“Shisa Kanko” for Leaders

Japanese rail workers routinely point at signs as they read them aloud.

The practice is called shisa kanko and, according to a study conducted by the Japan Railway Technical Research Institute, it has enabled a MAJOR improvement in occupational safety – as in reducing unforced errors by 85%!!!

It works like this:

Apparently, merely engaging one’s eyes, voice, and movement of an arm and hand in recognition of something – instead of just quietly noticing it – is a very powerful form of mindfulness…and quality improvement.

A Shisa Kano Example

I recently took a coaching exam – the International Coach Federation’s Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) – to measure my “understanding of the knowledge and skills important in the practice of coaching,” including its Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.

(The CKA is required for anyone seeking certification from the ICF, these days, but by virtue of my having been coaching, professionally, for 18 years and having earned my MCC-Master Certified Coach credential (the gold standard of coach certifications, one that fewer than 2% of all coaches worldwide have received) back in 2007, I was grandfathered from needing to take it. But I still wanted to. Just to see.)

Format-wise, it’s a computer-based, multiple-choice exam with 155 questions and a 3-hour time limit. (Another part of the overall certification process is actually demonstrating one’s coaching skills, but I won’t cover that here.)

Again, just to see, I decided that I wouldn’t study for the CKA – I’d take it ‘cold’ – I would shisa kano the heck out of it, though!!

So, I put on some lovely Japanese music (The Art of the Japanese Koto, Shakuhachi and Shamisen [#2], by the Yamato Ensemble, and Behind the Light, by Osamu Kitajima, since you asked) and settled in to begin the test. But rather than race through it, as one might typically do when under a time-constraint, I read each question aloud, slowly and purposefully, and considered each possible answer, again aloud, while using my index finger to point to, and follow along with, the words on the screen.

What a relaxing and engaging test it turned out to be!

Yes, I passed. So now I am also officially listed in the ICF’s Mentor Coach Registry. (Mentor coaching is another requirement for those seeking certification, by the way.)

Leadership Implications of Shisa Kanko

So what if leaders started using shisa kanko in their daily activities? What might that look like?

Well, first off, many (most?) would likely create a mess, I fear. Why? Because they’d probably be way too aggressive in their pointing!

Image Source: Pixabay

You could TOTALLY see that sort of thing happening, right?!

So maybe it WOULDN’T work so well.

But what if the tone and tenor were modified a bit? What would be the implications if bosses, everywhere, started, routinely:

  • …articulating, out loud, what they actually want instead of making us guess or shoot at a moving target?
  • …thinking more crisply and cleanly about the decisions they’re making, along with any potentially unintended implications?
  • …giving us their full and undivided attention instead of finishing off an email, reading a memo, or be clearly distracted by something else during our 1-on-1’s with them?
  • …literally pointing to, and explaining, what success looks like instead of just defining it through the absence of everything we’re doing wrong?
  • …providing meaningful guidance, tutelage, and insight when we ask for them instead of, well, not?
  • …coming to our cubes or offices instead of always calling us into theirs?

An Imperfect Analogy

Okay, sure, you can argue that some of my examples aren’t really examples of shisa kanko. But so what, I say! After all, they’re all irrefutable points along the line of improving one’s leadership impact and influence.

So the bigger question is: Do you want to take from them what you can…or be left at the ‘less capable leader’ station?

It’s your choice.

Image Source: Pixabay

All aboard!



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Leadership Move #26: Explain the ‘Why?’

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Who hasn’t overheard this type of conversation between a boss and employee:

Boss: Do this.
Employee: Why?
Boss: Because I say so.

Given this reality, no wonder employee morale and engagement is so often as low as it is!

Sure, there are times when a crisis or tight deadline might require extreme employee responsiveness, but making them jump through hoops just because you can is bad form.

Why ‘Because I Say So ‘ is NOT Your Best Move

Sure, using these words can seem pretty effective.

  • They seem to save time.
  • They seem to eliminate the need to explain oneself.
  • And they seem to keeps things moving.

Or does they?

Initially, maybe yes. But you have to ask – whose time are you saving? And for how long? Because if you’re thinking that such heavy-handedness doesn’t result in considerable grousing about you behind your back, you’re terribly, terribly wrong.

And does it really eliminate the need to explain oneself? Maybe in this moment, but if your staff can’t figure out the rationale for your request, then they’re likely not going to be able to provide an end-product you’ll be satisfied with. No, chances are much better that they’ll only provide you with what you specifically asked for – what’s minimally required – rather than what you intended for them to do – or what would truly ‘wow!’ you.

As for it keeping things moving? Hardly. In truth, it’s actually far more likely that you’ll just end up creating one gigantic bottleneck as everyone around you simply learns that it’s best to just wait until you to tell them, precisely, what to do.

Besides, it’s just wrong for a boss to be that disrespectful.

Taking Time Saves Time

So is there a better way? Yes, there is: Whenever you have a task or assignment to delegate to someone, spend an extra 15 seconds and explain the ‘why?’ – the business justification – behind your request.

  • Why does the database needs to be scrubbed? Because inaccurate records delay our ability to respond to client concerns in an expeditious manner.
  • Why is the report now needed tomorrow? Because some important decisions need to be made and the report will provide the essential information we need to make them.
  • Why do we need stakeholder approval before this next step? Because while we can certainly wreck this project all by ourselves, the only way for it to succeed is with the support and involvement of our key business partners.

Getting clear on what the ‘why?’ (that is, the underlying business justification) isn’t always easy. But it is wildly important.


Why the ‘Why?’ Matters

Knowing, and being able to articulate the underlying ‘why?’ for everything you delegate makes it so much easier to talk in meaningful, relevant and compelling ways. And when your staff understands why it makes sense to be do what you’re asking them to, it becomes that much easier for them to do a better job.

Which makes employee buy-in that much easier.

Which moves things forward that much faster.

Which gives you, and others, much more time to work on what else is important.

Which makes it that much easier for you – and everyone else – to be notably successful.

Is ‘Because I Say So’ Ever Appropriate?

Not in those words, per se, no. But in times of true urgency, when you really do need extreme employee responsiveness, try saying this:

“I want you to know that there is a solid business justification for what I’m asking you to do, even if it’s unclear to you in this moment. And, while I’d be happy to explain the ‘why?’ to you later, if you’d like, because of the urgency of the matter, it’s essential that you take care of it, first, right now, without delay. Agreed?”

A Translucent ‘Why?’

But what if you don’t actually know (or can’t articulate) the ‘why?’ that you’ve been given by someone up the chain? What then? Well, perhaps that means you need to go ask your boss for some additional clarification.

And what if you don’t actually know (or can’t articulate) the ‘why?’ behind your own request? (Hey, it happens.) Well, perhaps – just perhaps – the task you had in mind really doesn’t need to be done, after all.

Hmm, not assigning unnecessary work? What a great way to improve employee morale and engagement!


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Leadership Move #24: Micromanage…YOURSELF!

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No one likes to be micromanaged. It implies a lack of trust.

And a lack of respect.

And a seeming belief that you just can’t get things done on your own.

Why would anyone LIKE that?!

Many (most?) people, it turns out, don’t.

Truth vs. Perception

Consider a classic case of micromanaging: Someone gets an assignment on Monday that’s not due until Wednesday, and the boss comes asking about it on Tuesday.

Now there may be some really reasonable reasons that have nothing to do with trust or respect or regard.

  • The boss just might be interested.
  • The boss might be really interested!
  • The boss needs to tell his/her boss how things are going.
  • The boss might have just been reminded about the assignment when s/he saw you.
  • The boss is naturally impatient.
  • The boss just wants to be sure you haven’t forgotten about the assignment.
  • The boss just wants to see if you need any help or additional information to make it easier to do what’s been asked.

In all fairness to the boss – or at least bosses, in general – micromanagement isn’t always grounded in a lack of trust or respect or regard for an employee or his or her capabilities.

But more often, than not, it IS at least partially rooted in the boss’s lackluster organizational, planning, and delegation skills.

Thinking it Through

If you think about it, there’s really no reason for a boss to micromanage if that boss has good organizational, planning, and delegation skills – regardless of whether s/he trusts or respects a particular direct report, or not.

Providing consistently clear, concise, meaningful, and deadline-driven assignments is a far easier and much more efficient method for sifting the lumps out of the flour, as it were.

But providing consistently clear, concise, meaningful, and deadline-driven assignments does have a few prerequisites:

  1. The boss must be fairly-well organized – so s/he knows, can remember, or be easily reminded what needs to be done, by whom, and by when.
  2. The boss must know to plan somewhat effectively – so s/he knows what will need to be completed, by when, and why what’s not needed quite yet isn’t needed, quite yet.
  3. The boss must know how to delegate reasonably well – so the items identified in (1) and (2) can be appropriately assigned/worked/completed without unnecessary interruptions.

So dear leaders, if you feel the need TO micromanage…micromanage YOURSELF! Turn your attention inward to improving the three sets of skills listed above by asking yourself, repeatedly, these fairly simple questions:

  • Re: becoming more organized –
    • How well-organized are you?
    • How about now?
    • How about NOW?!!!
  • Re: becoming better at planning –
    • What’s the plan?
    • How about now?
    • How about NOW?!!!
  • Re: becoming better at delegation – 
    • Are you good at it yet?
    • How about now?
    • How about NOW?!!!

See what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that?!!!

The Competency is the Instruction

But let’s say you actually DO spend some energies becoming more organized and better at planning and delegation. What are the likely results?

  1. You’ll actually BECOME better organized – which means you likely won’t need to go looking over your staff’s shoulders to see if you need to ‘re-tell’ them something or ‘first-tell’ them something you forgot to mention in the first place.
  2. You’ll actually learn to plan more effectively – which means you will likely have fewer last-minute crises to dump on your staff and will actually be able to help them better create a space for whatever is likely to be heading down the pike.
  3. You’ll actually be able to delegate more capably – which means you will be able to consistently provide clear, concise, meaningful, and deadline-driven assignments to your staff, thus dramatically reducing the need to micromanage in the first place.

And, most helpfully, you’ll actually be amazed at how much better your staff does – and how much more they’ll come to appreciate the new and improved you, as they naturally become so much more productive and engaged as a way of saying thanks for not being such a pain in the @#%$&!, anymore!



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Leadership Move #6: Encourage Intelligent Debate

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As a leader, the pressure to have all the answers is relentless. But trying to live up to that unrealistic expectation, in real-time, is likely more career-limiting than you realize.

The Failings of ‘Boss-as-Expert’

It doesn’t take long to realize that always trying to be ‘the smartest person in the room’ can only lead to problems and missed opportunities – not to mention some significant, lasting limitations to your reputation as a leader:

  • You miss out on all sorts of great ideas that you didn’t happen to come up with yourself
  • You discourage others from sharing their good – and potentially great –  ideas with you
  • You end up training your staff to wait for YOU to be the hero – and YOU to come up with all the ideas – instead of THEM learning how to think, and brainstorm, and analyze more effectively, themselves
  • You never learn to truly leverage the power of delegation (which limits your team’s development and your availability and work/life balance)
  • You never learn to fully-utilize your staff (which also limits your team’s development and often increases staff infighting and feelings of favoritism and disrespect)
  • You likely become frustrated by the fact that you’re seemingly the only one on your team that’s doing any of the ‘heavy lifting’
  • You wind up with far too many tactical responsibilities and too little time to think, more broadly, or plan, more strategically

What’s the Antidote?

So the limitations of boss-as-expert are clear, but how can you avoid it?

Well, a surprisingly simple solution is to to focus on – and proudly share – what you DON’T know!

In other words, rather than asserting you know the answer (even when you don’t) encourage your staff to engage in an Intelligent Debate about things to help you figure them out.

How? by asking them questions that encourage THEM to think and share THEIR views.

“But what if they’re not up to the task?”

Yes, yes. I can hear what you’re thinking. And, realistically, you can’t expect people who you’ve effectively been trained NOT to think to suddenly be fountains of knowledge and insight. So you have to ‘prime the pump’ as it were.

  • Make sure when you ask the question, you give the team sufficient time to respond before jumping in, yourself. Don’t freak out when their initial response is silence. Silence is OK – it’s a natural response to something new.
  • If you think they still need more time, let them know a day or so beforehand what you’ll be wanting them to weigh in on. Will everyone be ready? Likely not. But some will and you can encourage greater participation by recognizing and rewarding those who actively engage.
  • Will all ideas be good ones? No, especially not at first. But that’s okay. Just show a little patience and encouragement and, ultimately, better ideas will start to emerge – with far less brain work on your part, by the way. Just keep saying, “That’s good, but let’s keep going. What’s ANOTHER way we could look at this?” and let things naturally unfold.

Remember: Sometimes the best ideas come as improvements to a lesser idea. So don’t nay-say. Rather, encourage staff to generate as many ideas as possible and let the best ones just naturally percolate to the top. (LeadershipTraction clients can access a Six Thinking Hat Worksheet to help with this at www.leadershiptraction.com/clients/)

Remember, too: To start this process as early as possible – especially at first – so you don’t find yourself backed up against an immovable deadline or deliverable.

The Upside of Intelligent Debate

Yes, asking staff for their input helps THEM develop better thinking and planning skills. But it also helps YOU develop YOUR thinking and planning skills, too.

And the more adept they – and you – become at intelligent debate, the more you help EVERYONE:

  • Refine their persuasion and articulation skills
  • Realize how much more they have to offer
  • Contribute in increasingly ‘deeper’ and more meaningful ways
  • Appreciate the value-added that their peers have to offer – which is a MAJOR bonus!

Taken a step further, the more your staff practices Intelligent Debate in their discussions with you, the more likely they’ll practice it in their discussions without you. And wouldn’t THAT be a nice upgrade to see?!

What Encouraging Intelligent Debate is NOT

A word of caution: Encouraging Intelligent Debate is NOT about adopting a ‘majority rules’ approach to decision-making. Why? Because as often as not, the majority lacks the vision and courage to truly ‘move the needle’.

Nor is it about giving all parties equal say in a decision. To wit, subject matter experts will likely have more insight as to downstream implications and unintended consequences of certain actions than those who lack such expertise. Ignore this at your peril because the Number One reason that seemingly good decisions turn out not to be is unintended consequences.

Insight and logic can be very, very helpful – especially when it’s insight and logic that you, yourself, haven’t thought of already.

So even if, ultimately, they’re still YOUR decisions to make, you’ll likely be able to make much BETTER decisions if you have others help you identify and evaluate the viable options.

And making better decisions is sort of the point of what you do, isn’t it?!

Your thoughts?

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Leadership Move #4: Get Things Done by *NOT* Working on Them

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Some ideas improve when we restate them in an upside down manner.

To that end, several years ago I wrote a piece titled, “Capable of Doing versus Paid to Do.” The idea behind it is that while there are probably a lot of things you’re able  to do at work, there are some things that ONLY you can do. The point was that your time and talent are best used when working, as much as possible, on the things that no one else, but you, can do.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this means that, while one way to get things done is by doing them yourself, but a far better way – especially for leaders – is by not working on them, that is, empowering others to get it done. Indeed, the mark of a good leader is when his/her team’s performance holds steady, or even improves, when the boss is out sick, on vacation, or promoted out of the area.

The Power of Effective Delegation

To do that, though, you need to have top-notch delegating skills, even though learning the ins and outs of effective delegation can be quite challenging.

Yes, the learning curve is admittedly steep. You have to know, as example, how to:

  • Accurately determine if something can, or should be, delegated (Make a point of letting your boss know why you’re delegating to whom so you get credit for taking an interest in developing your team members.)
  • Appropriately determine to whom you can delegate. (Look for abilities and desires of the team member you are delegating to, and puleeeze, do NOT force a project on a high performer if they do not really want it!)
  • Effectively articulate precisely what it is that you’re delegating and what outcomes you require.
  • Sufficiently monitor progress – and request ‘unsolicited updates from the delegatee – so that you know if things are going wrong before it’s too late.
  • Ably mop-up should they go wrong, anyway.
  • Meaningfully debrief with the delegatee afterwards, good or bad. (Make sure you give the recognition for what went right and not place blame if something went wrong. After all, it’s still YOUR responsibility for whatever happened. Also, ask for input regarding how the experience felt for the person: How did they enjoy the experience? What did they learn about getting things done? What did they learn about themselves? What would they likely to differently the next time? (And other open-ended questions like that.)

These are no small shakes. But delegation not only helps better position your work group to dramatically increase their capability, throughput, productivity, and morale, it frees you up to:

(a) Work on the things that ONLY you can do; and
(b) be less of an organizational bottleneck, as so many well-intentioned bosses are.

You (Plural) versus You (Singular)

Effective Delegation really IS a Silver Bullet. Done poorly, not so much. But done well, ABSOLUTELY it is!

Because the true power of effective delegation is that it allows more to get done by you (plural) than you (singular) ever could … which makes ‘Getting Things Done by *NOT* Working on Them’ a very powerful Leadership Move, indeed.

What tips and techniques do YOU recommend for improving one’s delegation skills?

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Happy New Year…Again


A new year can seem like déjà vu all over again, yes?!

It’s especially true for people in sales: Another set of goals, quotas, and annual targets; more metrics that don’t quite capture what it takes to be successful; that familiar feeling of wishing you could take the entire month of January off to rest and recoup from yet another blazingly intense 4th quarter.

It’s true for leaders, as well: New goals and objectives that continue to involve some type of stretch; updated policies and procedures that turn the familiar upside down; another set of priorities and strategic initiatives that still don’t provide the clarity or resources you need to get everything done.

Yes, a new year CAN seem like déjà vu all over again.

Let The Circle NOT Be Unbroken

Left unchecked, this over-and-over-again can wear down even the most resilient of us. But it doesn’t have to.

A quick scan of the following five categories can help you break the cycle and make you more E.A.G.E.R. to face – and be ready for – the challenges of the New Year:

  1. E – Your ENTHUSIASM – Never underestimate the value that enthusiasm can bring. So bring it. Big Time. ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it.
  2. A – Your AGILITY – Sure, you’ve got your favorite ways of doing things, and many of them are likely quite refined. But make a point of expanding your range, as it were. Being a one-trick pony may feel safe and familiar, but it all too quickly leads to boredom, which leads to inattention, which leads to making mistakes and missing prime opportunities to have a real impact.
  3. G – Your GROWTH – Now I’m a fan of strengths-based leadership, but truth is, if you don’t expand more than just your strengths, you’re likely going to start overcompensating for your weaknesses in ways that dilute your brand. So make this the year you hit things ‘head on’ by developing some new skills that you know you need to learn. Not sure which ones? Come on, now, yes you are!
  4. E – Your EASE – Intensity, well-applied, is a good thing. But constantly creating (or adding) stress and drama – often the unavoidable byproducts of intensity – gets really exhausting, really fast. Just ask around. You can immediately become a better role-model by NOT freaking out every time something new suddenly blips on your radar. It’s you chance to show others how to handle pressure. It’s your chance to be a SOURCE of strength, caring, and focus…for THEM. It’s your chance to be a source of strength, caring, and focus…for YOURSELF, as well.
  5. R – Your RESPONSIVENESS – Whether you consider yourself an extrovert or introvert, the workplace requires you to interact with the people around you. So be pleasant. Be patient. Answer the questions they’re actually asking. Wait. What? Seek to understand. Try to actually be helpful. Sure, it may feel like a waste and even a pain, at times, but it’s an investment – you don’t know who’s watching, you don’t know who’s listening, you don’t know whose help you’ll need or when you’ll need it most. Besides you impress no one by being pompous. That only shows others you’re not as impressive as you mistakenly think you are.

E.A.G.E.R. for the New Year

Here’s a little exercise:

  • For each of the five categories listed – Enthusiasm, Agility, Growth, Ease, Responsiveness – or for any other or additional categories you’d like to include, rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 (10=already excellent; 1=embarrassingly not). These are your ‘EAGER 1a’ baseline ratings – where you currently are (or believe yourself to be).

E.A.G.E.R. for the New Year – Step 1

  • Add another column, and in that column add 2 points to each of your baseline ratings. (So if you gave yourself a ‘responsiveness’ rating of 7, put a 9 (7+2) in the corresponding box.) These are your ‘EAGER 2b’ intention scores (‘2b’ – ‘to BE’ – clever, right?!) and will help stimulate your imagination for what ‘could be’ for yourself and those around you.

E.A.G.E.R. for the New Year – Step 2

  • Next, list out 3 or 4 specific steps you can take to achieve your EAGER 2b ratings. (Would it be too much to call these your EAGER 2c – ‘to SEE’ – scores?!)

E.A.G.E.R. for the New Year – Step 3

  •  Save your spreadsheet, create a recurring task in your calendar to review your progress monthly, and then do so without fail.

Putting the ‘New’ in New Year

As Margaret J. Wheatley said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Hopefully, that’s reason enough for all this, but if not, just let me know.


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