Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why do we care so much about the weather?

Good Moments in Bad Weather
Originally uploaded by danny st.

An estimated 6 billion people watch The Weather Channel.  Six billion - with a B.  This brings a couple of questions to mind -
  • Why do we care so much about the weather?
  • What does this have to do with leadership?
There are still people in the U.S. and around the world who make a living in agribusiness, and the vagaries of the weather may mean either a bumper crop or a bust as a result of a season's worth of hard work.  There are still people who live in settings that are not climate controlled - they're not insulated from extremes of heat, cold, flooding, etc.  But for most of us the weather is something happening outside, and we're protected from it.  So why do we care so much about it?
  • The most obvious reason is that it does affect some of our activities.  Blocked roads, cancelled youth soccer games, and rainouts on planned trips to the beach or the pool are all impacts the weather has on us.  Sometimes it's useful to be the first in the pre-blizzard grocery line.  That's not all of the appeal, though.
  • We like to see that other people have it worse than we do.  There's a morbid fascination that we hold for disaster.  No, we don't wish it on other people (perhaps with a couple of exceptions for some of us,)  Seeing storms and tidal surges and tornadoes reminds us that our problems are small in comparison.
  • It gives us something to talk about.  If we have absolutely nothing else in common with another person we can always fall back on the "Isn't great we're having weather?" conversation starter.  Weather beats gossip as an appropriate conversational device - perhaps not always more interesting, but not potentially damaging to relationships and reputations.
  • We use our information as a status indicator.  It's great to be the one with the most current, most accurate scoop on conditions that affect the people around us.  If we're an authority on current weather, perhaps we're equally well-informed about other important current information.  That can be the perception - or not.
  • Some of us like to learn about science, and weather is part of that.  There are true weather geeks - no value judgement implied here, this is a statement about enthusiasm level.  We want to know what to look for in a cloud that might indicate an impending tornado.  We are interested in the difference between sleet and freezing rain, even though both conditions make the roads slippery.
As for weather and leadership - like any other piece of advance information, knowledge of the weather can help the savvy person create and capitalize upon opportunity.  It can enable persons in formal or informal leadership roles to protect, inform, and prepare resources for other people who rely upon them.  There is a risk management component, and a component of perceived control in having the latest information - I can make sure that I don't get caught outside in a thunderstorm, or snowed in without any milk and bread.

No offense intended to The Weather Channel, but just because we watch the predictions of what's coming we don't know what's really coming until it gets here.  We can batten down the hatches and hunker down and find later that we've squandered a day for no reason.  Or we can press on, risking that we'll be stuck or that we'll get wet in our best outfit.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Something bigger than you

Isn't it a thrill to participate in something that is bigger than you - to be a part of something important?  Some people feel this when they hear the National Anthem at the beginning of a big game - others at a significant life event like a wedding or the birth of baby.  There are things we experience at an individual level, yet through our participation we become part of something universal.

On Sunday, October 10th I'll be participating in the World Day of Interconnectedness, a 24-hour webinar marathon presented by Leaders Cafe and other presenters from Australia, England, the Netherlands, the U.S. and other locations around the world.  What a thrill to be part of such a far-reaching team project!

This event highlights the impact of our ability to connect.  I would never have come in contact with these interesting folks had it not been for LinkedIn - nor would they have been able to put together such a diverse group of presenters!

The webinar marathon is free - and you can come and go - I'll provide more information as the date approaches.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seeking answers? Or just wanting to vent?

Intense Conversation
Originally uploaded by John G Meadows

One of the big roles of the coach is to listen and help a coaching client determine the right action to take in a particular situation.  By definition, right action is as the client sees it, not what the coach thinks is the appropriate thing to do.  True coaching is not prescriptive - it is a relationship that provides process and support through which the coachee develops greater competence, greater confidence, and increased well-being.

It's not that a coach doesn't have some potential answers.  The best coaches resist giving answers because they know that
  • Action is the intended outcome of coaching, and a client is most likely to act upon his or her own ideas.
  • Accountability for the results of actions has to rest firmly in the person being coached, and the implementation of external (the coach's) answers interferes with that.
  • To provide too many answers can create a dependent relationship, which is counter to the intention of the coaching relationship.
Outside a formalized coaching relationship (where there are agreed-upon boundaries and ground rules,) the listen vs. advise dynamic becomes a bit muddy in the minds of many people.   For example, husbands all over become puzzled by their wives' irritation when they (the husbands) seek to solve their wives' problems.  The wife in the situation may simply need to think out loud in order to reach her own conclusions, but the husband thinks his appropriate (and loving) role is to ride in on his white charger to rescue the damsel from her problem. 

Parents do the same things to their children.  They are used to their younger children needing advisement and direction, then forget as the child becomes a teen that they are developing independent thought and need to learn to make decisions and live with the consequences of their own choices.  There's a lot to be said for the parent who stands on his or her own tongue and allows the teenaged child to talk it through without grabbing the steering wheel from them.

Both parties involved in these less formal coaching/listening situations have responsibility for defining the ground rules and thereby keep the relationship close and mutually satisfying. 
  • The enlightened speaker helps the situation when they say up front something like, "I want to talk this through, but I'm not looking for solutions.  I just need a listening ear." 
  • The enlightened listener, if uncertain about his or her role in the situation, can ask, "Are you looking for input from me, or do you just want me to be quiet and let you talk it out?"
Receptivity to coaching is a function both of the situation and the relationship between the two parties.  Tread carefully - to presume that you are free to provide your input is to behave from parent ego state (that you know better,) and is likely to generate a negative reaction from the other party.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Would you rather do it now or do it later?

Do you like to have a routine for your personal maintenance activities like cutting the grass, vacuuming the rug, or doing the laundry?  Or do you prefer to wait until it "needs to be done"?

Some people tend to like project work, and so they let tasks build up from daily or weekly routine maintenance into project-sized ventures.  They turn their backs on the small tasks, letting them accumulate and then handle them once they reach a certain critical mass.  This maintenance-delay work pattern can open up a collection of small windows of time in which to complete other projects (4 maintenance tasks times 15 minutes equals an hour of found time.)  But the "wait until it reaches project size" work management method has several risks associated with it:
  • If a task requires environmental circumstances to be aligned in a certain way ( a quiet office or dry weather day) and they are not in place at the right time you might not be able to complete the task when it needs to be done.  Then instead of a pleasurable project to focus on you've got a hairy monster looming over your head!
  • Once it's a project requiring hours or even days to complete you might not have that much time available in one chunk before you need the result.  You can slip an extra 10 minutes into your day - slipping in an hour or two isn't as easy to do.
  • You might not look like you're managing your tasks effectively.  OK, let's get real here - if you never clean your house until "it needs it" and your mother-in-law drops in with her white gloves on her hands you're in deep doo-doo from a good housekeeping reputation standpoint.  That new slovenly reputation might stay with you for a while - not that she would bring it up at half a dozen family special occasions.  Yeah right.
There is some satisfaction in being able to see a tangible result from the work you do, like when you spend an entire day trimming the shrubs in front of your house and see yards of mulch where you used to see sagging, shapeless branches.  There are some tasks that, frankly, aren't much fun and aren't so important that you can't let them go - for a while.  But be intentional about choosing the routine maintenance path vs. the path where you build future projects.  Otherwise you'll set up self-inflicted stress.  And who needs more of that?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Routines are your friends?

Originally uploaded by Conundrum37

So much of the conversation between a coach and the coachee revolves around shaking things up a bit and going off of autopilot - habit - in order to replace behavior that is out of alignment with more beneficial ones.  In the process, habits often wind up being painted with a uniformly negative brush - but some habits are to be cultivated, not scorned and eliminated.

If you think I'm overstating the case on behalf of routines, think about the goals you're setting for yourself.  If you're working on self-improvement my bet is that you're saying things like:
  • Stop eating so much sugar.
  • Reduce TV watching time to no more than 1 hour per day.
  • No more misplacing the car keys!
  • Take the credit cards out of the wallet to prevent impulsive overspending.
All of the goals (actually, they're self-reprimands!) above revolve around stopping destructive or non-beneficial behavior.  They reinforce a view of "bad, bad, bad!"  Not exactly the kind of self-image building activity that creates energy and enthusiasm.

Let's turn that thinking around for a moment.  What is it that you would like to accomplish?  Who would you like to be, and with what virtues and positive characteristics?  Now take that information and develop some beneficial, supportive actions that you would like to establish in order to create that new and improved version of you:
  • Set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier in the morning so I have adequate traffic buffer time.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast.
  • Plan tomorrow's work before I leave the office for the day.
  • Floss my teeth.
The challenge in any of these actions is that they won't have a large impact if you do them only for one day.  However, if you repeat them to the point that you do them mindlessly, by habit, you create routines that will have material beneficial impact on your work and your life.

Opinions vary on how long it takes to ingrain a habit - some say 21 days, some say 30 days.  Regardless of how long it takes, you're better to give yourself regular progress evaluation dates in between - say once or twice per week while you're setting up the routine. 

If you set a "go forth and sin no more" goal, one that you expect to abide by from now until eternity, you're setting yourself up for a feeling of failure.  And that can cause you to throw your hands in the air and give up on yourself.  Exceptions happen - intervening circumstances might shake up the routine from day to day.  You need to get over it and resume your beneficial habits as quickly as possible, and not use the situation as a whipping  post.  If you review your new routines on a weekly basis, then on a monthly one once they are more established, you will be able to notice your success without expecting a level of perfection that could be destructive.

You can certainly choose to test a new routine if you're not certain whether or not it will reap the benefits that you want.  Give yourself a trial period and enough of a sample to trust the results as material.  If it works, keep it going - if the new routine doesn't make a positive difference, try something else and test that for its own trial period.  It's like a science experiment where you test variables.

Yes, Virginia - routines can be your friends.  Once you have them ingrained they can help you achieve success that has been out of your reach before.  Choose them on purpose, and reinforce them by noticing the benefits they bring you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Multiple purposes for your plan

Years ago when I was a baby banker I thought strategic planning was when senior executives locked themselves into a conference room and performed some mystical hocus-pocus to predict the future.  Whether they really had a crystal ball stored in the conference room back in those golden olden days (or not,) today the planning process has become much less hearts and flowers and much more pragmatic, focused on directing daily behavior toward a desired end.

Even now, depending upon a leader's goals going into the process, a plan may have multiple purposes:
  • Lay out the steps toward a really big vision
  • Create the pathway for a significant transition in ownership or leadership
  • Develop a major shift in market focus, from a product, customer, or geographic perspective
  • Gain expertise on market trends or other technical data needed to set a sound course for the future
  • Bring diverse management personnel together to work as a committed team under a common umbrella of purpose
  • Provide training on "the big picture" for selected emerging leaders
  • Listen to customer constituencies and other stakeholders and incorporate their input into the plan
To a large extent, the purpose of the plan helps to shape the structure of the plan and the planning process.  Plan outputs may have some aspects in common, such as the Vision Statement, Core Values, and Mission Statement, but other more specialized outputs might also result.  An example of this might be when a closely held professional services firm is planning for the gradual retirement of its founders.  Because in many cases these individuals are the company's rainmakers, specialized plans have to be made for selecting or upgrading their successors, for the handling of their ownership shares, and for replacing the income the firm has become used to having them generate on a routine basis.

You'll need to have a clear sense of the purpose for your plan in order to make sound decisions on
  • whether you need an industry expert or process-focused facilitator to run your planning sessions
  • the individuals who need to be included in the planning process
  • data you may need from customers or other sources before the process begins, etc.
If you don't define your purpose effectively prior to structuring your planning process, you're likely to wind up with a plan that isn't implemented, or that sits in a binder in a locked cabinet collecting dust.  That would be a waste of your time and money, and few leaders I know have either of these two to spare right now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Is It Out of Reach?

Out of Reach
Originally uploaded by stephaniedan

One key challenge in thinking about your future and planning a path to get there is the navigation of the gap between what you see as the most likely outcome and the stretch outcome that you'd like to see. 
  • The impact of assumptions - "If I have ______ it means I will have to ______."  Your assumptions may be right, but what if your assumptions are wrong?  Perhaps the outcome you want is not really out of reach, but you're not going for it because you're not willing to challenge your assumptions.  Before you can challenge your assumptions you'll have to stop and think about what they are - many assumptions are hiding in your subconscious and limiting your behavior when you don't realize they are at work.
  • Concern about taking on too much - You know what's required of you in your current state, and you might even be quite comfortable there.  On the other hand, you don't necessarily know everything right now about what will be expected of you once you commit to the achievement of a big result.  So think it through in as much detail as you can with the information you have right now.  Once you see the path the destination will likely be far less daunting.
  • Incompatibility with self-image - Is part of the barrier that you don't think you deserve it, or that you're in some way not qualified?  First thing is that you're probably underestimating yourself.  Look in the mirror, list your past achievements and your strengths.  Look for data with which you can measure your accomplishments and skills.  And if you're really not yet qualified, do something about it.  Practice, take a class, etc.  Your skills will improve and so will your capacity to believe in yourself.
  • So and so won't let me - What do you mean, they won't "let you"?  You are the maker of your future - with no disrespect to the higher power intended.  You have a choice whether or not to succumb to somebody else's wishes for you.  And another thing - you might be misunderstanding what those wishes are - it might be an inaccurate assumption on your part.
  • I don't yet know what "it" is that I want to reach - It's possible that you're being pulled along by momentum right now, by existing old patterns of behavior.  How are your results?  You might know that you want something different but haven't taken time to think it through.  Yes, you have the time, but you have to make room for this.  Nobody is calling you to sit down and invent your future.  Do some research, explore some options and try them on for size.  That should help you get one or two steps closer toward defining "it."
Most people don't scratch the surface of what's possible for them.  You don't have to settle for less than whatever is best for you.  It might be out of reach right now, but it doesn't have to stay that way.

Monday, September 20, 2010

An entrepreneur's footprints

Young Entrepreneurs
Originally uploaded by Matt McGee

Wow.  A surprise and shock.  I read the newspaper over the weekend and found that a local entrepreneur, Jim Zarfoss, died this weekend at age 61.  I suppose that this might not be newsworthy to you if you didn't know the man, but my husband and I felt connected to him in a number of ways, many of which were totally unrelated to the fact that he started, bought, and grew a number of successful businesses in our community.
  • I remember him first as the mystery husband that our oh-so-cool French teacher Mme. Z used to talk about - the "mon mari Jacques" stories were some of the highlights of French class.
  • I remember him next as the investor and business owner who seemed to have a golden touch.  His business ventures were successful, and he had a piece of several industries in our community.
  • We saw him in his average, private citizen form down the hall visiting his parent at the assisted living facility, just like we were visiting my husband's mother.
  • We commiserated with him about shared political views, and which of the world's ills were most important to cure first.
  • He networked at Rotary with my husband, rubbing elbows with community leaders around the lunch table.
  • He was generous with his time, answering questions and giving advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, my husband one of them.
Every life is important.  Every person is mourned by the people who have been close to them.  Some people, like this one, leave big footprints in the community as well.  He will be missed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Counting success

Decimal?! Hexadecimal counting with the
fingers (from 00 to FF)
Originally uploaded by Cuito Cuanavale

Do you count your successes, your achievements?  I remember the thrill on my daughter's face during that astounding developmental march toward - potty training.  She was so proud at every bit of progress that she'd walk up to total strangers and tell them how many times she did what in the big girl potty.

I'll admit to feeling a bit mortified at first, but the point was that she (and we) noticed and praised every bit of progress.  She was given stickers for good potty behavior, and once she had accumulated 10 (one for every potty victory,) she was allowed to go to the toy store and pick out a small toy.

Obviously, now that she's fourteen we're no longer giving out stickers for good potty behavior.  I'm seriously considering, though, clean room vouchers that are good for iTunes cards.  Yes, it's that desperate with the room cleaning, and exhortation and threat of dire consequences haven't yielded sustainable positive effects.  Let's stop counting failures and start counting success - and see where that takes us.

The challenge with the clean room voucher reward is defining exactly what "clean room" means.  Does that mean the absence of dirty food containers, or no wet towels strewn on the floor?  Is a room clean when the wrappers and paper shreds have been removed from the floor?  Does the bed have to be made?  Surfaces dusted?  And do the dresser drawers have to be closable without 1000 pounds of force?

It's equally powerful and equally difficult to count success in work life.  How do you know when a project is good enough?  Or do you simply count it when it has been, as Seth Godin recommends, shipped?  Are you counting what you shipped, or are you bemoaning what has yet to be completed?  Are you celebrating what you sold, or grieving the big one that got away?

What would it do for your confidence if you started counting success?  What would it do for your motivation, for your willingness to take action, if you saw this hour, or this day, as holding the potential to add another tick mark to your track record of success?  You don't have to walk up to strangers in the store and tell them what you just did - like my daughter did - although it's not a bad idea to share it with your boss, your team, or your constituents what has been achieved.

Success breeds success.  It's high time that you started counting it, and taking it in as real progress, and using it to fuel your next victory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Who is in your circle of ten?

Red Grey White Pendant
Originally uploaded by fionachapman

Are you dissatisfied with the quality of your networking?  For what purpose are you using networking tools and networking groups?  If networking is not working for you right now - or if you'd like to see even better results from what you're doing, the circle of ten might be an answer for you.

Networlding is a concept based upon circles of ten, developed by Melissa Giovagnoli and intended to amplify the impact of personal connections.  Simply described,
  • A circle of ten is a group of ten people who share values and a sense of mutual trust.
  • The circle understands the goals of each member and works to help the members achieve their goals.
  • The members of the circle support one another in the pursuit of their goals.  Sometimes support is in the form of information, sometimes it's by helping circle members make connections, or by whatever means they can help one another.
  • Over time, each member of the circle grows another circle, and those circles connect to more circles, so that a web of connections provide each of its members with greater resources, greater influence, greater access, greater impact potential.
The circle concept is powerful.  It needs process and structure, a reliable and confidential place to meet, and the members need relationship skills in order to be as effective as possible with one another.

Stay tuned, because Summit has more to come to help you access the real power of your relationships.  Why settle for networking when you could become a Networlder?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why people don't go to high school reunions

Yearbook Yourself mosaic
Originally uploaded by Patrick Q

First, a point of clarification:  I had a great time in high school, and there are a lot of people I liked then and see on Facebook now.  My class of ---- (you think I'm telling???) is celebrating with a reunion this year and I can't go.  I'm working - really.  I'm a bit bummed, but it's about the customer and their schedule and I will accommodate it.  There are a lot of people, though, who won't go to their reunions despite no real schedule conflict.  What's up with them?
  • High school was painful.  Perhaps they were called geeks, nerds, etc.  Or perhaps they had a tough time getting dates.  Maybe their academic self struggled, or they didn't experience their adolescent growth spurt until they were in college.  Whatever the reason, they have no desire to bring all of that back and relive it now that they have become more comfortable in their own skins.
  • There's somebody they don't want to see.  Maybe they had a nemesis, or there was a clique from which they were excluded.  Perhaps there's an old flame that never really went out, and they are worried that they will do or say something they'll regret.  If they knew that the parties of concern weren't going to be there they might go, but not being sure they're going to manage their risks and avoid engaging.
  • They aren't happy with the current state of their looks, finances, marriage, etc.  It's hard to be the former "most likely to" and then not do it, or to be the former hot tamale who has devolved into frump of the year.  For many people the reunion is less about renewing old connections and more about proving oneself.  If they don't have something they perceive to be good to show they don't show up.
So why go?
  • These are some of the formative people in your early life.  They know the real you - yes, perhaps with zits or still-coordinating growing joints, but with all of the distance between then and now many of them are like your family.  You have a lot to talk about and to catch up on.  Rediscover some of the old bonds as you reconnect.
  • You can feel young again.  Sure your head might be bald and shiny now, but your hair used to be long enough to pull back into a pony tail, or to dye green.  The package may be aging, but the brain contains the zany teenager.  How great to jump back into that skin again for a night!
  • Old connections can become new contacts.  Even if you're totally focused on business, remember that people do business with people they know, people do business with people they like.  These people know you, and you can be likable now even if you had your "moments" back in high school.
Have a reunion coming up?  Go and enjoy!  Leave your fears and concerns on the back burner.  You'll be amazed at how much you have in common now with the people you knew back in the day.  Life's too short to throw those connections away.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What about the folks on the fence?

A lot has been said about improving less-than-satisfactory performance, and about keeping your top performers engaged and committed.  But what about the folks on the fence?

The fence-sitters are those individuals who will turn in a stellar performance on one day, but seem only half engaged on the next.  They are inconsistent, usually performing well enough that they don't require disciplinary intervention, but draw your attention for negative reasons from time to time.  Perhaps their technical skills are good but their bleak world views or lack of interpersonal skills hold them back.  Regardless of the cause, sometimes it seems like they're on your (and the company's) side of it and other days it's not looking that way.
  • Check for clarity in their goals.  If you're not helping them establish goals that mean something to them, and that support the company's direction, you may be contributing to their on again-off again performance.  Goals should be SMART and the staffer should have a say in creating them.
  • Tune in to the work climate.  If you're the manager of their department you're the one who is responsible to establish the climate.  Are people rewarded or recognized for good results?  Or do they only hear from you when they mess up?  Do they know the purpose of their jobs, or are they only given "need to know" information?
  • Catch them doing something right.  This is the corollary to the prior point.  Make a point to look for performance you like, and call attention to it.  When you notice it and reward it (recognition is a great reward for a lot of people,) you have a greater chance of seeing it again. 
  • Provide feedback that is descriptive rather than judgmental.  I'm not recommending that you wallpaper over problems if you see them.  Talk about what you see (candidly but with compassion) and the impact that it has on results.  If instead you jump into parent ego state you'll put that person on the defensive, and guess what side of the fence you'll find them on as a result?
  • Be consistent.  Sometimes it's tempting to take the easy road and settle for less than you really want from one employee while giving another a lot of "coaching" and direction.  Is that other person cantankerous, or perhaps connected, and that's why you're not dealing with them?  Don't let it go.  Poison spreads.
  • Connect with the person.  Your staff isn't comprised of a jumble of machines - they are people with outside lives, feelings, problems, insecurities, etc.  You will have a much easier time engaging everyone, including your fence sitters, if you take time to talk with them and build a relationship with them.  Good relationships make a big contribution to leadership effectiveness.
The fence sitters are a power source for your department, your company that you might not be accessing right now.  Imagine the impact on results if you could help them down from the fence to place themselves firmly on your team...

Friday, September 10, 2010

The day the sky was quiet

On September 11th - yes, that September 11th - I was working with a client group one hour's drive from my home when our session was interrupted by a staffer telling us that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.  This particular guy was a fun-loving sales type, and frankly, I half thought that he was joking.  Then when he returned to our room to tell us that another plane had hit and that the president of the company had her eyes glued to CNN I realized he was serious. 

We ended the session immediately, and I jumped into my car, clicked the radio on immediately and sped down the highway as though propelled by a tractor beam.  On that day my daughter was on her fifth day of kindergarten (she's started high school this year,) and all I could think about as I inched above the speed limit was getting to her and my husband.

We circled our community wagons on that day.  By the time I reached home school had been dismissed early, and my husband had retrieved our daughter. The son of a mom-friend of mine was also at our house.  My friend, like me, was working a distance away from home.  Unlike me, neither she nor her husband were able to drop everything and race home to hug their child.  So I helped the two kindergarteners play while my husband sat in another room behind a closed door, watching the shocking repetitive video clips of the two towers, the Pentagon, and the doomed yet heroic Flight 93.

Later in the day we changed shifts when my mom-friend was finally able to retrieve her child and another neighbor came to visit for a while with her two preschoolers.  Her husband was about 10 states away on a business trip and was unable to get a flight home.  (It took him 4 days of driving to get there.) Needless to say, she was petrified but holding it together for her kids. 

We walked out onto the patio and looked at the sky.  We live about 1/2 hour away from an airport, and usually the sky is striped with contrails.  Usually we can hear the distant hum of jet engines.  Not on that day.  The sky was quiet - eerily so - a blank, obscenely blue and unmarked canvas.

Yes, once the neighbors had gone home and my daughter was in bed, I watched the videos.  I watched the reports on the TV news as the story continued to unfold.  But I don't watch them any more.  I don't tune into retrospectives, nor do I participate in the conversations that draw generalizations about whole groups of people based upon the insane actions of those few who thought that murder and destruction of property could kill an entire society. 

Instead I prefer to revisit the deep feeling of love of country, of community, of family and friends I had on that day.  I prefer to think about how grateful I am that I was able to be there for a couple of friends who needed me on that day.  I prefer to focus on the fact that my brother, who works in the outskirts of D.C., was nowhere near work but instead was moving into a new house on that day.  Perhaps that's a self-centered manner in which to view a day that changed all of us - but I think that's the way in which most, if not all of us, experience it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sorting for the positive

It's estimated that more than 3/4 of the conditioning you (and I) received as kids is negative or limiting.  No, our parents weren't trying to turn us into twisted adults - they were trying to protect us.  We didn't know better than to dash across the street without looking or to take candy from a stranger.  So the messages helped us - at that time.

But here's the rub - as we grew older we retained (still do) the "don't" and "can't" and "you're not" messages from a long time ago.  They are not conscious memories all of the time - they are more likely to show up in the form of pessimism, fear, or in resistance to certain situations, challenges, or tasks.

So the challenge becomes, "How do I retrain myself to overcome some of this negative conditioning?"  You can do so by making a conscious decision to sort for the positive elements in a situation.  For instance
  • When a project doesn't go the way you want, ask yourself, "What did I learn from this situation?"  Even if it was a crummy situation, if the learning prevents another occurrence you've benefited.
  • When you see behavior you don't like in your employee or your child, but you want to see more of the things they ARE doing right, acknowledge the good things out loud to them.  You might not even need to call attention to the "bad" behavior if the "good" behavior is given an opportunity to crowd it out.
When you're leading the development of another person, an employee you supervise or a child, for instance, you contribute to their image (their conditioned picture) of themselves.  So your ability to sort for the positive elements and articulate them passes along to them.  If you acknowledge your child's athletic ability they grow to see themselves as athletic.  If you compliment a worker on the thoroughness of their thought process, they start to see themselves as a thorough thinker.

You can help other people to sort for the positive - which creates more positive behaviors and events.  For example:
  • Tara, what was the best thing that happened at school today?
  • Jordan, what was your favorite part of today?
  • Herb, what do you think you did well in the meeting today?
  • Sue, what do you see as your strengths?
I believe it was Earl Nightingale who said that "You become what you think about most of the time."  Your thoughts expand.  So rather than allow that 3/4 or more of your conditioned thinking to take you down a path of expanding what you DON'T want, how about making a point of expanding that which you DO want?  For today, look for the upside.  Notice it.  Call attention to it.  Help other people see it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blogging school

Bates School
Originally uploaded by Larry the Biker

Happy Birthday to blog (cha cha cha) - happy birthday to blog (cha cha cha)!

Believe it or not, today marks the fifth anniversary of the first blog post I ever wrote - then on Peak Performance - From the Coach's Desk, my original site.  Thank you to Mary Anne Shew for the idea that I could generate continually fresh website content by incorporating a "weblog" into my site.  (By the way, check out our brand new look!  We hope you like it!)

Blogging has been a school of sorts for me, one part discipline, one part thought process, with a little bit of marketing thrown in.  When I started it was largely a boys club, with technical blogs predominant.  Now of course you can find news blogs, culinary blogs, sports blogs, mom blogs, goes on and on, with millions of people taking the opportunity to weigh in on topics that are important to them.

After five years I still feel like a rookie in some respects, largely because the technical aspects aren't my forte or focus.  But I can list a few things that I have learned - I hope the list will help some of you with some new information:
  • The blogging environment is a community.  You can learn, even save yourself some energy and grow your blog audience by interacting with other bloggers, commenting on their blogs.
  • Your blog posts can be multi-purpose.  You can attach them to emails, you can expand upon them to create newsletter articles, you can post them to multiple blog sites if you wish.  You can set them up to automatically show up on Linked In and Facebook as well.
  • A blog enables you to be found by search engines.  Between my two blogs I've generated more than 1,000 pieces of content over the past 5 years!  When I Google my name I'm the top four entries on the search results, and there are more on the first page.  No brag - just evidence that blogging helps to generate visibility.
  • You can sharpen your writing skills by doing a blog.  Creating a post is a daily exercise in generating ideas, making points clearly, messing around with different "voices," considering your message goal, etc.  I think through the keyboard - yes, I do.
  • You'll keep your eyes peeled for fresh information.  Content can come from books, ideas started by other bloggers (with a twist to make it yours,) client situations, daily experiences - from almost anywhere if you're open to making the connection.
I've learned so much over the past five years that the list would have to be too long for you to endure in one post.  But blogging school has been a worthwhile experience for me and for my coaching practice.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pruning the company grapevine

Originally uploaded by malavoda

One of the most intriguing phrases ever spoken at work (or outside of it for that matter,) is:  "Now, don't tell anyone I told you this, but..."  You prepare yourself for a juicy tidbit of super secret stuff - information that gives you secret power because you know it, and not-so-secret leverage when you leak it to the next person with a similar "I shouldn't be telling you this, but..."

The twisting and pervasive branches of the office grapevine are the bane of many managers' existence.  In companies with multiple layers of leadership, sometimes the informal communication network is so efficient that the front lines learn about the company's next strategic move before the middle managers do!  (Not exactly engendering empowered and secure feelings in the already-threatened mid-management ranks!)Compounding the issue is the sometimes unreliable content of the message that's being carried along, creating unfounded concern or excitement among the rank and  file.

The manager and his or her mushroom existence isn't the only issue here.  The function of the grapevine consumes time and productivity.  When employees could be finishing reports or serving customers they are instead tiptoeing to their work buddie's workspace to share their latest nugget of intelligence.  Whole informal political structures are created based upon who has friends enough to be well informed, and the not-so-popular folks are left out of the loop.  Then of course that dynamic creates resentment which further messes up productivity and teamwork.

So what's a leader to do to prune the company grapevine so that the official organizational structure can work, and so that employees don't get all lathered up over nothing?
  • Create or expand official communication processes.  The office grapevine flourishes in conditions of poor soil - where information isn't generally shared by formal means.  People want to know what's going on so they can feel some measure of control over their work environment.  If you inform your staff they won't have to go underground to find out.
  • Expand your methods of communication.  If it's really important that everyone receive the information at the same time, and/or in the exact same way, send your message in written form.  At the very least, back up your oral presentation with written.  When you choose to write it down your words are far less likely to morph over time.
  • Consider keeping your management style as open as possible.  "Need to know basis" is a philosophy that feeds the grapevine and creates suspicion in the workplace.  People want to know because it's nice to know, and so they can feel more secure.  In addition, individuals outside the direct loop of the impacted function might have great ideas to contribute.  If you're not nurturing that cross-functional teamwork you're not using the capacity of your corporate IQ.
  • Keep your mouth shut.  If you don't want information passed along through informal means, don't participate in the grapevine at your level, either.
The grapevine is a perennial - it's in your company because there are people and a social structure in your company.  Unless you decide to fly solo it's not going away.  But at least do what you can to keep it pruned to prevent its tendrils from choking morale and productivity out of your business.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is it conversation - or monologue?

In groups where my goal is to improve communication, we do an exercise to demonstrate a point about effective listening.  We pair the participants and give them several communication assignments, the last of which is that the partner who is "it" is supposed to "not listen."

I've seen many attempts at not listening (it's harder than it sounds to miss everything,) with the most popular being averting one's eyes, turning the whole body in a direction away from the speaker,or even attempting to leave the room.  But the most successful technique to avoid listening isn't defensive - it's an offensive move - talking incessantly.

It's said that whomever asks the questions controls the conversation.  Where would James Bond be if he blathered on rather than listened?  He wouldn't have the information he needed to foil the bad guy du jour, (or to find the hot woman du jour, either!)

Conversation is when you take turns talking.  I know, some turns are longer than others.  Some people don't tend to process ideas out loud, so they might not be as forthcoming.  They might need help in the way of pump-priming questions  And others need no priming - they need to say anything and everything out loud, audience willing or unwilling, in order to make sense of things for themselves.

Believe it or not, good listeners are seen to be the best conversationalists.  Ironic, isn't it?  But if you think about it for a moment, every person wants to feel acknowledged and important.  How better to help someone feel important than to yield the floor to them in a conversation?  Let them steer the boat for a while.

Just for today, notice the percentage of the time you're listening vs. talking.  Then take note of:
  • The quality and quantity of information you're receiving, and
  • The quality of the relationship
My bet is that you'll find that an improvement in your habits of listening will yield an improvement in your interpersonal results. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You messed up. So what?

Originally uploaded by ::big daddy k::

So you’ve vowed to exercise four times per week and you only went once last week. Are you thinking that you should just bail on your goal because you messed up? Of course not!  Don't be putting that "L" sign up on your forehead and jumping to conclusions about yourself.  There's not a straight line between right here where you are and the ultimate outcome you're seeking.

The process of setting and achieving goals is just like anything else in your life – it’s not going to be perfect and you aren’t going to be perfect just because you set them. Even if you go into your goal with full commitment there are many potential potholes, such as:
· Longstanding habits that need to change to achieve the goal

· Unanticipated circumstances

· Not seeing results quickly enough

· Seeing too many early results, so we think we don’t have to follow the plan

· Overly ambitious target dates

· Other goals competing for time and energy

Lighten up on yourself and give yourself an opportunity to learn. If you wait for your mindset to be completely right to move forward, for the stars to be in complete alignment and the wind to be blowing in the right direction you’ll never take action, and that won’t get you even a little bit of progress. If your goal has swerved to the side of the road here are some possible actions to take:

Make sure your goal is in written form, all the way from the big result to the itty-bittiest action step. Otherwise your brain just might revise the goal (usually downward) or you might forget a key step.

Double-check to make sure your goal is specific and measurable with a target date. When you rely on “I’ll know it when I see it” your feelings of success will correlate more with your mood swings than with your actual progress.

Put the action steps right into your PDA or calendar so you won’t accidentally schedule over them.

If you’ve found that one path didn’t work, evaluate why and revise that piece of your plan to take another shot at it.

Check your self-talk. Are you sabotaging yourself with secret messages that say you can’t do it? Manage your mindset by writing some affirmations and keeping them in the foreground.

Consider sharing your goal to gather support and accountability from others. If your mom loves to bake your favorite pie but you’re trying to drop 15 pounds let her know about your goal. She’d not want to inadvertently sabotage your progress.

Give yourself a clean slate with no self-recriminations and start again. Persistence makes more difference over the long haul than does immediate success.

Remember there are two accomplishments associated with any goal. 
  1. The first, of course, is the achievement of the goal. 
  2. The second, one you might not stop to consider, is the accomplishment associated with better understanding yourself, your motivation, and your strategies for overcoming the inevitable obstacles that stand between you and whatever it is that you want to achieve.
If you decide to make it so, life is a continuous self-improvement process. There is no finish line. This doesn’t mean that you’re never good enough. This means that you are fallible, yet have incredible potential for greatness that you’ve not even started to tap. If you’ve messed up be kind to yourself and forgive…then pick yourself up and get on with it from whatever position you're in.