Embrace the Chaos of The Non-9-to-5

Being a small business owner almost guarantees one isn’t going to work a simple 9-5. Some may start their day only a few hours after night owls are going to bed, while others may have nothing but empty hours until lunch time and then it all comes rushing in at once. Others may experience a trickling in over 10-12 hour days.

Working with these irregular hours is key. Breaking up when one works will help maintain energy, focus, and problem solving—we have all experienced a scenario in which no matter how much energy we put into a project we loose sight of what is truly important, become exhausted and our thinking becomes muddled and useless.

When on concentrates on a non-work project for a while it allows our mighty subconscious to come to life and do some problem solving for us, while we get whatever else done. One will come back to the work project with fresh eyes, fresh ideas, and energy to implement them.

Embrace the irregularities involved in running our own business. Insisting on a the standard and rigid 9-5 only limits the possibilities and opportunities. Staying flexible means more opportunities and the time to take advantage of them, not less.

Of course, embracing the chaos requires one to keep an accurate schedule whether paper or digital. Write down important dates and times, make lists, set reminders. When working within the rigidity of the 9-5 it is often easy enough to know you’ve got eight hours to get it all done, not so for the small business owner.

Finally, while embracing the differences between the rigid 9-5, which for many is a challenge easily met, on must recognize their own limitations. Yes, do things non-traditionally. Yes, take advantage of more opportunities. Yes, be available for an overseas client at 4am and the local client at 4pm. But. On must recognize their own limitations are it is all for naught.

For many new independents it might be difficult to know, at first, what their limits are. Be prepared to recognize that moment in which although you’ve taken juggling lessons you begin to wish you had four arms.

Why Good Team Members Leave (Talent Needs Nurturing)

All leaders in business and non-business organizations will have one of their best quit on them. Sometimes it’ll be obvious why, other times leaders will be left scratching their heads as to why one of their best and brightest is suddenly gone. Especially with the new trend of “ghosting” in our society—leaving suddenly and without explanation—leaders may want to heed the following thoughts.

While a seasoned leader probably wouldn’t make the classic mistake of overworking their best, which is tempting when a peer is particularly talented (why wouldn’t you want them on every project?). A leader might also under appreciate their best team member’s talent. These are some more obvious reasons someone might up and leave. Yet there are some less obvious reasons an employee might suddenly disappear. And it should be no surprise that these reasons are somewhat all a different side of the same issue.

First, make sure you are challenging your best team members. Those who aren’t being given work according appropriate to their talent. Sure, this employee will get the job done and probably in a timely fashion but piling on what feels like busy work will lead to boredom and force this talented person to seek challenges outside their comfort zone elsewhere.

Second, make sure you aren’t cramping their style. Top performers are passionate about their work and are always looking to expand their horizons. They’ll want to find new opportunities for development and explore new ideas. Don’t make it a hard and fast rule that they must focus only on the work they are given. Unsurprisingly, if they aren’t allowed to explore in their own manner, they probably aren’t being challenged either.

Don’t force your top performers to work in a certain way—they know what they are capable of and can handle not only assigned work, but additional opportunities. These are your future leaders and if not allowed to develop they will wither under poor conditions or seek opportunity elsewhere.

Third, sometimes it will be up to the group’s leader to provide the development opportunities. And this won’t be about learning skills alone but having learned new skills your best team members will want opportunities to put those skills into practice.

Talent needs nurturing and it is up to the team leader to make sure that is happening. Un-nurtured talent will seek the best opportunity to grow like a plant reaching for sunlight. Be the strongest source of light.

What Focus Means in Leadership

While many already realize that “focus” is a both a quality of leadership and something that good leaders provide to those they lead the traditional definitions of focus–those that make focus seem singular–might not be as useful a definition or a way of going about things as previously thought.

Some believe, in fact, that there are three essential kinds of focus for a leader. These kinds of attention can be grouped into three broad lenses: self-focus; focusing on others; and macro focus (focusing on the world at large).

Creating a triad of awareness will help a good leader foster emotional intelligence by looking inward to help themselves and outward to help others and will help them stay innovative and diverse in their thinking by keeping an eye on the where the world is headed.

Looking in only one of these directions provides little benefit and bucket loads of harm.
When focusing on yourself and looking toward your gut instincts be aware of where your motivations and influences are coming from—a piece of a literature, a parent, a friend, a mentor a historical figure? Examine the source to understand oneself. No man is an island, understanding yourself, your motivations and their possible pitfalls is essential to being a leader.

When looking to others a good leader needs to be able to understand another person’s perspective, to feel what someone else is feeling, and to be able to sense what it is they need. Help them do for themselves what you do for yourself when trying to understand your motivations and influences.

Looking out to the world and trying to anticipate what is coming will allow you and your team members to bring together what you have all found during your self-discovery and apply the best features of the team to try and innovate solutions that will work for a changing world.

The Physical Traits of Confidence

Appearing confident (even if one isn’t) is very much about body language and to exude confidence we must present a “total package.”

First, steady eye contact is a must. Looking around, looking to a digital device, to the side or to the ground is a no-no. Eye contact makes people feel important and engaged.

There are a lot of opinions about handshakes and while a lot of people dislike “firm” handshakes, that is because many people over do it. Don’t crush someone’s hand but do be firm. Also, don’t play the game of trying to be the last to let go, this is more likely to lead to awkwardness than make one look confident.

Another way to create a persona of confidence is to engage someone by very lightly touching their shoulder. President Obama is famous for doing this. It can signal leadership, confidence and put the other person at ease.

When speaking to a group keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. Shifting your weight or crossing and uncrossing your legs makes you look nervous and fidgety. Take up space with your hands. Don’t be afraid to fill the empty space physical with your presence. Gesturing while speaking and filling the space with your presence with controlled and calculated movements will make you seem more confident, however be careful not to do it too much or too quickly, this can look chaotic.

Watching What We Say

While it is improbable to think one will go through life without ever offending someone, here are some faux-paus to actively avoid and the reasons why one should avoid them.

Don’t every tell a peer that they “look tired”. The imagery evoked by this comment is not flattering. Tired persons have darkened rings about the eyes, unkempt hair and maybe disheveled clothes. They cannot concentrate and are probably grumpy. If you are concerned about a peer just ask if they are OK. While asking if someone looks tired is usually meant to be helpful, it can often be misunderstood as a slight. Likewise, saying someone has lost a ton of weight implies they were fat to begin with, instead just tell your peer the look good without commenting on their previous appearance.

Sometimes slight rephrasings of comments meant in support of a colleague can totally change the interpreted meaning. If someone ends a romantic relationship, don’t ever tell your peer they were to good for them. This may be misconstrued as meaning the peer has poor taste in romantic partners. “Their loss” implies no criticism.

If you do need to criticize someone—hopefully in a helpful way—don’t ever tell a person that they “always” or “never” do something. In the real-world absolutes aren’t really factual. No person always or never does something. Often or frequently or another synonym implies a habit and habits can be changed where as absolutes feel written in stone.

Hopefully these tips will get you thinking about other common sayings and phrasings that might get misinterpreted.

Some Thoughts on Trust

When it comes to leadership, it is hard to think of something more important than trust. One could be talented, with an impressive CV. One could say the quote unquote “right things” but if one doesn’t have his colleagues trust, they have nothing.

Trust is difficult because it isn’t something one can do. It isn’t a bullet point on a resume. It’s pathos—an emotional connection with your peers. And it has two roots. It requires a strong belief on the part of you peers that you have their best interests in mind. Second, it requires a strong belief that you have the ability and knowledge to act on that vested interest.

So how does one plant the seed that will grow roots and flower with trust? Asking people for their advice and listening to them. People need to be heard. One needs to take an interest in what is important to their peers. This makes people feel they have validation. One must always be genuine. There is no middle ground when it comes to “playing politics.” One either has agendas or they don’t.

This influence is key for any leader, but it can also help anyone who would like to exert positive influence over the peers even if they are not a leader.