Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Watch out - they might just believe you

One of the adjustments you have to make when taking on a leadership role is the assumed credibility associated with your job.  Yesterday you might have been the average Joe or Jane who went out for beers and laughs with the crowd, but today you're the boss.  You might not view yourself as changed, but for other people you're not the person you were before your promotion.

Regardless of whether you transition into your new suit of clothes by trying to stay approachable in a peer-leader sort of way or by laying on the authority pretty thickly, this isn't about you.  This is about the perceptions of the other people who interact with you, and about their assumptions regarding leadership and leaders.  Whether you asked for it or not, you're now in charge and you need to know that your words and actions have more impact than they had yesterday - because you're now in charge.

If you take this responsibility, this role seriously, you might consider doing some things differently:
  • Resist the urge to rant unless there's a really good reason to do so.  People are looking up to you now, and they want to be able to feel like you've got things - including yourself and your emotions - under control.
  • Avoid making personal ties (or personal grudges) the reason for your decisions.  Perceived favoritism is one of the most efficient morale-busters there is in the workplace.  Even in environments where it is expected somewhat, like in family-owned businesses, employees still react negatively when one person has less accountability than another because of their relationship with the boss.
  • Be careful what you say - they might just believe you.  You don't have to look further than the front page of the newspaper to see that leaders can be taken literally, even when (they say) they don't mean anything by it.  "Reload" doesn't just mean "come back again and try harder" to some people - in the ears of a concrete thinker it means "go get your weapon and make it ready for firing."  Really. 
  • Don't make promises lightly.  Don't toss them off without some degree of confidence that they will be fulfilled. This is a corollary to the prior point.  When you make a commitment you are creating the potential to increase your power and influence.  If, however, you don't come through your unfulfilled promise will be remembered as evidence that you can't be trusted.   And as a leader, trust is the main asset you've got. 
  • Catch them doing something right.  In your first few months in a new leadership role you're being tested, and not just by the boss or your shareholders.  Your employees are figuring out whether you're worth going out of their way for.  They are deciding whether or not they should be firmly on your team.  When you catch them doing something right and acknowledge it and show appreciation (especially publicly) you set the stage for a repeat performance.  And with the combined efforts of the members of your team you can be unstoppable.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why change is a four-letter word for many

Fear of change (rather fear of being changed) is one of the biggest obstacles in trying to achieve improvement.  You might think that the benefits of improvement would be obvious - but even the best changes can create the feeling that the rug is being pulled out from underneath.

One one hand is the comfort with the known, even when it's not all that great.  People understand how to cope with it because they've got history with it.  When Trouble pops its little head into the room they delve into their trusty tool kit, pull out the well-worn hammer and have at it until Trouble goes away.  Unfortunately, that pesky little critter won't stay gone, so they have grown accustomed to having their hammers at the ready.

Even when Trouble causes mistakes, delays, and conflicts - folks know what to do with it.  But what are they to do if their hammers are taken away?  Even if they are told that Trouble has been deported and they won't need them anymore, they are reluctant to part with their hammers.  They've gotten good at hammering.  And furthermore, what will they do all day without Trouble to hammer?  Hammering has provided job security!

Another source of change-related fear is the idea that somebody else is going to be making the choices about whatever change is going to happen.  How many times our parents said to us, "You'll make those decisions for yourself once you're up and out of the house and paying your own bills.  In the meantime you'll do as I say!"  Well, we're out of the house now, paying our own bills, we're educated, and still somebody is telling us what to do!

You know as well as I do that a person prefers his or her own answers.  We know our own thought process, so we understand our rationale, values, etc.  In addition, often the "powers that be" who are making the decisions are at least one (probably way more) level removed from the real situation.  The likelihood that they will have a real grasp of the Trouble is rather small.  This isn't an indictment of leaders - it's simply a fact of proximity.  Whoever is closest to the issue will have the most information about it.  The person who does the work knows the most about the work.

Less-than-satisfactory history with change also contributes to fears that arise when the C-word is mentioned.  It's likely that sometime in the past an attempted change was abandoned because the results didn't come quickly enough, or because it was too hard.  It's also possible that the actions taken didn't achieve the results that were desired, and so the person is skeptical about "wasting" more energy and risking disappointment.

Gosh, this sounds rather dark, doesn't it?  This doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive for improvement - what it means is that we as leaders can do a better job of leading change efforts when we acknowledge the thoughts and feelings that people have about it.  We can structure our efforts to help people experience early wins to help them gain confidence in the real possibility of improvement, and we help them find new tools - not just their trusty old hammers - with which to be effective.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Do you want to know what's REALLY in the health care reform law?

During the past week the new health care law has been both celebrated and vilified.  Reactions have been, in some cases, violent.  Political rhetoric by legislators and commentators has been taken literally, interpreted by some as a call to arms against "government overtake of our health care." 

While it is easier and perhaps more efficient for some people to eat pre-chewed food from an information perspective, you're not getting the full and accurate information unless you go to the source.  So I'm providing a link to a summary of the actual legislation, provided by Kaiser Family Foundation.  See for yourself whether you think the law will serve your interests or not.  Then tell someone else where to find it so they too can see for themselves.

Free speech is guaranteed in our constitution.  That means that even the fervently uninformed, completely misguided and duped have the right to spout off.  But freedom also includes responsibility - in this case the responsibility to find out the facts to keep misinformation from getting even more traction and creating even more divisiveness among Americans.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Are you trapped by your weaknesses?

Byond the Surface
Originally uploaded by Nadav Dov Boretzki

In the old world of "the company man," the idea was to blend in, to conform to the environment in which you worked.  You were most successful when you wore the same color suits as everyone else, your shirts and neckties (yes, neckties) were compatible with the norm.  Heck, in some instances even your facial hair (its presence or its absence) contributed to (or interfered with) your prospects to be noticed, approved of, and promoted by the corporate powers that be.

In that old world of the corporate parent you were protected when you became homogenized into "the company way."  But that's the old world.

In the new world where you are likely to be working in a smaller company, perhaps running your own operation or even working as a lone eagle, your visibility and your unique brand have become more and more important.  Business has become more personal - and as a result you have the freedom, perhaps even the responsibility, to become more fully yourself.

The trap of focusing on perceived weaknesses

When individuals decide they are ready to make some improvements in themselves and they embark on a coaching relationship, one of the common challenges is their concern that they should focus on "fixing" themselves.  They take a close look at their weaknesses.   There are a couple of problems in choosing that focus:
  • Inordinate focus on fixing weaknesses serves to homogenize you, to bend you based upon somebody else's opinions of what is good.
  • Paying over-attention to what's wrong with you increases your fear of doing anything differently.  It causes you to pull back, not to explore and experiment - you become less, not more, likely to move forward.
Many of the things you see as weaknesses are simply non-strengths.  The fact that you may not be a good distance runner is of no consequence if you do not intend to run distances.  It's not a weakness unless it's a critical ingredient in what you need to do to be successful.

The move to focus on strengths and potential strengths

A tremendous shift in energy occurs when your focus becomes trained on noticing the things you're good at - the skills and attributes that come naturally to you.  You are the only one who has your particular combination of them.  Think back on times when you have been at your best, and then assess what the behaviors, attitudes, etc. were that you were applying at the time.  Think about how you felt as you were doing them.  When you have been at your best you have been in alignment with your values, and with your true self.

Once you identify those traits and behaviors that are the seeds for the undiluted, fully grown you, set out to grow them.  Find opportunities to feed them and to use them.  Stretch them beyond where they are today.  You will unleash incredible stores of energy and motivation - and you will be able to make your best contribution to the world.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Perhaps you just need to jump

You're thinking about change and improvement, you're almost ready to go.  The thing is, you've been saying you're ready for a while but you haven't done anything yet.  Perhaps you just need to jump - plunge into the deep water and start to swim.

When will you have the perfect no-risk game plan?  When will you have enough information to be absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is the right move for you?  When will the planets be in alignment?  When will you stop being afraid - afraid of failing, or perhaps even afraid of succeeding?

I've got no crystal ball, but I think it's a safe bet that you'll never know enough, anticipate every contingency, and surround yourself with enough bubble wrap to be completely safe.  I think it's also a pretty sure thing that the longer you stand there on the cliff and ruminate, the more time your fears have to grow barnacles on your arms and legs.

Let me ask you this question - will this be the only opportunity you have to make a decision about this and take action?  Is this your final shot?  Only you know the complete answer, but I have a high degree of confidence that it's not.  Unless this is literally a life or death move, you're going to have the opportunity to adjust once you get out of the land of theory and into the territory of real experience.  You will have a chance to make another decision, perhaps thirty more decisions, as you ride the currents, fight the waves, and follow the tides.

If it helps you to count to three, then do so - but jump.  Do it now.  Every day you stand on that cliff and stare at the bright blue water is one more day of delay in seeing the results you want to see in your life.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective

Our family spent the first day of Spring this year in the mountains - a glorious day with sun and balmy temperatures.  My teenaged daughter and I were doing our usual puttering around with our cameras, enjoying the particular kind of light of late afternoon on the Appalachian Trail.

We don't usually hike at that time of the day, and the so angle of the sun was different that we were used to seeing.  The result was that our familiar, ritual trail hike looked quite different from the one we usually take.  We messed around with different camera angles, framing objects, and with close up and landscape shots.  We tried to capture the glass-like transparency of the water, and the texture of the lichens and moss on the trees that in different light just becomes part of the backdrop.

Sometimes the beautiful things, the meaningful things, the important things are just like that.  We need to see them in a different light and from a different perspective to notice them and appreciate them.  Our problems, too, can take on new meaning when we step back, or we step closer to them.  Look at them from around a corner.  Frame them with the other pieces of our lives and suddenly - aha!  We discover what we've been missing.

If you think you are missing some of the meaning in your day, stop.  Take a mental close-up shot.  What does this moment tell you?  What is beautiful and fulfilling in it?  What is unique?  Now step back and look at the landscape of your life.  What is this moment in the context of your life's flow?

The first step in creating is to notice.  This might mean that you'll need to slow down or stop from time to time.  Because in a few minutes or hours the light will shift, and your view will not be quite the same.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gaining commitment from senior leaders

All business
Originally uploaded by Steve Pepple

Right off the bat I've got to say - if you are expecting change in your company and you don't have commitment from your senior leadership team, it is not going to happen.  Each of the individuals around the board room table has influence over a large proportion of your company's people resources, and everyone who reports to them will gauge from their behavior whether the change you propose is real or not.

There are completely understandable reasons why senior executives might be resistant to change, even when it's intended to improve business results:
  • They have learned (and have been rewarded for) a particular way of leading.  They have developed habits.  The longer a habit has been in place, generally the longer it will take to overcome.
  • Doing something differently might equate to admitting they were wr---.  For some executives it's hard even to say, and the feeling of having been wrong is to be avoided at almost all cost.
  • Their feelings of risk are higher because many of them are hooked to the company with golden handcuffs.  Yes, they are senior leaders, but it's hard to face risking a six-figure salary for the sake of an unknown outcome.
  • Their status under the old system was clear, but their status in the new system has yet to be established.  The period of change can increase the political jockeying that takes place while senior leaders set out to prove their value all over again.
There are means by which senior leaders can be brought around to the change, although no change in habits is instant:
  • Provide them with information that validates the rationale behind the change.  A conceptual buy-in has to accompany a buy-in to the specifics if you want the change to be sustainable.  In addition, your leaders can apply their experience and brainpower to find some of their own unique ways to apply the concepts you're promoting - ideas you have not yet considered.  When you help that happen you're creating the opportunity for wins both individual and company-wide.
  • Establish structure and process.  You won't achieve a one-eighty simply by describing your new direction.  Your executive team members need a chance to take the concept and figure out what it means on a day-to-day basis.  It's also dangerous to assume that all of the players already have all of the tools they need to succeed.  Give them the opportunity to develop themselves, and the vehicle by which to do so.  This may mean hiring someone from outside your company to help get it done.
  • Work on building the team.  It is often advantageous to train them in a group so they develop shared norms for the "new" way of doing business.  In other cases indlvidually tailored coaching may be preferable, but ultimately they will have to come together.  Shared goals are a fundamental component in building your team, and your senior leaders will be more committed to them when they've helped to develop them.
  • Put a stake in the ground.  If you know this change needs to happen, communicate what needs to be done and stick to it.  Not everyone else has the same information that you have, and despite the intitial resistance you need to persist - even (especially) when the resistance comes from those who are closest to you on the org chart.
  • Accept that someone might leave.  We've seen it over and over.  A leader says, in effect, "If this is what you're expecting me to do I don't want to have any parts of it."  And they resign.  Better to have them leave than to stay and throw grit into the gears as you're trying to get the company moving ahead.
This isn't an easy task.  If you're making a big change it can take 1-3 years to accomplish, even when you're devoting a lot of energy and focus to it.  In addition, structure, rewards, and processes may also need to change as you're bringing people in better alignment with your strategy.  But keep your eye on the prize - the improved results you expect will come when you create the catalyst for activity in that new, better direction.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Part 2 - Make it fun and they will come

This is part 2 of Jim Poland's guest post: 

Is your glass half full or half empty
of value from the medium of 
Social Media?

Turn up your computer's speakers and enjoy this video clip and then
we can chat . . .

I can hear it in the air tonight . . . Phil Collins (official version) released 2007

A half million viewers watched this silly “Gorilla” vid clip in its first week on YouTube, then social media users took it viral and it quickly gained 10 MILLION VIEWERS online! Then in lightning speed a following of YouTubers posted their silly spoofs and versions of the ad and the rest is social media success history.

Back in 2007, Cadbury’s in-house production team had the courage and creativity to create an advertisement that stepped far off Cadbury’s traditional path of saying the word chocolate over and over again and of fostering a “sensual appeal” to “make you drool”. When that drum pounding gorilla ad was released in the United Kingdom, a “veteran Cadbury executive” was skeptical that an oddly weird commercial was any way to improve a 186 year old firm’s public image or to sell chocolate bars.

Sales jumped nearly 9% within just months of the airing of that ad. That’s an annual increase of nearly $67 Million that was combined with a 20% LEAP IN PUBLIC APPROVAL! Either that Cadbury’s seasoned executive is by now a convert, or he took a rapid retirement.

All of this creativity, financial success, and “new world” saavy captured the attention of the senior management of the confectioners industry and Kraft Foods and Hershey Company, in particular. The last year saw a quite protracted acquisition war in which Kraft made an offer for Cadbury, Cadbury offered instead to buy Kraft, Hershey tried to partner with Italian candy maker, Ferrero (think Tic-Tacs), to join in the bidding for Cadbury. Finally, Kraft returned with a “sweeter” offer that won out. Kraft acquired Cadbury for £11.9 Billion British Pounds, or $18 Billion in US. Green Backs!


Stay tuned though for the rest of the story in an upcoming blog, because as of this writing, the Members of Parliament have scheduled a hearing with Kraft executives to learn why Kraft has already broken some of the promises made in order to win regulatory consent in the United Kingdom to acquire Cadbury.

Seems the CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, had stated publicly that a plant in Somerset would not be shuttered, and in less than a week of the official takeover Kraft has announced the plant will be shut down. Ms. Irene is apparently too busy to meet with the Members of Parliament and is sending surrogate senior executives in her stead. “There will also be an Irene-shaped hole at Tuesday's meeting of the House of Commons select committee which is looking at takeover rules in the wake the buyout,” wrote Zoe Wood for the Guardian on Friday, March 12.

Sounds like another case of UGLY AMERICANS in the candy making . . .

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Make it fun and they will come: A Social Media Success Story

Jim Poland is posting today:

“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”

That is an adage that my wife just said to me as she walked by on a Saturday afternoon as I am composing this article. My reply? “I am playing and having fun!”

That is true, very true. You see I was playing. I was surfing the web and checking on YouTube for an advertisement that I’d read about that changed the view of business leaders on the usefulness of Social Media. An ad that was so fun and zany that it attracted a huge volume of online views and an awesomely positive benefit to a company’s brand image, popularity, and sales.

Watch this fun, zany clip and then we can talk . . . 5.5 million have viewed it so far . . .

Eyebrows by Cadbury (official version)

Wow, silly eyebrows with catchy music. What does that have to do with selling milk chocolate? That depends on whether you feel that having lots of potential buyers on their own time and of their own free will view your advertisement increases the likelihood they will purchase your product.

It might be beneficial having 5.5 million viewers who took their own personal time to find and click “play” on your commercial! And, that’s after you’ve already spent the mass market dollars placing it on traditional main stream television to force viewers to watch your commercial during prime time. This Eyebrows by Cadbury advert is the result of a huge Social Media breakthrough success story that occurred barely 24 months ago.

Several months ago, I became distracted and foolishly stopped mid-book after initially enjoying the insights provided by Barry Libert and Rick Faulk in their powerfully enlightening book, Barack Inc.: Winning Business Lessons of the Obama Campaign. This morning, after an old world face-to-face introductory breakfast chat with the Chairman of the Board of a huge local employer, I cracked open Barack Inc. to continue learning about how I can better utilize the new world resources of Social Media.

There on page 96, I learned about the advert created by A Glass and A Half Full Productions, the in-house Web wizards at Cadbury that helped the firm recover “from a near-fatal string of blunders a few years back.” Well, the ad and the millions of millions of online community users that built a buzz like you just can’t believe. A fun buzz that was because of a drum banging gorilla!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Verbal arm-wrestling - one of your guilty pleasures?

What do you do for entertainment?  (Don't worry - we're not going anywhere seedy with this post.)  Do you watch television?  Pursue a hobby?  Read a good book?  How
about this one -
do you like to engage in verbal arm-wrestling?

Picture the typical arm wrestlers - poised with their elbows flexed, stabilizing their grip to gain the leverage advantage.  Then when the match starts, they use any number of strategies to pin the opponent's hand to the table.  A really good match takes a while before the winner is revealed - but a large imbalance in size, strength or experience can cause the competition to be over in a flash.  Bam!  The weaker party's hand hits the table, bent backward by the force of the opponent's move.

I asked you whether verbal arm-wrestling is one of your guilty pleasures - do you enjoy competing while conversing?  Do you derive satisfaction from making power points, even (perhaps especially) when it makes the other person look weaker, dumber, or slower?

Verbal arm-wrestling can make for good television, but it's not good for collaboration.  When you're trying to develop a team-oriented environment your focus needs to be a) on the relationship among team members and b) on the goal you share.  True collaboration includes the best input of all parties - it's egalitarian in nature.  It's not a competition.

I'll be the first to admit that the workplace is political, and so is your household.  There is a pecking order, with one person who has higher status than the others.  I'd also say that the places in which there is less in the way of formalized lines of authority are the places in which individuals are likely to be competing for position, using verbal arm-wrestling as their way of being one-up over the others.

Perhaps there's an element related to gender in this topic - according to some communication experts the behaviors related to status-seeking in communication are associated with men.  But as more years go by with women active players at all levels in a company's hierarchy, the women who can successfully use the "male" communication style of one-upsmanship are the ones who move ahead.

If you enjoy verbal arm-wrestling go ahead.  Have fun.  Under one condition, that is:  engage in this with someone who is aware of the game, and who is willing to play with you.  Otherwise you'll run the risk of eroding valuable relationship capital that you need to get things done.

Monday, March 15, 2010

FREE Webinars - No More Verbal Arm Wrestling!

Do you want to be more promotable, or more successful in your current role?  Are you frustrated by conversations that feel like arm-wrestling matches, where one person seems to be trying to overpower the other?  Would you like to increase your understanding of what's going on - so you can bring an end to the arm-wrestling matches?

Robert Bolton, PhD and author of People Skills, tells us that 80% of the reason why leaders fail is their inability to get along with other people.  Communication is the vehicle for the development of relationships, so this isn't something that should be left to chance - or to habits that might be working against you.

Join us Tuesday, March 16th at 11:00 a.m. EDT or Wednesday, March 17th at 6:00 a.m. EDT for a one-hour webinar that talks about:
  • Sports – and why verbal arm-wrestling isn’t one of them 
  • Identifying arm wrestling strategy
  • The moves
  • How to stop verbal arm-wrestling

Although the webinar is free, you need to register.  Simply go to and register on the widget that corresponds with the session you'd like to choose.  You'll receive an email confirming your registration and a link to use to join the meeting. 
Reserve your seat today! 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting Specific about Your Intentions

"Some day I'm going to get organized!" 
"I simply MUST get in shape!" 
"I have to get more harmony in my life!"

These are all intentions - and if I may be so bold - good intentions.  Unfortunately, they are also the words that individuals have said over and over again without making any real changes.  They hang out there, morphing from aspirations into whipping posts as time goes by and they aren't any closer to becoming realities.

So how does one help intentions manifest themselves into behavior?  First, it's important to recognize the link between intentions and attitudes - both are lenses that help you interpret the  world around you.  They are your assumptions, your frame of reference.

As you can see in the diagram, your intentions (attitudes) drive your behaviors, leading to results.  You take the feedback from the results, which reinforce or debunk your attitudes (intentions.) 

Sometimes, though, intentions aren't strong enough to overcome habits of behavior.  In these cases, you need to define the specific behaviors in which you want to engage that are representative of the intentions you have.  Here's an example:

I will work out at the gym for at least 1 hour at least three times per week during the month of  March, 2010.

Notice that you've set a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable (best we can tell right now) yet realistically high (a stretch,) and you've set a specific timetable for it.  By the end of March you'll know whether you did it or not, and you can use the same process to carry you forward into April and beyond.

When you make a commitment to yourself and then keep it you are building your belief in the person you want to become.  That's critically important to fuel your drive for continuous personal improvement.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spreading the post-game handshake

Postgame Handshake 2
Originally uploaded by Avalon Sunset

One of the things I admire about sports of all sorts is the post-game handshake.  There are the players, some victorious and some defeated, battered, bruised, tired and dirty - looking one another in the eye, clasping hands and saying, "Good game."  The players are opponents for the duration of the play, but in the end they share respect for one another's skills and love for the game they play together.

I'd love to spread that "fight hard, then walk off the field as friends" mentality to more venues than just the sports arenas.  I'd love to see meetings where there are no post-meeting splinter groups in the parking lots or hallways afterwards that perpetuate and/or magnify the differences revealed during the session.  At home it would be great to see more people "kiss and make up" more quickly, rather than embrace residual anger after a disagreement.

One of the things I like most about teaching kids to play sports is that they have the opportunity to measure up, to win or lose over and over again.  One win is not their defining moment, and one loss can be overcome by tomorrow's performance.  Not all parents, unfortunately, place sportsmanship over winning in their value system.  They teach their children that second place is the first loser, etc. as they attempt to live vicariously through their children's sports involvments.

The post-game handshake is a sign of our civility.  So is the after-court beer that opponent attorneys have together (at least the ones on TV do that!)  So is the hug that comes after a fight between siblings or spouses.  It's a sign that we're placing the relationship in higher priority than the "score."

We can get past the battles, the disagreements and move on to a productive future when we remember to remember what we have in common.  We do ourselves and others a favor when we make a point to notice their contributions and strengths, not just their mistakes and shortcomings.

Last, we have a greater chance of shaking hands after the game when we remember that it's not always about us.  It's about the game, the touchdown, the goal.  We'll play again another day regardless of who "won" today, and the quality of the relationship will help the game be more enjoyable for all players.  How about being the first to extend your hand today?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Talking, not fighting

Thanks to my LinkedIn friend Norman Patnode for the idea for this post:

The media has covered the Tea Party movement for months as it protests health care reform and numerous government positions.  Members have gone on camera, taking the position that anger and fighting are the American way to institute change, as though conflict is, in and of itself, patriotic.

I suppose for this post it's beside the point that the Tea Party group doesn't really represent the interests of either of the major political parties.  The Tea Party's strident methodology is the point, and now a group has come up with an alternative (in my opinion, better) way to try to influence change.

March 13th, 2010 is National Kick-off Day for The Coffee Party USA.  The idea started with a FaceBook post, which questioned the effectiveness of uncivil argument to get a point across to another person.  The writer disagreed with the commonplace Washington tactic of strategic obstruction.  The Coffee Party Movement is posed as an opportunity to discuss current issues and come to some consensus among your group.  I'll say it a different way - the point is to come together, not to drive apart.  Your Coffee Party is tasked with developing a sign that you can all stand behind.

As of a few days ago The Coffee Party USA kickoff day has grown to 265 parties scheduled in 44 states and DC.  The group's goal is to have 500 parties in 50 states.  Check out this YouTube video if you'd like more information.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sitting in the slingshot

Your development as a leader isn't a straight line - if you charted it, your development would form a wavy line, with times of plateau, times of regression (not fun, but it happens) - and times when the climb is a steep incline.  The times of regression have lessons for you if you're willing to notice them, the times of plateau are opportunities for you to build your capacity and your energy reserves, and the steep inclines - well, watch out, here you come!

The time just before the steep climbs in your effectiveness, the expansions in your influence, and the growth in your skills can be exciting and terrifying all at once.  It can feel like you're sitting in a slingshot, and you can feel the creative tension growing as the band is being pulled back, stretching tighter and tighter to achieve the greatest possible range for your flight.

Who is shooting you forward and up into the air?  Sometimes you're doing it yourself, but often it is other people - your boss, your friends, your family, or your team of trusted colleagues who are helping you stretch your potential into performance.  They see what you can do now, and they have ideas of the things they think you are capable of doing when given a nudge, a hand, a launch from a slingshot.

You aren't a stone, so there's no need to let fear stop you.  You aren't a stone, without its own energy, relying on the force of the shot in order to fly through the air.  You are a bird with wings, and once launched you can fly under your own power.  You can stretch the energy from that initial burst into a majestic and graceful glide through that new, higher altitude if you choose to do so. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Are you a "flitter" who feels stuck?

Butterfly on Flower
Originally uploaded by Dutchman1972

I wonder how many flowers this butterfly will visit in the course of the day?  Thirty?  Three hundred?  I talked to someone recently who uses the same working style as the butterfly - he lands for a moment on a task or problem, notices it, frowns over it, and then moves to the next.  He touches dozens of activities, but he feels that, although he's quite busy, he's going nowhere.

Compounding the situation is the fact that the guy is brilliant and experienced.  He's the company guru, and he knows what needs to be done to solve these perpetual issues, but because they aren't a part of his personal performance goals he's reluctant to take time away from production to build greater production capacity.  So he flits on to the next thing on his list.

It's the same with email.  He receives a pile of them during the day, and when they pop up in the corner of his computer screen as they are delivered to his mailbox he glances at them.  He stops in the middle of a phone conversation to read them, leaving the listener wondering where he went until he resumes talking and apologizes for the interruption.  He responds to the urgent emails immediately, out of the noble intention of wanting to be responsive.  Then he has to bring himself back to the task in front of him and figure out where he was before the interruption.

Some people are more prone to the shorter bursts of attention - and flitting can help them scan the environment for opportunities.  In sales in particular this can be a valuable method for noticing opportunities.  But ultimately certain issues need a more sustained block of focus.

Sometimes we just have to stop flitting, allocate some time and identify the repetitive issues that cause us consternation during the work day.  Sometimes we have to move to quadrant 2 time use and do some crisis prevention, planning, relationship building, etc.  We have to take the initiative to choose to do these things, because they won't be pulling at us to do them.  What's that old phrase - "Pay me now or pay me later"?  This person has been paying, and paying, and paying for his habit of moving on.

In the course of our conversation, this businessperson identified a LOT of capacity building issues that could use his attention.  He chose to single out one - one that, once solved, could generate a substantial amount of revenue for his company.  He's going to focus on that one until he's built a path to solve it not just for now, but for good.

He has also decided to allocate only a couple of windows of time each day to process emails.  His plan is to read them and respond to the ones that need responses - and then check them off of his mental to-do list.  He thinks that 24 hours is sufficient turnaround for most of the messages.  He is also looking at the best time of day to go through them, thinking that he can complete them in time slots that are otherwise less productive times of the day for him.

It was amazing how much more relaxed he sounded, even after only coming up with a game plan.  He's taking control of the issue instead of allowing it to control him.  Of course, the test will be in the implementation, but he's on the right track.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

There are some things you just can't rush

Spring has sprung?
Originally uploaded by bored-now

Now that the calendar has changed months I'm ready for Spring and all that goes with it - right now.  I don't want any of the late-season "onion snow," don't really even want the inevitable wind.  Fast-forward the Spring, please.

Just like my impatience for the season's change, I sometimes feel impatient for the other next, better, shinier, happier, more rewarding things to come.  I don't think that having a sufficient sense of urgency has ever been an issue for me.  And I know I'm not alone.  But there are some things that I can't rush (and neither can you.):
  • The loss of those ten pounds.  Well, you can rush them, but only to a point, and then they are more likely to glom right back onto you.
  • Christmas.  You can do the presents and the carols and the decorating early, but it isn't the same.
  • The end of your child's teens.  I'm convinced that those years of strife are designed partly to help us cope with the pain of separation when they're finally grown. 
  • The development of your brain and your muscles.  There's something to be said for effective and efficient processes, but it takes time to develop strength and then more time to learn how to use it.
  • The first day of vacation.  Would you really want to rush it?  I'm thinking that the anticipation is half the fun.
  • That next big business deal.  You have your selling process, and they have their buying process.  Last time I heard, their money still belongs to them.  Deal with it.
It's hard to wait.  It's hard to take deep breaths and recenter in the current moment.  But if you're going to continue to focus on what will or might come to be you'll not be getting (or giving) full value in the present.  And the present creates the future you so desire.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A case for low self-esteem

Jabba the Hut Statue
Originally uploaded by shaire productions

OK, yes, I'm feeling a little bit facetious this morning, and I thought I'd share it with you.  Remember this guy?  Jabba the Hut, a villain from the Star Wars movie series.  There he was, a giant half-frog-half-slug creature, and in the movie I think he benefited from the beginning of special effects drool technology.  He did it a lot, completely disgusting me at least.

So what does Jabba the Hut have to do with low self-esteem?  There are perfectly good-looking, outstanding people who see him when they look in the mirror.  Perhaps not exactly with the drool or the bulging eyes, but they aren't happy with their reflection.  How about you?  What do you see, and are you appreciating the view?

If your answer is "No - I'm not satisfied" you're probably in a good place for development, and for relationships with other people.  Here's why - if you're completely happy with yourself, reclining on the couch eating bon-bons (or consuming who knows what if you're Jabba,) you're not really open.  You have no motivation to do anything differently.  You are just fine the way you are.

If, on the other hand, you see yourself as still unfinished, you've left the door open for the development of your potential.  If someone provides feedback it's likely to cause you to check yourself, and sometimes to modify your behavior to get along better with them, or to fulfill their expectations of you.

Now don't get all bent out of shape - I have seen that really low self-esteem can paralyze a person.  I'm not advocating on its behalf, and would not seek to reinforce a person's low view of himself or herself.  A person can't go through life expecting to satisfy all of  his or her stakeholders all of the time.  But believe it or not, a bit of questioning in the self-esteem department can drive a person to achieve.  A top-achieving salesperson can "prove" his or her value by their most recent results.  Some people prove it to themselves by their advanced education, or by their job titles.

Mid-range on the self-esteem scale can be a really good place to be.  It's not low enough to cause paralysis, but it leaves some room for development.  I'm not sure that we do our children justice when we congratulate them simply for having a pulse, because we set up a scenario where they are so self-satisfied that they have a hard time feeling motivated.  Accomplishment and feelings of competence will help them, and it will help them become solid contributors to the outside world as well.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day of reckoning - no time for self-interest

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi recently told members of Congress that the passage of health care reform is so important that they need to back it even if it costs them their seats at the next election.  Pelosi told legislators that there was no more receptive climate when Social Security was passed, or when Medicare was passed than there is now.  Now is the time to act, because the country will only see the true benefit of the action once they have experienced it.

Whether you agree with the current health care legislation or not, her point is one to consider.  There are times when, in order to take action for the good of all, we need to put our own interests in the back seat. 

The structure of our representative system of government operates against such a big-picture perspective.  The two-year term in the House of Representatives means that any elected member only has a short time to get his (or her) sea legs and contribute to the process before the spectre of the next election is peeking over his shoulder and whispering in his ear.

We see a similar phenomenon in corporate settings when a new CEO is brought on board and is being judged by short term, quarter by quarter financial results.  Period.  No wonder it's so tempting to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs when your job is on the line if you don't show demonstrable results - now.  It's easy to place the longer-term interests of the company in the background when you're fighting for your own life.

I'll admit that continuity in government can be, in and of itself, an asset.  A freshman representative doesn't have the chance to receive plum committee assignments or big leadership roles.  The goal is to be re-elected enough times that you know the ropes of the informal process of influence and negotiation as well as the formal path that a bill takes before it becomes law.  It helps to know who the players are, and what their agendas are.  It helps one's effectiveness to have access to the depth of information only available to one in a key governmental role.

But is this one of the times where a Congressman should be willing to bet his or her seat for the sake of an overhauled health care system?  I think so.  The economic future of the country is at stake.  The humanity of our society is an equally big factor here.  This is the day of reckoning, and it is no time for self-interest to carry the day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

People skills or manipulation?

Violinist marionette performs
Originally uploaded by eugene

When the car salesman asks, "Won't that convertible be great when spring comes and you can feel the wind in your hair?" if you're like me your BS radar might start to sound.  And when your child says, "But everyone else at school has a cell phone.  And what if I'm staying after school for band and you forget to pick me up?"  you know to hold onto your wallet.

In both scenarios the other person has an agenda:  they want you to do what they want you to do, and to do so because it suits their own agenda.  Your best interests aren't even necessarily a consideration.  When an emotional tug is used to achieve a win-lose outcome - that's manipulation.

The child's (or the spouse's, sibling's or aging parent's) arguments can be particularly persuasive because they know enough about you to hit you right where you have a sensitive spot.  When you're forewarned you can sometimes steel yourself against the emotional appeal - but if that other person has a deeply set hook in your heart, all bets are off.

People skills are effective when your understanding of another affects the manner in which you communicate with them, and it helps bring about a mutual win.  You get to know an employee and understand that they are motivated by opportunities for new learning, for instance.  So when you assign new task to them, you position it in light of the new knowledge they can gain.  If the task is really such an opportunity, you've just used people skills to get the job done.  If, on the other hand, the assignment isn't really as you've billed it - you've been manipulative.

The intention of the sender is key to the evaluation of whether an interaction is manipulation or a demonstration of interpersonal skills.  Let's say it differently - the skills needed are the same, it's just that my act of manipulation has only one party's interests in mind.  Mine.

Now, here's where the receiver's preconceptions come into play.  You might have discovered that a certain person (or a certain category of person) is prone to use people skills in their manipulative form to achieve their own ends.  Now that you've become enlightened about the dynamic, you now squint your eyes and view all of your future interactions with them through that filter.  Your attitudes about that person have now caused you to categorize their behavior as though it almost always has a nefarious intent.  Your own habits of thought have now created a habit of cynical behavior in you.

Once you're so well armored against being taken advantage of, you're also likely to block out individuals with completely clean intentions.  You're hearing more than only the high-risk people from the framework of one whose primary goal is to avoid being victimized.  You've now started to assume bad intentions on everyone's part.  That's a perspective that will erode the quality of your relationships and limit your opportunities.

So let's part today with two rules of thumb:
  • When you're the sender, make sure your conscience is clear about whether this situation truly is good for all parties.  And if you know it's not, or you have a hunch that it might not be - be up front about it.  Your long-term credibility is more important than this one transaction.
  • Rather than make assumptions about the sender's intentions, ask questions and then evaluate their responses to determine whether you want to choose to become involved in the situation.  And if your gut is telling you to slow down or to gather more information, listen to it.  You're probably capturing nonverbal clues subconsciously that tell you that something isn't quite right.