Great leaders sort through complexity to create clarity for their teams, Maureen Falvey, leadership coach and trainer, told attendees at the Promax Conference 2019 at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Tuesday. And that process starts with themselves through focus, communication and trust.

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Falvey offered the audience three gems to take to create clarity for yourself, and, in turn, your team.

The first of those is focus, which is crucial to employ if you are going to optimize your time, and thus your life.

“Time is the second most important asset we have after our health,” said Falvey.

Some of us are single mothers with full-time jobs, others of us are single people with three part-time jobs and still others are CEOs who schedule every minute of their working day. But all of us have the same 24 hours in a day. The challenge is making those 24 hours work best for you.

When Falvey was still working for advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi, overseeing some 50 people, one of her team members came into her office and said, “I would like to give you some feedback. Are you available to hear it?”

She said yes, but with the caveat that she was “really busy.”

Funnily enough, the feedback was that whenever a member of her team approached her, she always told him or her that she was very busy. The result was that the person did not feel comfortable in approaching her, and this person was concerned that this would make Falvey’s team less effective.

She immediately realized that, in fact, she had done just that not 30 seconds prior and she needed to look more closely at this habit. She concluded she was doing it in an attempt to protect her time, but the practice was having unintended consequences.

To improve the situation, she started offering an open office hour at a designated time so people could feel free to come talk to her and she wouldn’t feel like her time was being infringed on or stolen from her.

“Busy is the dirtiest of the four-letter words. Everyone is busy. Everyone fills their 24 hours. When we say to people I’m so busy – you never think ‘boy, you must be important.’ You think the person doesn’t have their shit together.”

The truth is that the busiest and most important among us are often the most organized and disciplined about the time, and they accomplish that with practices everyone can adopt.

Falvey’s recommendation is to “be like Ike. Dwight Eisenhower was the 43rd president and he served two terms. He was definitely busy. But somehow he also found time to play golf and oil paint.

“I have interviewed many CEOs and they are more likely to have hobbies than other people. That is because they block and tackle their time.”

As Eisenhower himself said: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Protecting your time requires scheduling and planning. “If it’s important, put it in your calendar and make time for it. If it’s not important and not urgent, then you are living life accidentally and not on purpose. Ask yourself: Am I choosing it or did it choose me?”

Here’s the truth, Falvey said: “We don’t want to have it all. We want less but better.”

Within that practice of focus, Falvey suggested three things people can to do to streamline their days.

First, in the words of Mark Twain, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

That’s not to be taken too literally, but if something seems hard and you don’t want to do it, don’t put it off. Do it first.

“Your brain doesn’t like hard stuff, it likes habits and immediate gratification. Don’t spend the whole day wondering if you are going to do it,” said Falvey.

Second, motivational speaker Mel Robbins tells people to use the five-second rule. When you don’t want to do something such as have a hard conversation or take on a difficult task, count yourself down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then start.

“Five seconds is the difference between our excuses and our actions,” said Falvey. “The five-second rule is the tool we use to override the part of our brain that says, ‘I don’t feel like it.’ Whether it’s a phone call you are afraid to make, feedback you need to give or a conversation with a client when things aren’t going well.”

And third, “routinize” what you can. “Forty percent of what we do out of the day is a habit,” said Falvey. “We don’t have to overthink everything. Capitalize on that.”

So for example, if you make getting up in the morning and going to the gym into a habit—in effect, taking the decision-making out of it—it becomes something that gets done without you having to think about it.

“Set good habits so you don’t have to think anymore and then you’re free,” said Falvey.

The second gem is communication.

“Communicate with people clearly, transparently and all the time,” said Falvey.

According to the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, “Our work, our relationships, our very lives, succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”

And to add to that, “it’s the conversations we’re not having that determine our failure,” said Falvey.

That communication starts with listening to your team. From there – and especially with people joining the workforce who are used to the constant feedback of social media – it involves giving and receiving considered feedback.

And that feedback needs to be specific, “otherwise the person doesn’t know what they did a great job doing. If your feedback is empty, you lose trust with that person,” said Falvey. “Remember that your intention in giving feedback is to help and to serve.”

Falvey provided four steps to successfully giving feedback:

1) Ask someone if you can give feedback.

2) Describe the specific behavior or outcome.

3) Communicate the impact and the shared goal.

4) Ask for their feedback on the information you have just given them, and let them know that they can take a little time before responding. “The flight or fight thing is real. The desire to be loved exactly as we are is real,” Falvey said.

Finally, the third major gem is to trust and believe in your team and act in a way that lets them know that.

“Americans have the lowest level of happiness and work-life satisfaction than any other developed country,” said Falvey.

Much of that is because many American employees don’t feel empowered or trusted by their employers or management.

As Oprah Winfrey said, “leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”

Said Falvey: “When employees feel empowered, magical things happen.”

Appropriately, Falvey closed with a quote from J.W. Marriott: “Your customer is not your most important person, it’s your employee. When you take care of your employee, they will take care of your customer and your business will thrive.”

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