How Can The Eisenhower Decision Matrix Help You Reduce Time Stress?

Time management is getting more and more difficult, because attention management is getting more  difficult, because more things  demand our attention, which eats up our time. The principles and practices of effective time management are well known, but people still seem to suffer from stress related to not having enough time. The purpose of this post is to serve as a reminder.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower  classified tasks into four categories, which are often represented by a four box matrix:

1. Urgent and important                                                                    2. Not urgent, but important

3. Urgent, but not important                                                             4. Not urgent or important

I’m terrible with formatting, so please forgive the poor visual above. I couldn’t figure out how to do boxes. Imagine each numbered item is in a box and we can proceed.

Many readers will have seen this before. It’s easy to get stuck in quadrants 1 & 3. How often to you find yourself in these quadrants? They can suck up almost all your attention and time, leaving precious little time for items in quadrant 2. Quadrant 2 is the tough one. The well known solution is to proactively schedule time for items in quadrant two. Don’t just have a generalized intention to devote time to these things. Put them on your calendar. Do it every week.

Effective use of this matrix requires you to clearly articulate your values. Otherwise, how can you decide what’s important? Notice that the act of articulating your values is a quadrant 2 item :) Ideally, you should set goals only after you’ve articulate your values.

In setting goals, your time horizon plays a major role in determining what quadrant a particular activity falls into. If you only set goals for this quarter, you’ll make certain decisions about what to work on this week. If you set goals for 10 years from now you’ll probably make different decisions about what to work on this week.

The effective use of the Eisenhower matrix requires that you articulate your values, set goals based on those values, and schedule time for quadrant 2 activities. The more distant your time horizon, the better decisions you’ll make.

You must accept the fact that in these times you cannot get everything done. You just can’t. But you can reduce the time stress by knowing that the things you spent time on were more important than the other things vying for your attention. I think that’s the best any of us can do.

Thanks for reading. As always, I appreciate your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg


Why Should You Meet In A Coffee Shop?

As you know, where you meet matters. It impacts the mental set of the participants and the dynamics of the interaction. The purpose of this post is to encourage you to have more meetings outside of your everyday office space. It doesn’t have to be at a coffee shop, of course. That’s just an example.

Most of the time it makes sense to meet people in your everyday work space. It’s easier and more efficient for everyone involved. But once in a while, think about meeting somewhere else, even though it’s less efficient. It so happens that there are a couple of coffee shops a few minutes from my office, and from time to time I invite someone to be my guest.

There’s something about breaking bread together that affects the dynamics of human interaction in ways that I really like. Furthermore, at a fundamental level, the stimuli of the coffee shop are different for all five senses (different from those in the office). Different stimuli might well lead to different ideas or a different way of looking at a situation. That’s reason enough to give this a try.

My associates also know that I really like coffee shops, and that I’m inviting them to share this experience with me. We’re still going to discuss business, but the dialogue will be more relaxed and informal, and we’re almost certainly going to discuss non-business topics as well. We’ll enhance our relationship more than if we just met in the office.

Efficiency is important, but it’s not always the number one priority. Here’s one of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Steven R. Covey: You can be effective with people, but you can’t be efficient.

I hope you give the coffee shop meeting a try. And let me know how it goes.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Can You Become A Better Mentee?

Yesterday I realized I spend a good deal of time thinking about how to be a better mentor, and how to help others be better mentors. But I don’t invest much time thinking about how to help people become better mentees. So I’m going to give it a stab. For conceptual clarity my thoughts here apply to any sort of relationship in which you’re being coached, advised, mentored or taught by an individual outside a classroom on an ongoing basis. What a mouthful. I’ll use the word “mentor” to stand for any of those types of relationships.

To begin, we must recognize that this is similar to asking, “How can I become a better spouse?” or “How can I become a better friend?” It’s individualized. It depends on the unique needs of each person in the relationship. All this is MUCH easier if the two of you are a good natural fit in the first place. When the fit is good, you’ll have to make fewer changes to become a better mentee for that person.

First principle: ask your mentor what he or she wants from you in this relationship. This might seem more formal than necessary, but it’ll serve you both. Too often, in all sorts of relationships, expectations are not clarified, which leads to problems. If your mentor has important expectations that you can’t or don’t want to fulfill, best to find out as soon as possible. I have a close friend who’s a high-powered attorney, dedicated to her career. When she married, she didn’t know that her husband expected her to cook dinner for him every night, and to otherwise perform as would a non-working spouse. Tragically, it was a deal breaker for both of them.

Next, you actually have to take your mentor’s advice. As my wife says, “Why buy a dog and bark yourself?” Sometimes the advice won’t intuitively seem like a good idea. “Really? You want me to do that?” When you have misgivings discuss them. But do it anyway. Do it despite your doubts. A good mentor will occasionally push you out of your comfort zone. If you reject your mentor’s advice too frequently, you should probably look for another mentor.

Next, don’t act on advice from every well-meaning person. Suppose you hire a wellness coach. After learning about your goals and challenges, this coach will almost certainly recommend a program for you to follow. As you do this, you’ll be bombarded — by well-meaning friends — with diverging and conflicting advice about the elements of your program. If you act on all this advice, you won’t be following a program whose elements have either internal consistency or harmony. You won’t make progress.

I’ve noticed in my career that a particular leader’s decisions and actions create a certain internal harmony (harmony is different from consistency). As a consequence, there are behaviors or tactics that will work effectively for leader A but not for leader B. Acting on advice from too many different sources can easily destroy that harmony, preventing you from progressing.

This is not to discourage you from seeking different opinions, just as you might for a medical problem. My advice is to discuss with your mentor differing advice you’re receiving before you act. That way your decisions and actions will maintain both internal harmony and consistency.

Finally, express some appreciation. Appreciation from a mentee is among the most meaningful forms of recognition a mentor receives.

Thank for reading. I’m sure there’s much more to be said on this topic. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

As A Mentor, Are You Asking The Right Questions?

An associate recently brought to my attention a worthwhile article entitled, “The Art of Asking Questions”, by Marshall Goldsmith, the world-renowned authority on mentoring, leadership and executive coaching. Dr. Goldsmith makes a distinction between information-seeking questions and understanding-seeking questions, and he points out that in a mentoring relationship understanding-seeking questions almost always contribute to a mentee’s growth. He then gives a list of elements that produce insight and a list of techniques that enhance the value of the dialogue. In this post I suggest some high-value questions that you can ask your mentees.

First of all, I LOVE Dr. Goldsmith’s title. Asking high-value questions is indeed an art. Asking the right question is supremely important for almost any professional, including scientists, physicians, social workers, police, journalists, attorneys, accountants, sales professionals — the list can go on and on. That underscores the importance of this topic.

Here are two statements that are particularly meaningful to me:

  • The kind of question you ask determines the kind of answer you’ll get.
  • Asking the right question is more important than finding the answer easily. Often, the struggle to find an answer results in substantial growth.

I’m going to share some questions that have served me well in mentoring relationships. But first, please know that I believe that the intent of the question is more important than the question itself. If the intent is to seek the mentee’s greatest good, that will be evident, and you’ll be able to ask more challenging questions. Also, let’s understand that all questions are asked within the context of an existing relationship. Part of the art here is understanding what questions are appropriate between the you and your mentee at a given point in your evolving relationship. With that understanding, here are some questions to consider if you’re the mentor.

In many instances you’ll be reviewing a mentee’s performance in a particular situation. So you might experiment with these questions:

  1. How do you think you did? (This is just to get a mental review going.)
  2. Did anything surprise you?
  3. What went well? And why? (People always want to focus on what did not go well. There is often more to be learned in thinking about what went well and how to repeat that in the future.)
  4. What did not go so well? And why?
  5. What lessons did you learn from this experience?
  6. What will you do differently in the future to improve your performance? And why?

In some instances, you’ll be discussing an upcoming situation. Consider these questions:

  1. What are your desired outcomes from this event? And why?
  2. How likely is it that your plan of action will achieve your desired outcomes? And why?
  3. What concerns you? And why?

Let’s understand that part of the art of asking high-value questions is actively listening and asking great follow-up questions. This is a talent. Great art requires great talent. That being said, here’s one follow-up that often comes in handy:

Tell me more. (OK, I realize it’s not technically a question.)

And I want to highlight one question that, asked sincerely, works in almost all cases:

How can I help? (If you ask only that one question, you and your mentee will be well served.)

Thanks to my friend, Tiatana Costello, for suggesting this topic.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear some questions that have served you well in mentoring relationships.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Find A Mentor?

Oh my goodness. This is a really tough question. It’s a question about relationships. How do you find a best friend? How do you find a life partner? How do you find a mentor? I wish I had an easy answer, or frankly any answer that would work consistently. A mentor is someone for whom you’re significant, who believes in you, who likes you as a person, who enjoys spending time with you, who enjoys helping you grow, both personally and professionally, who is loyal, and who will extend herself to help you succeed. Many more descriptors can be added to that list. But the topic of this post is not, “What is a mentor?” The topic is, “How the heck do you find one?”

Even though we’re not going to find the answer, it’s important to struggle with the question. So here are my thoughts. First, it’s important to know who you are, what kind of person you think your ideal mentor would be, and what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship. You can readily see that the answers to these questions will be different for every person, and therefore the descriptors of your ideal mentor are unique to you. It’s much easier to find something if you know what you’re looking for. Answering those questions will give you a start.

Next, I encourage you to think about how you formed relationships with other important people in your life. How did you meet your best friends? Your significant other? What were you doing at the time? What were your initial attractions? Why did you both decide you wanted to spend more time with each other?  Answering those questions might well provide some valuable insight.

Next, I encourage you to participate in professional associations where you increase the odds of meeting people who share your professional interests and who might also be willing to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom. Community service groups also provide worthwhile opportunities.

Next, understand that your mentor might not initiate. You might have to ask the person on a first date. If you have (or have had) a significant other, think about how you started the relationship. Whether you hooked up or just had a beer, you probably didn’t jump into a discussion about a long-term relationship. You probably just decided whether you wanted to see each other again.

If you meet someone you think might be mentor material, don’t immediately discuss a mentoring relationship. Just ask them out. Have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a corn dog. Get to know each other. See where it goes. Maybe a mentoring relationship will develop over time. But remember, this really is very much like dating. If you don’t ask, you’re done. The possibility will pass you by.

Thanks to Matt Ream for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Can You Do What’s Necessary To Bring About Rapid Culture Change?

This is going to be a short post. There is a qualitative difference between gradually shaping a culture and rapidly changing a culture in fundamental ways. To see a previous post on how to shape an organization culture, click here.

Rapid culture change requires that certain people leave the organization — particularly those in leadership positions. It’s unpleasant, it’s painful, it’s regrettable — but it’s reality. This applies to leaders at every level. If a particular leader cannot or will not enthusiastically support the desired new culture, he or she must be replaced. To achieve rapid culture change we can’t be patient.

These departing leaders are, in a sense, casualties of war. We should treat them with respect and dignity, but we need to transition them out of the organization. Then, of course, we need to identify new leaders who embrace the desired culture.

Recently I’ve observed situations in which a new CEO is brought in to rapidly change a culture, but he or she is prevented from replacing the leaders. That’s a non-starter. That CEO is being set up for failure.

Rapid culture change is painful and confusing for all stakeholders. We always experience unanticipated consequences. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” Working through these types of challenges requires a great deal of intestinal fortitude from the leader. And without the authority to replace people, nobody can bring about rapid, fundamental culture change.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What’s the Best Way to Evaluate Cultural Fit?

When I use the term “culture” I mean a set of shared values and beliefs that form the basis for: 1) what we actually do, and 2) what we believe we ought to do. As I’ve said before, I think culture has more impact than strategy on the long-term success of an organization. That’s why it’s so important to select people who fit, whose natural values, beliefs and behaviors align with those of the culture. That’s what this post is about.

The challenge here is that culture is always in flux. Some elements of culture are more malleable than others. Some are deeply entrenched and extremely difficult to change. Furthermore, the description of an organization culture depends on where you’re standing. It depends on your perspective. That makes the endeavor of describing a culture a lot more complex than we typically acknowledge.

First let’s think about perspective. If you ask a wealthy New Yorker who lives on Park Avenue to describe the culture of New York City, we’ll get a very different description than the one given by the person who lives in a poor, dangerous section of that same city. If we ask the C-suite executives to describe the culture of their organization, we might well get a very different description than the one given by a rank and file employee.

Now let’s think about flux. (By the way, when was the last time someone asked you to think about flux?) The culture of any organization, any community is continuously evolving due to influences from both internal and external sources. Whatever a person’s perspective, their description of the culture is a snapshot in time. To further complicate matters, different parts of the culture are evolving at different rates of speed.

So when you say that you want a candidate to fit the culture, what culture are you talking about? The culture of a specific division or department? The present culture or the culture the CEO envisions for the future? This is immensely complex. It can make your head hurt. But there’s an easier way to determine cultural fit.

In my opinion, the endeavor of determining who’s a good fit for the existing culture is in some respects easier than describing the culture. Even if we’re not sure we can describe the culture, we can identify existing employees who are a good fit. These are individuals who thrive in the culture and who are widely regarded as exemplifying the desired cultural values and behaviors. We can create profiles of these people and hire to those profiles. This can be done for an envisioned culture as well. We can identify existing employees who exemplify the values and behaviors of the desired future culture, create profiles of those people and hire to those profiles.

Objectively and properly describing an evolving culture from multiple perspectives is a daunting task. But we don’t need to do that in order to answer the question, “What kinds of candidates would be a good fit?” Whether we’re focusing on an existing culture or a desired culture, we simply need to study existing employees who are a good fit and hire more people like that.

Thanks for reading. And, as always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg