Check the Facts

I can’t really define when it happened. The news has become mostly opinion. Check out any of the news websites. Read the headlines closely. You will probably find that over half will echo an opinion, or a perspective, not facts.

I remember being taught in school (many, many years ago) how to write a newspaper article. It was about facts. It was making the headline echo the facts that were being reported. We were instructed to make the first paragraph contain all the important relevant facts. Expanded details about the facts should be added in additional paragraphs. Opinion was not to be included because we were reporting news. The era of pure news reporting is quickly fading.

The rise of the internet as a tool for communication and information has destroyed our ability to read news. Blogs and newsletters (like this one) are common. We are attracted to reading opinion. It’s fun. We are bombarded by articles such as, “The 5 Best Ways to Lose 10 Pounds in 30 Days”. Do you really believe there is evidence in that article to support those claims? No. It is just one writer’s opinion.

In today’s world, it is important that we distinguish between opinion and facts. The wide divide of opinions we experience is fueling the divide of society. Without understanding the facts, or a way to even discover the facts, we just become more divided.

To be fully clear and transparent, this newsletter is opinion. I am not making up facts, but my thoughts are my perspective. This newsletter has one purpose, to challenge you to think about your perspective, not inherit mine. Thinking is a critical skill. I hope each week when you read this newsletter, you stretch that muscle. But in a world which is increasingly more difficult to check facts, it is ever more important that you do.

Have We Forgotten the Purpose of Compromise?

When I was in school, I studied the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. I can imagine the representatives debating, arguing, and discussing the fundamentals of democracy. The process was not easy or elegant.

Today, our society continues to debate many social and political issues. Although not true, it feels like we have never been more divided as a culture.

As a manufacturing plant manager, one of my main tasks was to develop a management team built on shared values. I encouraged my team to challenge each other and the status quo. In the process, we were able to create a stronger vision of the values that drove us to success.

There are two main points to consider when you are trying to build a team, an organization, or even a country.

First, expression of opposing views should be welcomed. It is the difference of perspectives that let us discover the shared values below the surface. If everyone only settled without voicing their opinion, the team would lack strength.

Second, compromise is required. The hard work of true compromise consists of dissecting discussion to understand the basic truths of our beliefs. Then working together to find a solution that best meets our needs and supports our values. A good compromise does not require anyone to oppose their basic values. As this process is repeated, the team begins to coalesce around the  underlying shared principles. Just like the creation of the United States, the process is not easy or elegant.

In today’s United States Congress, we don’t see debate that leads to understanding and compromise. Instead we see politicians that are polarized, and divided by their party line. No one is trying to understand the shared values that would lead to better solutions.

If your team appears divided like politicians, or lacks the courage to debate issues, then you have a problem. If this is the case, then you have a great opportunity to improve your team with your leadership.

Effective Rules

When I see an organization or a team with rules that are not being followed, it usually reflects a weakness in leadership. Not just because the rules are not being followed, but because the rules exist in the first place. Unfortunately this is too common.

Rules are created to keep people safe, to provide guidance for actions, and prevent mistakes. In many cases broad rules are created in reaction to specific incidents.

For example, if an employee spills a beverage affecting their workplace, a rule may be created to prevent employees from drinking beverages. There may be locations in the workplace or types of work where the presence of beverages is not a potential accident, or using beverage containers with lids would be effective.  Yet a rule is created covering the entire workplace.

This occurs because an ineffective leader views the new rule as the easiest to manage. A stronger leader would create a rule that supports the employees drinking beverages but at the same time protect the workplace. This rule would be more difficult to define and manage. But it also becomes a rule that people will actually follow.

Ineffective rules result in an unhappy workforce, or a workforce that ignores the rules. This is not an employee problem, it is a leadership problem.

As a leader, you must enforce the rules. If you don’t think the rule should be enforced, then work to change the rule.

All of this takes more effort. That is why we continue to see broad, ineffective rules in many workplaces and organizations. If you want effective rules, you need to be an effective leader.

Boost Your Team’s Performance

Sometimes we are so busy, we forget to pay attention to the basics of teamwork. From my experience, here are three things you should be doing consistently and constantly to maintain a high-performance team.

1. Be transparent and explicit about expectations. When we get busy, we assume our team knows what to do and that they are busy also. The busier we get the less we communicate. If you want your team to be fully engaged, you must continuously communicate about the goals and their responsibilities. Being able to link an employee’s responsibility directly to a goal is powerful.

2. Provide feedback to individual team members at least weekly. We improve when we take time to reflect and adjust our actions. Your team is no different. Feedback will trigger reflection and help them improve. Work to provide feedback that is supportive and challenging.

3. Help your team achieve the goals. Be a part of the team. Do not isolate yourself as a leader. You can help with the required tasks or you can help by removing problems and roadblocks for others. Contribute as much as you ask others to contribute.

Even if you feel you are busy, these activities should be on your agenda. They seem very basic, but I have seen many times leaders that drift away from these basics. Try to boost your focus on these actions, and watch your team overachieve!