that when you are at work, at you present both mentally and physically, or are you thinking about other things?
Block out time to do a task. Are you placing important tasks on your schedule? Have you made a meeting with yourself to complete these important tasks?
Avoid Distractions. Are you always being interrupted when working on an important project that consistency takes your attention off the task? Close down email notifications, close the door and remove other distractions from your work environment.
Choose the Time and Place. If you know that your boss or staff always need to talk with you first thing in the morning, then do not allocate time to important tasks at that time. If you work in an open office environment, but need a quiet place to work on a project, book a meeting room.
Go Off site. Sometimes there is a requirement to get out into a different environment to allow the creative juices to flow. If this is the case for you, book some time off site, where you can intensely focus on the project.
Remember to also focus on the other areas of your life too, not just your work. By applying the power of focus, you too can achieve much more in the time you have.
- Are the type of leader that is relaxed or on edge all the time?
- Is your team nervous around you?
- Do you allow your team to get on with the job?
When it comes to leadership, I have had leaders that seem quite relaxed most of the time and then I have had leaders that always have a urgent issue that needs to be dealt with. In the later case these leaders if we are not careful will create a panic through the whole organisation. During my army training I was told “Don’t run, it creates panic in the soliders.” I must admit that this is true. If the leader is on edge all the time, the organisation will reflect this. This will be reflected through increased stress in the organisation and also a focus on the short term over the long term.
The relaxed leader I find is able to do this through a term the army calls “Mission Command”. The leader allocates a mission to their team member, assigns the responsibility, assigns resources and then allows the team member to come up with a plan and implement the plan. With a reporting schedule in place a leader can then be more relaxed and allow the team to bring out the best for themselves and the mission. I have found when working with a leader in this category I have not only achieved better outcomes, but I have also learnt more and developed my skills more.
Of course there are times when you need a greater sense of urgency and this may reflex on the leader as being less relaxed. However as a principle a more relaxed approach to leadership will bring out the best in your team and also produce better outcomes. Being relaxed in leadership is not being laissez faire about leadership. As a leader you will still need to ensure that you are across the important indicators and you are also driving the direction of the team. As a leader you work with your team to bring out the best in them and also utilise their skills and strengths in the achievement of the mission.
- How can you bring out the best in your team this week?
- What supports can you put in place to better support your team?
- What are the key indicators that you need to be across in the leadership of your team?
People often ask me if there are things that go wrong in my life. Because I am positive and a happy go lucky guy most of the time, people wonder if there is anything that goes wrong in my life. Well, the answer of course is yes…. There are things that go wrong in my life. There are things that raise stress levels and there are things that come up unexpectively…. The last ten days have been one of those weeks…. I was fortunate to go to Thredbo last weekend, however was not feeling the best for the Friday and Saturday. Had a daughter in Hospital Sunday through Wednesday. Due to have a few days off there was the pressures at work to catch up, though the workplace was really understanding, and there are issues to deal with in other roles that I hold. All in all a busy week….
When things go wrong there is a number of stages that I normally go through. First of all there is the shock… Is this really happening, I can not believe it feelings… Once I have come to terms with the issue I then move into the grievance stage. Even if you expected the issue there is a period of time that you need to overcome the issue, before you are in a reasonable mindset to move forward. The next stage that I normally go through is the solution stage. In the solution stage, I cover off the options I have, the risks with the options and how to turn things into the best possible situation. Then the final stage is the grateful stage. In this stage I am actually thankful for the issue and realise that there is plenty to be grateful in my life and also the opportunities that came from the issue.
Over the last ten days I have been through the stages…. The shock, the grievance and then the solution through to being grateful…. Some of the things that I am grateful for is that I have a great bunch of children that stepped up to the task this last week. They helped out around the house with dinners, lunches and other household tasks. They also caught the bus to and from school to take the pressure off me, as well as reorganised their afternoon programs to free up some time. So though there is still some challenges outstanding from the last week, I am grateful for the children I have….
- When experiencing a challenge in your life what is something that you discovered that you are grateful for?
- What opportunity have you come across when experiencing a problem?
- Are you a leader that is out front?
- Do you have an open door policy?
- Do you know what your staff are thinking?
As a subunit commander in the Army Reserve I have been taught to lead from the front. “Push forward and see what is really happening on the front line.” The greatest military leaders would push forward regularly and see what was really happening. Meanwhile some of the greatest military disasters occurred due to commanders making decisions and plans from the rear, without a good situation awareness of what is really happening in the front line.
Does this apply in the civilian workplace? I say YES… I am amazed at the number of managers, senior managers and executives that do not “talk to the troops”. Yes, I believe in the chain of command and that direction and taskings comes through that chain, but you need to develop situational awareness from the front line staff. There are a number of ways to achieve this. Some that I employ are:
- Saying hello to staff on arrival in the morning and make a habit to talk with staff in the building throughout the day. These discussions should occur at times without an agenda.
- At my Army Squadron I have directed that once a month we hold a BBQ at the end of the parade night that all personnel are to attend. This creates an informal opportunity for all ranks to mix and talk. This has contributed to a large break down of barriers in communication within the Squadron.
- Another method of pushing forward is to visit your staff in their workplaces. Visit all the sites that you are responsible for on a regular basis. Doing this regularly without an agenda builds trust and relationships with all the staff.
A good example of why pushing forward works was when I was responsible for a number of Children Services, which were located in over ten locations. On one of my visits I was talking to one of the educators which had nominated for some upcoming training. As far as I was aware the training was all organised and the staff that had nominated had all been informed. I found out that day, that this was not the case. The situation was easy fixed at that point, however if left longer, it would have been a bigger issue.
Another benefit of pushing forward aside from listening to the staff, their concerns and victories, is that you can share your vision. You need to be careful how you do this as you do not want to be seen as pushing forward just to sell your idea. However, when listening to your staff and answering questions the opportunity will come up to share your vision….
- When is the last time you had a conversation with a staff member without an agenda in mind?
- Have you served your client directly as you stand side by side with your front line staff?
- Do your staff see you as approachable (note: this is about what your staff think, not what you think)?
This last week I popped into Officeworks to pick up some office supplies and was amazed at the level of customer service I received. It was a quick trip to the store, however the staff were very friendly and helpful. As I entered the store the staff member behind the counter that had just finished serving a customer looked over, smiled and said “hello”. The greeter at door was busy serving someone else when I walked in. However as I headed to the area I was after he came to find me. The greeter offered his assistance… By the time I left the store every staff member I came in contact with smiled, said hello and offered their assistance. It was a textbook experience of customer service. On leaving I told the staff member serving me that everyone was so friendly and happy today. She responded with another positive comment.
It was a great experience and certainly left a good taste in the mouth. With an experience like that I will be going back there and telling my friends about it….. Just like I am telling you about the experience through this blog. So I guess delivering good customer service makes good business sense. It builds your brand by word of mouth and has your customers coming back for more. But how do you build good customer service in your team??? Did I hear training??? Well I think that training is good, however staff morale is first. If your staff are not happy and do not have good morale then no amount of training will create a culture of customer service. As a leader I believe that your front line staff serve your clients, while your leadership serve your front line staff.
So what makes for good customer service? In the case of my Officeworks example above the staff all smiled, were friendly, said hello and offered their assistance. They all had a focus on serving the customer and helping the customer to achieve what they came in the store to do. It is amazing how the small things make a difference….. A smile and a warm greeting goes so far in connecting with others. Each and every day I encourage you to smile and say hello to people you do not know. I find it not just brings a smile to others, but also makes me feel happier.
- What good customer service experience have you had in the last week?
- In what ways do you build a good culture and morale in your team?
- Do you smile and say hello to people that you don’t know?
In recent times, I have had a few moments to stop, observe and review… Or in another term, to ponder. In a fast paced world I have found that it can be difficult to get time alone, with nothing to do, but think. When it is the last time that you have taken time to just ponder?
On of my favourite things to do while pondering is to people watch. I enjoy sitting down in a public space and watch people interact with each other. Even without hearing the conversation a lot can be taken in from just watching. Watching the actions, reactions and the body language. So much can be learnt through observing others.
Another benefit of pondering is allowing the time for one’s own brain to think in a creative way. To think without an agenda is a freeing experience. It allows us the ability to think outside the square, to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things. I encourage you to take the time out of your busy schedule to just ponder….
- When is the last time that you took time to let you mind wander freely?
- What great ideas have come to you when you least expect it?
- What is the a favourite place for you to ponder?
Last weekend I did a fitness and swim test. I used this tests as a gauge on my fitness levels. As you may be aware I have been on a health kick in recent times. I am eating healthier (with more improvements to come), sleeping more and have been exercising more. Though I am not the fittest person, I am fitter than I was three months ago. After all fitness and health is a not a competition with others, it is a competition with self.
Last year I did not look after myself. I did not exercise regularly, had little sleep and gained a fair amount of weight. My pants started to tighten around my waist and I knew that I had to do something about it. So for the last two months, I have been walking the dog (he was getting fat too), exercising regularly, sleeping more and eating healthier.
The results were clear. My fitness test was easier to do and I achieved results at a level that I have not done for years…. I still have a way to go and my weight is still a little high, but I am on track….
- Are you neglecting your health?
- Do you exercise regularly?
- Do you eat healthy?
Last week my youngest daughter had her swimming carnival at school. She entered three events. She was first in backstroke, second in breaststroke and seventh (last)in the freestyle. She had a fun day and I a, proud that she gave the events a go. With the freestyle event, Anna focused on telling me all that things that went wrong. Her goggles were loose…..
It is interesting how we focus on what goes wrong and not focus on what went right. I asked Anna about her other two events. She had less to say…. In the end we celebrated her wins too.
After the conversation I took away three key points from the day, that can be useful in life in general:
- Have fun, give things a go!!!
- Review what went wrong and focus on the solution.
- Celebrate your wins.