Tips & Tricks

  • Come Home Early

    For many years and trips, Julia and I maximized every minute of vacation. If we traveled by plane, we’d seek the last returning flight Sunday evening. We’d return from a trip, exhausted. Maybe unpack, maybe not. Go to bed and get right back to work the next morning. It always made for a rough re-introduction to the rhythm of work life. But we always got the most out of the trip – one more morning in the sun, one last good meal, or one more opportunity to explore our destination.

    Then a few years ago, I started to convince Julia to take an earlier Sunday return flight. Come home in the afternoon. Or at least the early evening. We’d have a bit of time to at least unpack, have dinner at home, and plan for the week ahead. Still a rushed turnaround but a softer transition.

    More recently, we started to take it one step further: return from vacation on the Saturday. Sacrifice one day of vacation travel for the benefit of an entire day at home to re-orient before returning to work. You get a full day at home and two good sleeps in your own bed. You have a whole day to fully unpack, do laundry, grocery shop, and complete whatever chores you have. You can review email, Teams/Slack, or whatever other work you need to, at a calm and leisurely pace. It makes the Monday morning return an easy one. We did this recently on return from vacation in Hawaii and while I feel less ‘fun’ admitting it, I love doing this. Coming home early is worth the sacrifice. I woke up Monday morning fired up and ready to be back.

  • Sending Signals

    A blessing and curse of holding a leadership position is the ability to both intentionally (blessing) and unintentionally (curse) send a strong signal or message via small actions. The more senior your role or perceived responsibility, the more significant this impact is likely to be, and it’s particularly pronounced for members of the senior leadership or executive leadership team.  

    As a leader, your words carry substantial weight. Once you’re aware of this, you can absolutely use it as a tool. It can help you enforce messaging and desired behaviors. Small actions like what topics you ask questions about and what agenda items you consistently discuss can help re-enforce your messaging on priorities. Your actions can be used to signal organizational priorities.

    To use an example (intentional). Let’s say a critical priority for your organization this year is Sales and you really want to enforce that. Simple acts like making it a perpetual agenda topic at team meetings, referencing it at big company events, talking about it in 1-2-1s with your team, with your colleagues, and with anyone you interact with in the organization, will re-enforce its importance.

    To use an example (unintentional). You meet with a client and they ask you when a particularly bespoke product feature is going to be available in the software. For the next six months, you routinely check in with your product team on the status of this feature. Without really meaning to, you elevate its importance and find it’s been pulled forward in the priority list, even though you probably wouldn’t have made that choice if it was laid out in front of you.

    Once you’re aware of signal sending, you’ll realize that sometimes you need to take action even when you don’t really feel like it or want to. Maybe you’ve told the team that this year, it’s critical to be present at the major conferences in your industry. But you also had a newborn 6 months ago, and you haven’t taken much vacation lately, and these conferences are spread all across the country. Regardless, you show up and attend because your actions speak louder than words. Your actions send the signal and re-enforce the message: these conferences are important.

    Sometimes you can use hyperbolic or exaggerated versions of actions to really send a strong signal. There is a famous story of a customer returning tires to Home Depot’s customer service desk… at a time when Home Depot didn’t even sell tires. The Chief Merchandising Officer at the time accepted the tires and gave the customer a refund in full. Then he chained those tires above the customer service desk to exaggerate the point “the customer is always right here”. The cost to Home Depot was small, but the value in sending that type of a signal, which became cultural lore, was extremely high.

    *I heard the Home Depot story several years ago and it may not be literally accurate but the spirit of it is intact.

  • Lean Into the Emotion

    There are many times in your professional and personal life when you’re going to be put in a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe even severely uncomfortable. Our natural tendency is to try to mask that discomfort and present an air of confidence. We don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable. And of course, the more significant the discomfort, the less likely we are to successfully accomplish presenting confidently.

    Common situations can create the opportunity for real discomfort: a) interviewing for a job you really want, b) giving a presentation in front of a big group, c) having a challenging performance conversation with a direct report, d) terminating someone’s employment, e) declining a job offer, etc. etc.

    A highly valuable tip I received several years ago, is to lean into the emotion. Instead of putting on the air of confidence, take the opposite approach: start off by acknowledging the discomfort. “I’m really nervous to be presenting in front of everyone today.”. “I’m feeling a bit anxious about this conversation, even though I know we need to have it”.

    People are excellent at picking up when you’re feeling uncomfortable, regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not. If you authentically lean into the emotion and address it head on, you’re more likely to garner empathy and understanding from your audience, whether a group of people or an individual. We tend to root for the underdog, or someone struggling. It’s human nature. By leaning into the emotion, you’re bringing the audience onto your side. Lean into the emotion to start and you’re more likely to set yourself up for success. It will have the added bonus of quieting whatever emotion you’re feeling.  

    This only works if you describe an emotion you are genuinely experiencing. Don’t say “I’m feeling nervous”, if you’re not, or you’ll likely produce the opposite effect.