3 Keys to Execution Excellence in Your Organization

How to Consistently Get More Done without Losing Your Mind

You could probably study for the rest of your life—and still never finish all the books, articles,  editorials, and contradictory perspectives on how to execute with excellence. 

Thankfully you don’t have to sift through it all to find a process that just works.

One of the most helpful—and beautifully simple—leadership processes I learned was from a group of seasoned, Alaskan mushers. 

They didn’t have to get fancy or annotate. They got right to the point and shared with me something that not only works for them on the treacherous Iditarod Trail but can work for any leader—on and off the trails. 

We called it the R.A.C.E method. 

The acronym stands for Ready, Action, Checkpoint, Evolve. 

These simple but powerful steps create a process that any leader can apply—for excellent team execution again and again… and again! 

Let’s break down the first step: Ready 

In this phase, I’ve found three keys to consistent execution excellence—goals, roles, and habits. These are the what, the who, and the how of getting things done. 

To get ready, you need to know what you want to achieve, who needs to fulfill which roles, and how you will function in the day-to-day to succeed.

Goals

Setting INSPIRED goals begins with asking these questions:

  • Where do you want to end up? 
  • What is the order of the steps? 
  • Who does those steps best? 
  • How much time do you need? 
  • What are the best in your industry doing?

On the Iditarod trail, mush teams rely on trail markers to let them know how far they’ve traveled and how much longer they have to go. 

Even with these markers, some mushers have stopped fifteen minutes from the next checkpoint, because they didn’t realize how close they were to achieving the next goal. In the middle of the action, it’s difficult to tell one snowbank from another. 

The same is true for you and your team as you execute. 

With your head down in the weeds, you can lose sight of where you are. That’s why you need goals that serve as checkpoints. 

The checkpoints do two things. They help people focus on componentized goals and provide built-in celebration points along the way. 

Similar to the way the various camps on an Everest ascent provide visual cues to progress, your checkpoints let people measure progress toward achieving results.  

As you evaluate your goals in the harsh light of reality, you must consider your team’s ability to deliver on those goals in that time frame, which leads to evaluating the roles needed and who will fill those roles.

iditarod-dog-sled-race

Roles

When you’re clear on your goals and you’ve set checkpoints to monitor progress, then you can start positioning your team for maximum success by examining roles. 

I suggest you begin with these questions: 

  • Who is actually doing and delivering? 
  • Is everyone crystal clear about roles and responsibilities?
  • How does each person contribute to each step?
  • What strengths does each person contribute and where will he or she do the best work?
  • In light of the role, what weaknesses does each person have and how can these weaknesses be overcome? 
  • Do you need to add or remove people from the team? Have you first trained them to ensure removal is wise?

Sports teams are only allowed a certain number of players. You too must work within certain constraints such as budget and organizational restrictions.

 That’s why it’s so important to have the right team members in place to get the job done. 

An offensive lineman may technically be physically able to line up under center, receive the ball, and throw it to a receiver, but that’s not what he’s built for.

 In baseball, pitchers are notoriously bad hitters. That’s not why they’re on the team.

The constraints actually help the team by forcing them to put the best players in the roles where they perform the best.

 Likewise, constraints help you ensure you put the right people in the right places to win. 

That doesn’t mean no one will ever have to do a job they don’t enjoy or step out of their comfort zone, but it does mean that you position each person to be and deliver his or her best. 

(A pitcher sometimes has to bunt a run in. Football players sometimes line up differently for a trick play.)

But your team is filled with people who will excel in their areas of expertise—and propel you to excellence—if you ensure they are in the right role. 

Habits

Habits have the power to make or break your execution. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” 

Nowhere is this reality more apparent than in execution. 

You can have the noblest goals but, without systems in place to achieve those goals, you’ll never get off the starting line. 

You’ll do what you’ve always done and wonder why you’re getting the same results. 

To achieve excellence through execution, you’ve got to manage your own habits and then help your team members manage theirs. It goes back to the DITLO I described earlier—what happens in the Day In The Life Of your team. 

So, how do you make the right things habitual for your team? Identify the right things to do, then make them repeatable, sustainable, and scalable. Start by answering these questions:

  • What’s the workload?
    • Does it come to you segmented or does it need to be compartmentalized? 
    • Are there trends, patterns, and timing to follow? 
  • What are the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that lead to successful execution?
    • Do they exist by design or by default? 
    • How effective are they? Are they current? 
    • Do you know the steps in the process? 
  • Do you know your strengths and struggles, efficiencies and inefficiencies?
  • What are your output expectations? 
    • Are there checkpoints to ensure you get the outcome you need and provide accountability?

Working through these steps takes time. It’s not flashy, and it’s not always fun. 

And that’s why so few do it—and they fail to deliver excellence. 

But when you have answers to these questions, you can begin to work them into your DITLO and move to other steps in the process.

business-measurement

Are you ready to RACE with Excellence?

The bottom line is this: preparation is half the battle. Getting RACE-Ready with achievable team goals, clear member roles, and systemized habits will put you three steps ahead of the competition before the starting whistle blows. 

These goals, roles, and habits make up the foundation for excellent execution. 

You can be intentional, passionate, real, have a heart to serve, and integrate well, but if you fail to execute you’ve failed to do your job.

There’s no substitution for executing with excellence. But if you work the steps with excellence, execution takes care of itself.

If you or your team needs a proven guide to help you plan well in this Ready phase, just reach out.

The Real Reason Why Your Team Is Falling Short

How Much Leadership Currency Do You Have?

Trust is the currency of leadership.

It starts when your team can trust you and you can trust your team. It expands when other departments in the organization trust you as a leader and trust your team to execute on its promises and responsibilities.

It expands even further when your external customers trust you as an organization to deliver a solution to their needs and to do so in a valuable and timely manner.


Integration without trust is like a boat without a keel.


The keel is the strong backbone of a ship, made out of wood, metal, or other sturdy material. It juts down into the water beneath the boat like an upside-down shark fin and can weigh tons.

In fact, a keel can make up almost half of the overall weight of a typical sailboat. It needs to be sufficiently heavy to stabilize, while being light enough for agility and adaptation at speed.

You might think that something so heavy would immediately sink the ship. Instead, the weight works as ballast, keeping everything balanced in rough waters.

Trust works in the same way. When you have a team you can trust, through good days and bad, that you may wobble, but you won’t keel over.

Do You Have the Trust You Need?

There are two types of trust—relational and transactional.

When most people think of trust, they think of relational trust, because trust begins and ends on the strength of relationships. Every team has some sort of relationship history and these interconnected relationships either build up or erode trust.

Trust isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s built over hundreds of little moments of interaction between real, complex people with emotions, feelings, and fears. Thus, a powerful component of relational trust is positive intent—choosing to believe the best of team members first, and then doing the necessary research into a problem.

When any team struggles to believe the best of one another, communication breaks down, and growth grinds to a halt. The absence of relational trust makes everything exponentially more difficult to do.

But there’s another sort of trust that is equally necessary.

Transactional trust means you believe that a person or team can execute on your expectations, follow through, and get things done. It differs from relational trust in that you may trust someone to be a good person with the best of intentions, but whether or not they can be trusted to get the job done is another matter entirely.

Do you trust each other to deliver results? If someone promises to get something done, can you believe them?

If you can’t trust people or teams to deliver the results they promise, you’ve both got a big problem.

You may have people on your team whose integrity and ethics are top-notch, but who, unfortunately, lack the skill and competence to complete the task. That’s a breakdown in transactional trust that must be remedied.

In a business, transactional trust makes up a large part of the ballast that keeps the ship upright. If you have a person on your team that isn’t getting it done transactionally, that’s a place where you aren’t integrated and something needs to change.

Do you Choose Excuses or Results?

I always say that your team can choose excuses or results. Of course, it’s tempting to keep giving the benefit of the doubt and avoid confrontation, but that doesn’t do anybody any good. To build trust, you’ve got to address the problem and provide the training or guidance necessary to improve the situation.

Mistrust creates isolation and isolation in a team environment always leads to disaster. So, ask yourself:

  • Does my team trust me?
  • Do I trust my team?
  • Do external customers trust us?
  • Do other departments within the organization trust us?
  • Do I know what my team can and can’t do—and how to grow where we are lacking?

The best teams have this awareness in common. They know they can rely on each other to do the job well—and if there are problems, team members will speak up.

So which one will you choose for your team? Excuses or results? Isolation or trustworthy community?

If you’re just starting this leadership journey today, have grace with yourself and your team. Trust is built over time with integrity and honesty. Start by being trustworthy yourself. Next, look for ways to give other people a chance to be trustworthy with you.

Where do you see the need for more trust—relational or transactional—in your team? What conversations/steps will you take this week to begin moving back towards effective, efficient, and trusting performance?


Iditarod Lesson: If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying

ID 110356951 © Nikovfrmoto | Dreamstime.com

Out on the Iditarod trail, you will find the most talented mushers and teams in the world. But they didn’t walk into the sport as champions.

No, it required a process. It required a commitment to growth—at the personal and professional level.

Whether you’re an Alaskan musher or an entrepreneur, the highest rates of leadership satisfaction occur where people stretch themselves to learn or achieve something new. (I know that’s true for me!)

Growth doesn’t just happen—even for the talented. To find out if you are setting yourself up for meaningful growth, consider these 3 “trail necessities.”

1. Growth Requires Input

On the trail, as the winter snow melts away, new life emerges—fresh spring vegetation, running water, and another year of preparation. Even after the race ends, mushers begin creating new plans and identifying new growth opportunities for themselves and their teams.

The team that contents itself by remaining the same between races will start well behind every other pack next year.

When I believe that I’ve already “made it,” my creativity and curiosity deteriorate every time. On the other hand, new input always generates fresh energy.

Favorite inputs of mine include listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and engaging personal mentors. Whenever I get the chance to read even a couple chapters of a new book, I feel rebooted.

Let the hunger for growth fuel the fire of passion for your life and business. Today, it’s easier than ever to instantly find something to read, something to hear,  something to learn, somewhere to grow. So there is no excuse for standing still.

ID 56842215 © Hel080808 | Dreamstime.com

2. Growth Requires a Reason

Everyone improves for different reasons—but without a reason, you’ll be headed nowhere fast.

On the Iditarod trail, survival, competition, and the fulfillment of a lifetime of training keep the team on task. When I first started in leadership,  I was motivated to grow because I knew enough to know that I didn’t know enough.

I needed those experiences that brought me face-to-face with personal and professional shortcomings. Case in point: At age 18, I was #1 in sales for my department. So when the department management position became available, they turned to me to fill it.

I called my first manager’s meeting for the next Saturday with the agenda to teach everyone else in the department how to sell better.

No one showed up for the meeting. The pain of that event caused me to want to grow and learn.

Even after years of experience, I’m still growing and learning to extend my personal potential. Potential isn’t a destination; it’s the constant inspiration to keep moving.

There are still better ways to do what I do—better ways to lead, teach, speak, coach, facilitate, etc.

The trail of leadership is a lifetime journey. Whatever reason keeps you on the move—pain, potential, or even curiosity— write it down, post it up, keep it where you can always remember to stay inspired.

3. Growth Requires Accountability

On dog sled teams, when you’re strapped in with 15 other dogs and a musher, each member of the pack is encouraged to give their best work. None want to let the rest of the team down, because the consequences of checking out will affect more than themselves.

Keep an eye on that pressure. Sometimes it can crush, but in the right environment, it creates a “7th gear” of performance that the whole team benefits from. In the past I’ve used elements like:

  • Accountability partners that check in regularly
  • Committing to leading a team
  • Starting a club where you have to show up
  • Setting personal milestones or deadlines

It can be daunting to purposefully put yourself in a place of growth. But on the days where you would rather quit, that structure keeps you moving. And all movement forward is a lesson learned.

Launch today and find something or someone to commit to that will “harness” you into growth mode.

ID 92755935 © Prochasson Frederic | Dreamstime.com

Share Your Growth

For years, now stretching into decades, I have always come back to this principle of intentional growth.

I have had the great fortune of surrounding myself with people of a similar mindset who encouraged me, “If you will pour knowledge into yourself; if you will purpose to fill yourself with great knowledge, then you will become an incredible leader.”

Even if I am facing in the wrong direction and can only turn one degree each day—in 6 months, I can turn 180 degrees and be back on the right track!

I’d love to hear about your growth experiences. Feel free to share with the rest of us your favorite method for learning and growth. You never know when your comment will be the one that touches someone else.

Thanks for being a part of the leadership adventure! See you out on the trail!

3 Tips to Communicate with Your Team (Like an Iditarod Master Musher)

Those who can communicate well can change the world. (And often do!) It’s a trend you can track in every industry—from mainstream to niche market.

While spending weeks in the Alaskan wilderness with veteran Iditarod mushers and their dog teams, I discovered invaluable lessons about communication.  

Those who learn to shape their message, effectively transfer it, and motivate others to action are the ones who often rise in leadership within an organization.  

They become the team’s Musher!

Corporate “mushers” that have difficulty communicating lose support for existing initiatives, rarely gain support for new initiatives, and are left with only their title or positional power to force team engagement.

So, straight from the pack professionals, here are three communication tips (and one warning) you can apply to your team right NOW.

1. Avoid the Overwhelm by Keeping It Simple

You don’t have to flood your team with words to get them to action. But you do have to be clear, concise, and direct.

In dog sled racing, you may be surprised to learn they do not use whips or reigns. In order to control, motivate, correct, and adjust, the leader verbally communicates with the team.

Mushing has its own language of about 10 to 20 words—that’s it.  

Mush! Hike! Gee. Haw. Line out. Pick it up. Whoa. On By. Come.

When it comes to directing the team and leading them toward an actionable result, veiled references or cloudy innuendoes won’t cut it. (I haven’t heard of any Husky claiming to be psychic!)

For years, my own communication weakness was to suggest a course of action that actually needed to happen quickly for the sake of the company.  

When the team failed to act or make course correction swiftly enough, I moved into “command and control” mode. Neither extreme works well and the combination of the two is certainly not recommended!

The simplicity of a leader’s language reflects his or her ability to communicate with the team with speed and precision, and then inspire action.

2. Identify Your Communication Landscapes

When mushing my own team through the Alaskan outdoors, I remember getting so caught up with the trail at times that I forgot to take in the landscape. Not only was it beautiful, but it was also always changing.

Just like the Iditarod has different challenges on different parts of the trail, so does your business communication. How we navigate each of those affects our race success.

Landscapes on the communication trail are:

  • one-on-one conversations
  • one-to-many conversations
  • meetings
  • vision casting
  • presentations
  • confrontation
  • demonstration
  • delegation
  • accountability

And the list goes on…..

I encourage you to take a minute today to think about your communication strengths and weaknesses. Where on the trail are you strong in communication and where are you weak?

3. Action Affects Belief

Did you know that every day you say a lot to your team—without speaking a word?

In the dog kennels we could instantly tell which dogs belonged to each musher because the pack mirrored their leader’s energy.

My Norwegian mentor, Nils, created a sense of stoic, serene strength in his pack. They didn’t jump or howl, but waited patiently for the next training run, feed, or move.  He believed this self-control made the entire pack stronger.

Another musher led a team of exuberant dogs. (You couldn’t miss them.) He could work them up into a frenzy of excitement for the race ahead, and he took encouragement from their energy.

While I knew Nils dogs ran well under his training, I also loved how the loud pack spurred each other on and amplified this sense of adventure.

Two successful teams. Two different cultures. Two different communication styles.

Each team behavior, however, originated from the leader’s belief in what makes his team work best. Each leader believed in a certain team culture, revealed that belief through specific training decisions, then watched that belief translate to the team.

Of course, different projects or ventures may require teams that match the energy and creativity of the situation. They will always, however, end up reflecting the tone you set as the leader.

But Watch Out…

The fact is that none of us sees reality.  All that we see is OUR reality.

Every one of us sees life through our own “sunglasses,” and through those lenses the world is “bent” to become our world—our perception. We all have sunglasses, and they almost never leave our eyes.

Great leaders understand the value of their lenses—but take the time to look past it and understand their team.

If your pack sees a totally different landscape than you, it makes sense that they won’t go where you direct— because that way just won’t make sense to their lenses.

Shout and push all you want, but until there is an understanding, a compromise, or a strong faith in your intuition, the team as a whole will not progress. (Remember, mushers don’t rely on whips to move their teams. Instead they practice communication.)

When leaders can adapt their vision for the inclusion of the team—while staying true to the belief that made them set out to race in the first place, that’s where you will find a winning team.

Catalyze Your Success with Communication

Communication is one of the greatest assets, not only a dog racing team, but your corporate/team culture can develop, to gain the highest rate of return.

When people can communicate with clarity, goals are achieved easily, and swiftly. When employees have an open understanding of the way others think and feel, they are able to manage conflict, overcome challenges, and communicate solutions quickly.

Let your team know they are just that: a TEAM brought together under a common mission.

If you feel like could use some guidance on improving communication in your team, drop me a note using the form below.

You can finish the race strong if you keep it simple, identify your communication landscape, shape the culture with your actions, and learn to see through new lenses.


How Iditarod Can Help You Create a Winning Team

Part of what makes the great Iditarod race such an inspirational feat is the level of teamwork necessary at every step.

What looks like a bunch of dogs all doing the same job is actually a multi-faceted team—trained, orchestrated, and equipped by their musher.

A full team is made up of 16 dogs, running in 4 different positions. Every dog has a particular strength, and every musher knows exactly which dogs will play each position best.

It takes the same analysis and social understanding to create a winning team in the workplace!

Let’s look at each pack member in detail and how their strengths translate to your team. Keep in mind which of your own members would thrive in each position.

Who Are Your Lead Dogs?

Lead dogs know their way on the trail without being watched, and you can trust them to make decisions guiding others on the team.

Lead dogs are smart, possess initiative, common sense, and the ability to perform even in less-than-ideal conditions.

How can you tell which of your team members will execute well as a Lead?

Some will take that initiative pretty early. But sometimes you take a leap of faith on an untested pack member— and they surprise you

Let the Leads get to know your heart, and keep them close. Learn to develop a mutual intuition, and give them access where the rest of the team might not have.

Watch for their health so you don’t have to replace them. Make sure their “paws” are in good shape—in other words, make sure they are free to run without anything hindering their running with full potential.

Stay Prepared with Swing Dogs

The best teams have members who can operate in other positions. The Lead can be a burdensome place that wears, wearies, and stresses.

So it’s natural for mushers to have their ‘leaders in waiting’ to run in the next position—which is Swing. These dogs have to be leaders in their own right, and for many, becoming that Lead dog is the next natural step.

Swing dogs are directly behind the leader, understanding the leader’s moves and translating that to the rest of the team.

They ‘swing’ the rest of the team behind them in turns or curves on the trail. They protect the Lead dogs from attempting a turn—only to find the rest of the team choosing not to follow!

They are crucial to making sure everyone makes the journey and stays in sync.

Pro tip: When Swing dogs are able to rotate with the Leads, both sets will remain fresh and the results will show.

The Powerhouses: Your Team Dogs

Not everyone on your team will be a Lead dog. In fact, if you had a pack full of them, your mission would probably fail. Chaos would ensue with everyone trying to lead.

That’s why, settled in the middle, are Team dogs.

They don’t have to be concerned with the stress of leading, and the sled is a comfortable distance behind them. They are free to simply pull with power and run.

These pack members make up the momentum and pull as you need to get the race done. To get the project finished. To keep going towards the prize.

Most of your Team dogs will never be Lead, and they are fine with that. But you know what? If we didn’t have them, we couldn’t do what we do. They are vital to every pack—and every business.

We should accept that the race is not their life—and let them run from 8 to 5 as hard as they can, then clock out and leave it all.

Steady the Sled with Wheel Dogs

Wheel dogs run at the back of the pack, but are important for the steadying element they bring the entire team.

It takes a calm and even temperament to run close to the jolting, unpredictable sled.

These dogs know how to pull with power and steadiness to maneuver the sled around turns and rough bumps. (Not all dogs can handle it, nor should they.)

The “sled” is not always pretty—things like cash flow and layoffs and contingency planning. There are things in your business that not every pack member needs to see and will scare some off.

Which people do you allow close to the sled of business?

Team dogs need to run unhindered from the burdens of the sled. But remember, even Wheel dogs that are closest to the sled are still not on the sled itself.

Though Wheel dogs are seasoned confidantes, people you count on to help you turn the business, they’re not meant to be pack mules for your emotional burdens.

Keep an eye on those boundaries, establish outside sources of emotional care and support, and you’ll keep the Wheel runners—as well as the team as a whole—healthy.

Create Your Racing Team

Of course, your people aren’t actual racing dogs. And you probably don’t wake up every morning, tie on your fur hat, and climb into a wooden sled.

But it’s still true that how well your team performs is in direct proportion to how well you know your people and put them in the right spot on the team.

All positions are necessary. Knowing which ones your team members naturally play and allowing them to run there not only increases their satisfaction, but can lead to better team performance in the long run.

Building the perfect team is rarely a sprint—more like an adventure of endurance that is wildly rewarding to those who take the time to learn and truly prepare.

As always, if I can help you maximize your team’s unique talent, drop me a note using the form below.