7 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR TEAM (*gulp*)

Gifted leaders are gifted at asking the right questions.

     If you want to get the best out of your team, it's important to create the space for them to share their perspective, feedback, and personal desires for the organization. Did you just break out into a cold sweat? Don't be afraid!

     Questions build connections. A team that is well connected will provide a strong foundation for your organization to grow from.

   Here are 7 questions (if you dare) to ask your team:

1. List in order of "priority" the top 3 of 4 issues/challenges that you believe our organization is currently facing?

2. Finish this statement: As a team member of this organization, the one thing that keeps me up at night is __________________________________________.

3. List 1 or 2 topics that you believe you could present to this team that will inspire a needed discussion?

4. What are 2 or 3 changes would you suggest be made that would potentially have a significant impact on transforming our organization's culture?

5. What lesson did you personally learn from the last 6 months of working at this organization that you feel will be important to remember for the future?

6. What areas other than what you are doing now in your current role, do you believe you could be more valuable to this organization?

7. Finish this statement:  In becoming a part of this team, I wish someone would have talked to me earlier  about __________________________________________.

 

   Leaders, remember that control freaks do not produce effective team members. Control freaks produce hesitant and resentful team members. Let go of the need to control. Ask the right questions and watch your team become stronger for it.

 


ABOUT TODD

  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

THINK IN YOUR HEAD - THEN CHECK YOUR PHONE.

         My grandchildren have a saying when they are asking their parents a question:

 "Mom, what do baby birds like to eat? First think in your head and then check your phone."

      Essentially, they are asking their mother to first try to find the answer by searching the contents of her own memory. If the answer cannot be found that way... then she is encouraged to "google the answer". 

       A strong leader understands the balance of cultivating an environment where the team is encouraged to  "creatively look for solutions" first, in and within themselves. The benefits to this approach is that many unique solutions that are tailor fit for the organization's needs are often found. It also boosts the esteem of the team if they are able to come up with solutions and answers on their own. It encourages decisiveness and team work. Taking the time to "put our heads together" builds team confidence, morale, and cohesiveness. When we solve problems together, we learn how to work better together.

      In the same right, a strong leader knows when to encourage team members to search the land of the internet for solutions, inspiration, and examples of how complete a project or solve a problem.  There are times when unique challenges rise to the surface and the team struggles with how to answer it. It is then appropriate for the team to go hunting for the answers by asking the Internet for guidance. Inspiration can be stirred and solutions can be uncovered when we ask Google to help us. 

     The danger is skipping the "THINK IN YOUR HEAD" step altogether and relying on the internet to be the only resource relied upon. Don't get me wrong. I am a big believer in using the internet as a resource. However, I do think that sometimes we miss out on the benefits of enriching the team when we bypass taking the time to put our heads together and thinking the solution through.  Google may give us the answers, but nothing will be able to strengthen a team like trying to come up with creatively solutions together.

Think in your head. Then check in your phone. You will be surprised at how much you already know.


ABOUT TODD

 

  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

 

    

     

      

WHY CHARACTER COUNTS IN LEADERSHIP

     My 8 year old granddaughter recently won the "Principal's Award" for having "good character". She received a certificate and was invited to a special breakfast held at the school for the award recipients. It was a great honor and we were all pleased that her kindness and compassion was being recognized. After all, healthy leaders possess good character.

    Character matters if an organization wants be successful and thriving in their mission. When a leader's bad character is exposed, the organization is always affected. Integrity is the clean air that organizations need to breathe in order to stay alive. When corruption, manipulation, and unethical practices pollute the environment, it's hard to keep the organization healthy and strong. Eventually, a scandal will suffocate the future of the company and often it dies a very public death in the headlines. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations. 

        Leaders who possess good character hold more weight in the community. Other organizations are more willing to partner with companies that are led by people who are genuine and honest. Character is the currency of "trust".

     A leader who possesses good character will also possess the trust of their team members. If the leader is known for having personal integrity, team members will follow more readily and will be willing to take risk and new direction as they are led. Team members can spot hypocrisy from a mile away. If a leader with poor character tries to correct a member of the team, their words will be ignored.

     Character counts! Fight hard to remain intergritous and honest in your personal and professional practices.  It will go a long way!


ABOUT TODD

  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

TAKING CARE OF YOUR TEAM

     My son-in-law once asked my daughter, "How often are these plants meant to be watered" Three hanging baskets of greenery hung in their living room bay window. He touched the soil of each plant to see if they were dry.

      "Oh, I don't know, " she shrugged,  "They looked fine so it didn't cross my mind to water them."

"Even though something looks fine, " he said, "it  still requires regular care."

 Many leaders make the mistake of neglecting the responsibility to give regular care to their team because everything "appears fine". I believe there are 4 key areas that leaders need to regularly care for in regards to their team:

1) INSPIRATION

  It is the role of the leader to stir inspiration into the morale of the team. Team members need to be regularly reminded of the "why" they are doing what they are doing. Team meetings should not solely be about "what" needs to get done but "why" it needs to be done.

  It is the leader who holds the paint brush and therefore they alone can paint a picture of "possibilities" for their team to draw inspiration from. If a leader fails to do this, the team will lose heart when the inevitable challenges interrupt the work. It is this picture of vision that will encourage the team to keep going despite the difficulties they face.

2) EDUCATION

     Leaders ought to take responsibility in educating their team in the skills, values, and greater understanding of the task at hand. Leaders should encourage and arrange team members to attend to conferences, local workshops, events, and even enroll them in  online courses that will further sharpen their ability to perform at maximum potential. 

   Leaders can also host special "educational" workshops 'in house' which will give them the unique opportunity to tailor the experience to the specific needs of the team. I have known great leaders to invite guests will special skills and experience to "take over" a staff/team meeting and help enhance the team with an education of how to accomplish the  goals of the organization. Team members feel valued when leaders invest in them educationally. 

3) RECOGNITION

     The very best leaders are very good at catching their team members do something "right". It is crucial for the care of team to recognize great work. Team members need to be praised by their leaders. Each leader may possess their own style of "recognizing" team members but what is MOST IMPORANT is that it is done regularly. Not only will this foster further excellent performance but it will sow confidence intro each team member... and confidence produces results.

  Team members who believe that their leaders are "cheering" them on will find strength to keep pushing through the difficult areas of the work.

4) EVALUATION

  To really care for the team, a leader must  be willing to evaluate each team member and the team as a whole. What is working? What is not? Who can improve? What are the next steps in moving forward?

   The most effective way to conduct an evaluation is to decide when and how will it be done and then to just DO IT! Leaders need to know how their team is doing but more so, team members need to know how they are doing. They need to hear the unique perspective of their leader in regards to their performance. This will help them to strengthen in their weak spots as well as recognize their own growth.

 

      Leaders, do not make the mistake of neglecting to care for your team! Even if everything appears to be fine, take a closer look! Don't wait until your team is burned out, shriveled up  and ready to kill each other before you step in and give some TLC. Choose to make it your practice and responsibility to care for them regularly. You will find that if you do, your team will grow strong, healthy, and give life to your organization.


ABOUT TODD

  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

BECOMING A BETTER STUDENT TO BECOME A BETTER LEADER.

Are you sitting down? I want to tell you something important.

Leaders, you do not need to know everything.

Take a deep breath. Now let it out.

Let me say this one more time so it really sinks in:

You do not need to know everything.

       The greatest leaders are the best students. They are willing to admit their humble position of lacking knowledge and they are hungry enough to look for it. A great leader knows to surround themselves with people and resources that will help them  learn what they lack.

      Here are 3 practices that you can immediately put into place today to become a better student you and ultimately, a better leader. They may appear "simple" at first, but if these practices are regularly exercised in your life,  you will grow in your learning and grow in your leading.

#1: Become a Book Worm.

   At the risk of sounding like your grandmother, I want to remind you of the importance  to regularly read books. I hear you whispering under your breath, "Yea, Todd, whose got time to read? I'm a leader! I'm busy!"  Friend, you are too busy NOT read.

  If you need some ideas for great books on leadership, look here and here
     

     Here's another tip: Download books onto your kindle app to your android phone. This way, when you have a few minutes to spare between meetings, you can read a few pages. Also, I would highly recommend  getting a subscription to Audible.com.  Commutes are a great time to get some reading in. You can listen to a book to and from your way to work and when driving to appointments.

#2: Become a Pod Head.

       Podcasts. Podcasts. Podcasts. Let me it say one more time, Podcasts... are a great and free way to become a better student so you can be a better leader. There are a zillion podcasts about a zillion different topics. All you need to have access to podcasts is a either an android phone or a  computer with online access. You can subscribe to podcasts through iTunes or Stitcher. If you need help with finding some great podcast shows on leadership, check out this list.

    You can listen to podcasts during your commute or when you are on the treadmill. The beauty of podcasts is that they are usually free and portable. There is an endless supply of awesome content out there to help you learn! It literally is available at your fingertips so there is no reason to NOT utilize this resource. Become a Pod Head and you will become a better leader!

 

#3: Become an Attendee.

      There are many conferences, workshops, and lectures that are tailor made to help you become  better at what you do. These events are happening all the time. You should attend them! I think if you an attend one conference a year and try to go to a workshop or an event at least once a season, you will find that your skills will stay sharp. Not only will you be learning from experts but you will also find the bonus benefit of being able to network and build relationships with like minded people who are in similar positions as you. Learning in the environment of community is very valuable! Where else will you be able to bounce ideas, ask questions, and find organic insight by conversing with peers who do not necessarily "work with you".

    I host 4-6 events a year for Nonprofit Leaders in the NJ/NYC area. Why? Because I believe that when people come together to learn, converse, and build into each other - the world becomes a better place. If you are in the NJ/NYC area and are interested in attending one my events, please contact us here.

 

  Becoming a better student so you can become a better leader is important. In fact, it is one the valuable ways to use your time and I know you are busy, friend. As you grow and sharpen your skills by learning, you will find that even though you don't know everything - you can lead in confidence.

 

 Learn. Lead. Do good.

 


ABOUT TODD

  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

HOW TO RESET A BAD WEEK.

     It may be only Tuesday but some of you are saying, "Todd, I am having a bad week." Friend, all leaders have bad weeks - even the very best ones. Things happen. Funds for a project fall through. A team member makes a mistake that costs the organization. We, the leaders,  make a mistake that costs the organization and the trust of our team. Bad weeks are inevitable but the key is learning how to reset your bad week so you can positively move forward.

Here are just 4 very simple ways to reset a bad week.

 

1. Change the music.

     There is a reason why movies and television carefully craft a soundtrack to help tell the story. The soundtrack creates an atmosphere that will cultivate feelings of fear, happiness, suspense, drama, sadness, etc. A very simple but powerful way to resent your week is to create your own soundtrack for when the rough times comes. You can change the music to change your frame of mind.

    One of my children has a playlist made for every type of moment in life - everything from celebrating Taco Tuesdays to Snow Days.  She has also created as music playlist for resetting a bad week. It's called, "The Reset Button" playlist. It's mostly stacked with great hits from Motown legends that know how to lift a weary spirit from the pits. She plays this list when she needs to reset her week. This soundtrack helps create an atmosphere of hopefulness and anticipation. No one can send out the good vibes like Ray Charles can,  after all. 

   Change the music to change your mood and perspective: reset your bad week.

 

2. Consult with a coach.

    A great way to redeem an awful week is to turn it into an  opportunity for you to learn and grow from the experience. Consulting with a coach that is an expert in your field or is someone who is  helping you personally grow, is one the best resources to invest in. Coaches are skilled at asking the right questions to help you learn and take positive steps forward. 

   I encourage all leaders to have a coach they can consult especially when a week has turned into a major disappointment. A coach may also be able to identity patterns that either are causing the issues or are provoking a negative perspective on the situation. Allowing someone to look in objectively to help find positive solutions to move forward is a terrific way to reset a bad week.

 

3. Call a friend.

         Everyone needs a friend they can call when a week has turned sour. This is a friend who you can confide and safely vent to. They will listen to you moan, complain, and hash out the poop you have been dealing with. Sometimes we just need to talk it out with someone who knows us personally and has our best interest in mind. Hearing a friend say, "I'm sorry you had a  bad week," often is refreshing because we need to be reminded that when bad weeks happen, we have a community of support that will stand with us. You can reset your terrible, rotten, no-good week by picking up a phone and calling a friend.

 

4. Celebrate the wins.

    As leaders, we have to help our team reset a bad week that the organization may be suffering through. One of the  best things a leader can do for their team is to take the attention off the "losses" and choose to publicly celebrate the wins. This may require an impromptu meeting where the leader will highlight all the good that is happening despite the bad. The team hears the leader's positive perspective and in turn their esteem is lifted. They are ready to move forward with a brighter outlook. This will help reset the week for the entire team. ***Bonus points to the leader who provides good food to accompany the impromptu "Let's Celebrate the Wins" meeting. Pizza is always a win.

  The bottom line is: Don’t allow your bad week to own you!

 

 

      Take back control! Reset it and direct it to take a new course that will promote a positive perspective and actionable solutions! 


ABOUT TODD

  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

3 LESSONS IN EFFECTIVE AND THOROUGH COMMUNICATION FOR LEADERS

Everything I have learned about excellent and thorough communication I have learned from my 10-year-old grandson, Silas.

Silas is hearing impaired. 

The lessons I have learned from conversing with my grandson have improved my skills of communicating my team.

 

LESSON 1: GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO BE HEARD

 When I need to speak to my grandson, I need to make sure that I am close enough for him to hear me. Trying to converse with him across a noisy room is ineffective. If I want to tell him something important or give instruction, I walk over him to him and position myself face to face in front of him. This allows him to read my lips, interpret my body language, and easily access the sound of my voice.

   The same is true with how leaders should communicate with their team. Leaders need to be in regular close contact with their immediate team so that they can be heard. The temptation for leaders is to remain distant and only engage when necessary. This hinders effective communication. The more your team is around you, the more they understand and can anticipate your expectations, perspective and preferences. In the same, the more you are around them, you will know their expectations, perspective, and preferences. Excellent communication thrives in context and context is best understood when you choose to become familiar with it. 

LESSON 2: IF NOT YOUR NOT UNDERSTOOD, TRY SAYING IT A DIFFERENT WAY

    Sometimes my grandson will say, "What did you say, Poppy?" and I will want to shout my sentence to him, thinking if I just get louder, he will understand. The issue is not that he couldn't hear me but rather he was not understanding what I saying. I was heard but not understood.  I have learned that sometimes I have to rephrase my sentences, slow down, and maybe even gesture to help him understand what I am trying to communicate. 

   Leaders become frustrated when their team is not understanding what is being said. The temptation is to just say the same thing over and over again until both the leader and the team are upset. Leaders need to become excellent at finding creative ways of communicating with their team. Communication may require visuals, a different approach or breaking the steps down into accessible pieces.  

 

LESSON 3: ASK QUESTIONS TO CONFIRM YOU HAVE BEEN HEARD

   When I have given Silas instructions, I often need to ask him questions afterward to see if he understood what I have asked of him.

    "Silas, when you go outside, please remember to shut the screen door. Can you remember why it needs to be remained shut?" 

                    "It needs to stay shut so that the bugs don't fly into the house. Grammy hates bugs."

   When we are giving instructions to our team, we need to ask them questions to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Often leaders will throw instructions at their team without ever taking the time to confirm that the instructions have truly been heard and understood. The best way to confirm that communication has been effective is asking specific questions. Questions are the bridges to conclusions. Leaders must become excellent question askers if they want to see their team and mission come to a successful conclusion.

      For more on effective communication, please read:

 

AN APP TO BUILD BETTER COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR TEAM


ABOUT TODD

  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

 

 

 

HOW TO RUN AN EFFECTIVE MEETING: Assign Specific Action Steps.

        The goal of every meeting is to agree to take specific action regarding a specific need or project. Bottom line: Everyone should know what is required of them by the end of the meeting. Most people don't.

   Many meetings conclude with a vague sense of what needs to be done and an uncertainty of when and who it is to be done by. There is a simple solution to this. Go old school. 

1. Provide Paper + Pens.   

  Phones, tablets, and laptops are distractions. A simple piece of paper and pen will keep everyone on the same page. Now, before you dismiss "writing things down" as an archaic,  you should know that Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg walks into every meeting with a spiral notebook and pen and she seems to be getting a lot done. I, personally, like to use a bullet journal. At the end of the day, a simple piece of paper and pen will suffice.

    Here is an example of a  chart created to help team members record...

  • PROJECTS/NEEDS

  • ACTION STEPS FOR PROJECTS/NEEDS

  •  NAMES OF THE PERSON(S) ASSIGNED TO CARRY OUT THE ACTION STEPS

  • THE DATE OF WHICH THE ACTION STEP MUCH BE CARRIED OUT BY

 

2. Assign SPECIFIC What, When and Who for each Action Step. 

     It is the job of the leader to assign the what, when and who for each action step. It is most effective when the leader is specific to what needs to be accomplished, who is responsible for accomplishing it and when it needs to be accomplished by. 

   "Can we make sure that the proposed budget is submitted to me by the end of the next week?"

vs.

"Jennifer, will you make sure that proposed budget for the Gala and is submitted to me by 5:00 pm on Thursday via email?"

   The latter is more effective because it is specific in who is responsible, what they are responsible for doing and when it needs to be completed. When actions steps are vague, few will step up to complete them. This is because uncertainty is the atmosphere where "fear of failure" thrives. Remove the fear by removing the uncertainty.

 

3. Ask everyone to keep each other accountable to their assigned action step.

     Accountability is one of the secret ingredients in productivity. Team members should know who is responsible for each action step and when it needs to be done by. This why "writing it down" is helpful. Every knows the part they play. Team members can choose to later enter the written action steps into their chosen device (phone, tablet, or laptop) but for the sake of time and staying on the same page: EVERYONE SHOULD WRITE  DOWN THE ACTION STEPS.  When there is a question about a specific action step, it will be clear who to speak to.

 

 

        A clear plan of ACTION will make our meetings effective which will ultimately make our organization more productive. There is much good to be done and we need a lot of time to do it. We can use our meetings wisely so we can accomplish the mission set before us.

For more on how you can run an effective meeting, please read:

THE POWER OF A WELL CRAFTED AGENDA


  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

HOW TO RUN AN EFFECTIVE MEETING: Keep the Space Limited.

“Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.”

    If we want to run an effective and productive meeting, we need to make sure the right people are in attendance. I am officially giving you the permission to be exclusive in who you invite to your meetings.

   This is not like third grade, where you had to invite everyone in the class to your birthday party or else someone is going to feel left out. It is really is okay to keep your meetings small in attendance. You are not a bad person. You are just a good leader.

    Keep your space limited. Choose only the team members that are relevant to the management of the project - and even then - be picky.  Too many voices in a meeting will spoil its productivity

To read more on how to run an effective meeting, click:

THE POWER OF THE WELL-CRAFTED AGENDA


  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.

 

 

 

HOW TO RUN AN EFFECTIVE MEETING: KEEP IT SHORT + SWEET

A lot of time is wasted in meetings. A lot

  When meetings drag on, the productivity drops out. If we want to run an effective meeting, we need to learn the art of hosting concise and punctual team meetings. Here are a few quick tips to help make this a reality:

1. Set a short and specific time.

  ”I’ll often request 22-minute meetings...I’ve found it’s a hyper-effective way to keep everyone conscious of both starting and ending times.”
—  Brian Scudamore

 

   Setting a short, specific time will help keep the meeting focused on the agenda. When long meetings are scheduled, it is easy to get off course because of the illusion that there is so much time to get back on track. If you have less time to work with, you will be less tempted to waste time. 

     

2. Start on time even if not everyone has arrived. 

“Punctuality is one of the cardinal business virtues: always insist on it in your subordinates.” 
— Don Marquis

      We condition our team members to arrive late to meetings by waiting for them. When we wait for the entire team to arrive to start a meeting, we are communicating to punctual team members that they are not as valuable as the late team members. The best way to interrupt this bad habit that is so prevalent in our culture is to simply: START ON TIME. If meetings regularly begin  on time, regardless who is in attendance, team members will learn that to have their voice heard, they need to show up.

3. Finish on time even if you are not finished. 

“Half the time men think they are talking business, they are wasting time.”
— E.W. Howe

   It is important to honor the schedule that each of our team members are accountable to keep. When we allow meetings to "go over" the pre-set finished time, we are allowing the productivity of our team's day to be negatively impacted. This is why ending a meeting at it's pre-set "finished" time is key to our organization's effectiveness. Time management and effectiveness go hand and hand. We cannot expect our team to operate at their optimal effectiveness if we are making them play "catch up" with the rest of their day due to a meeting that went "too long". 

    If not all of the points on the meeting's agenda have been addressed, simply schedule a sequel meeting at the earliest possible date. If our team members can count on us to be punctual and honor their time, they will be more at ease at arranging their schedule to meet the needs of the organization. 

 

   For more tips on how to run an effective meeting, read here:

THE POWER OF A WELL CRAFTED AGENDA


  Todd Polyniak is a partner at SAX and is an expert in Not-For-Profit financial health for over 30 years.