Note: This article is updated at 10 Free Leadership Tools for Work and Life.
As one of my wise mentors always said, “If it’s free, it’s for me.” (Tom, are you out there?) Here is a quick list of free leadership tools you can use today, right now, to change your game. These tools are battle-tested and have stood the test of time. The beauty is you can take them wherever you go because they are leadership tools for your mind.
If you want the lion's share of impact, then you need tools for today's world. It's an ever-changing landscape, and things can rapidly change under your feet. It's the information age, so the right tools, accordingly are information tools. They are tools for your mind, to help you organize, prioritize, and gain clarity and control over your actions and your thoughts. They also help shape your feelings. A great deal of your action is shaped by how you feel. If you feel overwhelmed, that is not your power stance. You achieve way more, with less effort and more impact, when you feel unstoppable.
That is the purpose of these tools – to bring out your best.
These tools help you unleash your capability and funnel your action and energy into more meaningful impact. Through focus and clarity, you amplify your impact. By using a system with pluggable parts, it's easy to swap tools in and out, to find the ones that work best for you. Because it's a system, you can tune and prune it to get better results, and they keep getting better over time.
10 Free Leadership Tools for Making Things Happen
Here are free tools that you can add to your leadership toolbox:
- Agile Results System. This is the pluggable system. Agile Results is a personal results system for work and life. You can think of it as a simple system for producing meaningful results. It's works for individuals and it works for teams. It's also a highly effective time management system that puts an emphasis on flowing value to yourself and others. It also helps you make time for what's important. I've used it to lead more than 30 projects at Microsoft. Around the world, people are using it for everything from business transformation to re-energizing their teams and leaders. It's free. You can get it today at http://GettingResults.com (BTW – if you didn’t notice the acronym, it’s how to kick-ARS in work and life.)
- The Rule of Three. This is your leadership tool to avoid information overload. You can use The Rule of Three to chop problems down to size. It's also a way to help keep your mind organized among the chaos. You can use it any situation where you feel overwhelmed or have fallen into the trap of analysis paralysis. Simply identify three actions to take. Or, simply identify three take aways from any meeting. If you are trying to get your priorities in order, start with the top three. Bubble things up. The Rule of Three makes it easy to manage your mind, and manage your actions.
- Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection. This is a free leadership tool for driving results each week. It works by focusing on three wins each week and three wins each day. Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection is simple to use. On Mondays, you identify three wins that you want for the week. Each day, you identify three wins for that day. On Fridays, you identify three things going well and three things to improve. The power comes from clarity in terms of priorities. Another benefit is that you are taking both a fresh look each day, as well as zooming out to your week. Additionally, you create a powerful learning loop through Friday Reflection so each week you are testing, learning, and adapting, while flowing value.
- Weekly Outcomes. This is a free leadership tool to take Monday Vision to the next level. The idea is to first dump out all the things that are top of mind, and then identify your top three wins for the week. This is a powerful leadership tool for driving clarity across the team, and for showcasing progress. It's also a powerful way to troubleshoot execution issues. On Monday's, simply write down the list of the work to be done, and put it in A-Z order. This forces you to name things well. It also helps you clear you mind, by dumping it down onto paper. It also gives you a simple place to look for the week's work. After you have your list, which is ultimately a "brain dump", you next identify the three wins that you want for this week. You simply bubble those to the top. You now have a very simple list of your three wins, and then your A-Z list of top of mind issues and work to be done. This puts you in the driver's seat to create clear and compelling goals, as well as drive priorities with precision. The beauty is, you can also easily share this list with your team. In fact, it's a great way to co-create the week together. What I do is this ... each Monday (or Sunday night), I start a new email with the subject line: Weekly Outcomes: 05/07/2012 (or whatever Monday's date is.). I then do a fast dump of all the work I'd like to achieve with the team. I then bubble up three wins. I then send it out to the team and ask them to identify anything I've missed, or to reshape or re-prioritize the wins, based on their vantage point. The beauty of this approach is that it works with distributed teams. Throughout the week, you also have a handy list to refer to, and it can help keep your grounded while everything around you might be moving about. See Weekly Outcomes: The Simple Weekly Planner.
- Monthly Theme. This is a very simple, but very powerful free leadership tool. The idea here is to identify a driving theme or priority for the month. Having a theme makes it easy for everybody to contribute to the initiative. For example, you might choose a theme of "simplicity" or a theme of "fun." Whatever theme you choose, it should be relevant to a top concern that you want to address, and this helps get some extra elbow grease on the problem. Having the theme gives the team an overall sense of purpose, and a way to connect what they do back to a bigger picture. It makes the month more meaningful and the little extra efforts across the team on a daily basis, add up very quickly to exponential results. If you don't have a theme for this month, simply identify one and start to socialize it. You can quickly build a coalition in your favor if you pick a theme that people care about. For example, a theme that I'm focused on now is "friction free delivery" where I want to streamline our consultants for world-class delivery in a way that's simple, effective, and repeatable, that gets the friction out. Friction is anything from looking for assets or templates they need to figuring out what the anatomy of a great engagement looks like. It also includes simplifying any tools or content to better support a "grab and go" approach over having to wallow and absorb how to put things together.
- Ten at Ten. This is one of my favorite tools for reducing email and administration overhead and getting everybody on the same page fast. It's simply a stand-up meeting. I tend to have them at 10:00, and I set a limit of 10 minutes. This way people look forward to the meeting as a way to very quickly catch up with each other, and to stay on top of what's going on, and what's important. The way it works is I go around the (virtual) room, and each person identifies what they got done yesterday, what they're getting done today, and any help they need. It's a fast process, although it can take practice in the beginning. When I first started, I had to get in the habit of hanging up on people if it went past 10 minutes. People very quickly realized that the ten minute meeting was serious. Also, as issues came up, if they weren't fast to solve on the fly and felt like a distraction, then we had to learn to take them offline. Eventually, this helped build a case for a recurring team meeting where we could drill deeper into recurring issues or patterns, and focus on improving overall team effectiveness.
- Show and Tells. This is one of the best free leadership tools for helping enforce accountability. The idea is this ... each week, have a recurring meeting where the point is to demo the work. It gives people that have done great things, a great way to showcase their work. For people that aren't delivering, it gives them a chance to feel some accountability to the team. The most important problem it solves though, is that it helps people own demonstrating the value of their work. It's one thing to do the work. It's another to demo the work. When you demo the work, it puts you in the mindset of the user, and you have to simplify your work so that it can be well-understood. This process also helps the team air their dirty laundry among each other before going public. That said, it's also a great way to showcase with customers, as long as the team has reached a level of maturity with their ideas, and is open to external feedback. I made it a habit to include customers during our show and tells to really help spot problems early and make sure the pains and needs are being addressed. The earlier the better, although there is such a thing as too early. The is one of the most powerful leadership tools for really helping teams own improving their user experience. It also is a powerful leadership tool in terms of helping people feel valued for the work they do. The easier things are to demo, the easier it is to tell and sell the story. It helps people practice their sticky messages and to feel a sense of progress. It's also a way to build buzz and build momentum, while helping the team gain clarity across the team of what the different folks are bringing to the table.
- 30 Day Improvement Sprints. Simply pick a focus to work on and commit to improving it for a 30 day timebox. Committing to 30 days of improvement in a focused area, is easier to swallow than changing for life. However, improving an area for 30 days, is actually life changing. With 30 days, persistence and time are on your side. It's a big enough time box that you can try different techniques, while building proficiency. Using 30 days makes working through hurdles easier too. A lot of the hurdles you hit in you first week, are gone by week two. Little improvements each day, add up quickly. If you look back on how many things you tried for a week and stopped thinking you hadn't made progress, the reality might be that you didn’t get to week two to see your results. This is a great approach for building muscle on the team when adopting new habits or practices.
- Strong Week. This is a powerful leadership tool for maximizing the impact of the overall team. The idea is to have everybody spending more time in their strengths. You can actually design a strong week by identifying the activities that make you strong, and reducing the activities that make you weak or drain you. As you can imagine, this can dramatically amplify the results from each person on the team because you are deliberately having them spend more time in the things they do well and bring them to life. This is one of the most effective tools I use to help anybody I mentor instantly start producing better, faster, more meaningful results. For a step-by-step How To that walks through the process, see How To Have a Strong Week.
- Guidelines for Focus. When it comes to leadership tools, focus is your friend. One of he best ways to rapidly improve your results is to narrow your focus. When you narrow your focus, you gain clarity on outcomes, and you can both measure and feel your impact with more precision. You can also build momentum more quickly and this will quickly turn into a snowball of success that rolls in your favor. Here is a comprehensive set of focus guidelines that you can use to really hone your ability to focus.
Although you can do anything I’ve explained here on paper, on a whiteboard, or electronically, I do have a set of template you can use that might help with some things. You can find the templates here:
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