It’s true- you have influence.  People notice your actions and your words.

If you are a leader – at work, at home, in the community – in any capacity, people do pay attention to what you do and what you say.  Every interaction or observation can leave a lasting impression.

It’s up to you to decide if the impression left will be positive or negative.

I was reminded of the impact individuals have on those around them several times recently on both a personal and professional level.  It can be frightening and humbling.

Frightening when you realize that you don’t always live up to your own expectations much less the example you want to be for others.

Humbling to realize that no matter your circumstances, you have an impact.

It can also be energizing. As a leader in your company and your neighborhood, you have the potential to quietly make a tremendous impact – often without saying a word.

Are you living up to your stated values and beliefs?  Does every interaction make a deposit or withdrawal from someone’s emotional bank account?  Are you living life as a servant leader putting others first?  Does your presence inspire your team?

If you can answer “yes” to all the questions above, you are a leader no matter what your role.  You have influence.

How can you be more successful?  I’ve read a number of blogs and articles recently about how successful people start their day or the habits they follow.  As I reflected on the insights in those articles, two things became apparent.

First, people want to implement simple changes to make them more productive.

Second, helping businesses improve their processes is enhanced by helping individuals make the most of their time.

In light of those “aha moments” here are some easy-to-follow habits to help you use your time well.  Not everything will work for everyone, so try them and see what works for you.  The important takeaway is for you to feel more organized, in control, and less stressed by adjusting your routine.

Take control of your email.

  • Don’t leave messages unread when you leave for the day. Otherwise you are starting off the next day already behind.
  • Respond, file, or delete email when you read it the first time. If you need to take action later, flag it or leave it in your inbox.
  • Create rules for emails you receive on a regular basis, especially ones that are informational only. Let your email client help you keep the important ones front and center.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists you no longer value to eliminate clutter.

Start your day right.

  • Check your email first thing in the morning when you get up. Reply to the ones needed and send any new messages on items that are on your mind.
  • After your morning check-in is over, get some exercise and eat a good breakfast.

Build a routine and eliminate unnecessary decisions.

  • Eat the same thing each morning or prepare breakfast in advance the night before.
  • Pack your bag for the gym the night before.
  • Put the items you need for the day together so you can grab them all at once as you head out the door and not have to track things down (or forget them altogether).
  • Take a 5- or 10-minute break in the morning and afternoon to walk around. Getting away from your desk helps clear your mind re-energizes your body.
  • Keep a To Do list and mark off items as you complete them.
  • Give yourself deadlines.
  • Periodically clean your desk by throwing out or filing items that have accumulated.
  • Put time on your calendar to reflect on your business or job and what you need to do to make it more valuable or profitable.

According to a Gallup report, only 34% of US employees are actively engaged in their jobs.  Gallup defines “engaged” as “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

What about the other 66%?  13% are “actively disengaged,” and a whopping 53% are “not engaged” which means they show up and do their work but they aren’t connected to their work or their workplace.

Disengaged employees cost you money.  It is estimated that absenteeism, churn, and lack of motivation – signs of a lack of engagement – cost companies around $500 billion per year.

Writing for Small Business Trends, Victor Snyder, a business coach, says that business leaders should avoid these three things that cause employee disengagement:

  • Poor communication with employees
  • Ignoring your personal brand
  • Failing to develop leaders

If you make an honest assessment of your business, are you creating an environment that fosters engagement?

If you are a business owner or leader of a team, repeat after me: “It’s all my fault.”

Wait, what? Yes, the buck stops with you. You are ultimately responsible for your team’s success.

Let’s assume that you have hired a great team. Bright “go-getters” who want nothing more than to be part of a winning team. To succeed in their chosen career. To make a difference. But…

Maybe it seems all you do is put out fires. Maybe the smiles are gone from your employees’ faces. Maybe they are checking out internet job boards for new challenges. Maybe your customers are looking for greener pastures. These are just some of the signs that you haven’t set your team up for success.

Sure, they receive a fair salary in exchange for their efforts, they have good benefits, and they like the casual dress code and the free snacks in the break room, but you haven’t given them the tools they need for success. So what is missing?

Clear goals and consistent feedback.

They need a clear challenge. What are your goals for the year? If your team can’t immediately tell you what they are trying to accomplish for the year, then your chances of success are almost nil. Tell them! Be specific.

Let your team know if they are winning. Once you’ve spelled out the goals, make sure your team knows the score. They really want to win, and the only way to know if they are is to see the results compared to the goal. So tell them! If they are winning, take time to celebrate the success or milestones along the way. Making your goals should be fun.

Hold people accountable. Few things will frustrate team members than someone else who isn’t pulling their weight. That individual will drag an entire team down. When people make mistakes or simply aren’t doing what is expected of them, it is your job as the leader to hold them accountable. Your team expects nothing less – after all, that’s your job as a leader.

The three factors above can do wonders for a group. Consistently ensuring those three activities are performed is the foundation of leadership and will move your team toward hitting your goals.

But that’s not all. There are a couple of other responsibilities your team expects from you. And they aren’t always easy.

Remove people who aren’t working out. As hard as you might try, not every hire is a home run. Some just don’t work out despite all your efforts. Your team knows it, too. If someone isn’t a good fit for the team, whether is it a mismatch of values and culture, missing skills, or anything else, keeping that individual does not help the team and in fact hurts them. It’s your job to make the tough call for the good of the team.

Be open to feedback. Your team has ideas that need to be heard. They do the work day in and day out and have insight on what’s working and what isn’t. Let them tell you so you can benefit from their experience. At the same time, you both must understand that not all good ideas can be implemented. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, once said that “We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number, so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose, so that we can deliver the best products in the world.”

Your team’s success or lack thereof is ultimately your responsibility. They need clear direction, focus, and feedback, and you have to remove the roadblocks. Doing your job by equipping your team makes your team’s job much easier.

Leaders of all kinds – from CEOs to department managers to Little League coaches, in businesses, non-profits, and volunteer organizations – take on responsibilities that not everyone wants.  Most leaders step into those roles because they feel called to lead.  It’s their duty.  Yes, the recognition and financial rewards may be desirable, but those rewards are not enough to keep a leader motivated.  It’s their calling, their contribution to the organization or the community, and leaders don’t shirk their responsibilities. 

Leaders are called to do many things. They create a vision for the organization.  They develop strategies to achieve goals.  They inspire the team when the chips are down.  They take responsibility when things go wrong.  And they do things too numerous to mention that don’t even get noticed. 

When leaders are engaged in the day to day and doing their best to fulfill their role to the organization, there is on thing they can’t forget:  they don’t lead a business (or department, or club), they lead people. 

What’s the difference?  Only people can follow you.  A leader has followers:  people who believe in the vision and direction of their leader.  Systems, processes, buildings, and ideas are tools of the leaders and followers; they are useless without team members to use them to go where their leader is taking them.

In the midst of the whirlwind, leaders must not forget the people they lead.  They won’t be successful without them.  How can a leader make sure he or she doesn’t forget the people they lead?

Be visible.  Schedule time to be in the office.  Let the team see you and know you are engaged.  People want to talk to the people who are leading them.  Despite all the great advances in technology, talking to someone in person has a profound impact.

Get to know people.  In a large organization, it may be impossible to know everyone on the team but spending time with some individuals up and down the org chart will reap benefits throughout the organization.  Spend time talking to people as you walk around, in the break room, or at lunch.  It doesn’t need to be something about work either.  Learn something about them and their families.  Work is only one aspect of their lives.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  A leader must keep the team informed.  Are we making progress?  Are we reaching our goals?  Do we need to change?  What dangers do we face?  Make checking in with your team a regular part of your schedule. 

Listen.  Listen more than you talk. Your team has a lot of knowledge from their position on the front lines.  They see problems and have answers the leader may not have insight into.  Your decisions have a real impact on real people and sometimes they just want to know you care. 

Anyone who considers themselves a leader needs to look around everyone once in a while and make sure people are still following them.

“What do I need to do to I move up in the organization?” Whether I’m mentoring people just starting out in their careers or coaching an employee one-on-one, that is an often-asked question. Many assume learning a new product or service, earning certifications, or going back to school is the answer. I encourage people to always look for opportunities to learn more about life, work, and the world around us, and while that is well and good, it may not be the best way to move up the ladder in your career if that is your primary reason for learning.

Often it is not what you do, but rather how you do it that makes you successful and gives you new opportunities.

Yes, it is important to be competent and knowledgeable about your job and your industry. That’s the cost of admission. Unless you are entering a company or a role as an intern or in a training program, you must have the basic skills to perform the job or build upon them. And you should continue to grow those skills as you mature in the role.

If you don’t have the expertise needed for the role you hold and training doesn’t help, you won’t be in it very long – if your manager is doing his or her job. I contend that most people have the ability to learn and become proficient in new skills too and to move to new responsibilities within the organization that are different from the role in which they started. A younger worker may try out several different roles in different companies before discovering his gifts and passion.

So, if most employees have a set of applicable skills, why do some seem to move forward in their careers while others stagnate? The ones moving forward have figured out that attitude matters. That’s right – how you do your job is as important as what you do in your job.

Say what? Clocking in and taking care of my responsibilities isn’t enough? No, not if you want to be more valuable to the organization. Think of the people you admire at work and the ones who get ahead — what do you see in them? I expect you see people who do some of the following:

They have integrity. Their actions are always above board. They don’t do or say things that make you question their character.

They hold themselves and others accountable. They plainly say what they will do and then do what they say.

They lend a hand. If they can pitch in and do something to help someone else, they do. Everyone needs help sometime to meet a ridiculous deadline or deal with an urgent issue.

They realize that everyone in the company is on the same team. Everyone in the company is trying to do their part to make the company successful regardless of their role.

They know that every job and every person in the company is important. And they treat everyone with respect because of that fact. If the job weren’t important, it wouldn’t exist.

They volunteer. They take on special projects that aren’t necessarily part of their job. They teach others. They plan the next company outing. They decorate the office for the holidays and bring breakfast for the team.

They have a winning attitude. And it’s contagious.

They make mistakes. They make mistakes because they are trying hard and looking for better ways to do things, and they won’t always get it right the first time.

Take an inventory of yourself at work. If you want to move your career forward, are you focusing on what you do or how you do it?