Ron’s Short Review: One of my clients used to say “Things are never as bad as they seem and never as good as they seem.” He was right. This book says, “the world is not as dramatic as it seems. Factfulness, like a healthy diet and regular exercise, can and should become part of your daily life. Start to practice it, and you will be able to replace your overdramatic worldview with a worldview based on facts. You will be able to get the world right without learning it by heart. You will make better decisions, stay alert to real dangers and possibilities, and avoid being constantly stressed about the wrong things.”
Let’s talk about golf!
Golf is an enigma. (Now there’s a classic understatement!)
They say golf is like life, but don’t believe them. It’s more complicated than that.”
The sport abounds with perplexity and paradox: fairway and rough, dry land and water, green and sand trap. And then there are all the complexities involving mind and body.
Golf and Hand-Preference
Most of us are born with an arm/hand preference. Some of us are right-handed; others are left-handed. Golf says, “Don’t use what comes naturally! Let your other hand (your out-of-preference side) pull the swing through the ball.”
For example, for many players their right hand is dominant in all other aspects of their lives. But in golf, if they allow the right hand to control their golf swing, the ball hooks—hello rough.
However, if they learn to use their left hand effectively—a new swing style—they will hit the ball straighter and have lower scores (which, of course, in golf is better).
So how is this relevant?
Isn’t that just like leadership? If we allow our dominant preferences to always be in control, we will often not have complete success. However, we can learn to adjust our style away from a dominant (and in some cases damaging) preference and become better leaders if we are willing to make some changes.
To be successful in golf, players need to learn how to overcome or “position” their natural tendencies (or preferences) in order to hit just the right shot.
This is also true with leadership. We look for and focus on our strengths, but we are better leaders when we also allow other qualities to develop and come to the forefront. For example, it is not natural for many of us to be humble team builders. It is much easier to strive for the attention of others and build a personal résumé, ignoring the team’s input and value.
The temptation will always be to head in the other direction—toward the dominant preferences inside us and on every side in our environment. But by intentional effort we can learn to be humble and at the same time increase our success as a leader.
We continue our Monday series where I’m providing some snapshots into what makes up organizational integrity.
To have a great organization, integrity must be widespread. It won’t do to be a saintly leader of highest integrity if the rest of the team consists of liars, backbiters, and thieves. Integrity must exist from top to bottom. There are some key qualities that need to be modeled by leadership in order for an organization to embrace integrity.
Last week we unpacked with Trusting Others. This week we’ll explore Finding a confidential listener.
Finding a Confidential Listener
What if you as a leader are working to build a high-trust organizational culture but still feel uncomfortable totally sharing your heart with others on your team or in the company?
Find someone you can trust on the outside. You need someone who will mainly listen as you brainstorm ideas, let off steam, and regain perspective. By saying this I am not advocating that you stop being vulnerable or keeping gates open in your team or organization. But it is important for your health and well-being that you have someone, somewhere who can accept your total candor and maintain confidentiality. In some situations a consultant or a leadership coach performs this role.
Every leader needs a trusted confidant—a listener who will listen as the leader brainstorms ideas, lets off steam, and regains perspective.
We need to be acutely aware of other people’s needs, focus, dreams, and abilities before we can help them achieve.
For years the late cartoonist Charles Schulz delighted us as his Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Linus, and even Snoopy provided a window into the complex (and funny) realm of human relations.
Lucy, the extroverted big sister of Linus, was no exception. Her love affair with the Beethoven-loving Schroeder is legendary. Often we see Lucy stretched out by Schroeder’s piano, watching him with longing eyes. Or she is asking a question or demanding his attention in some other way. Schroeder is oblivious to Lucy, so she tries harder and harder to win his heart. In the end, nothing works. Lucy usually loses her temper and pouts, once again the frustrated lover.
What Lucy never gets is how a change in her approach might improve her chances at winning Schroeder’s attention. Lucy’s entire focus is on her needs, not Schroeder’s. Every attempt to secure the heart of the piano genius is from her perspective, not his. Her compassion is entirely self-focused and has little or nothing to do with him and his needs. No matter how bold or romantic she is, Lucy never gets close to Schroeder because she never learns to first understand him.
Increased understanding of others usually leads to better relationships. Our frame of reference becomes their needs, not our own. It becomes a habit to seek to understand our bosses, our direct-reports, and our peers. This understanding is not developed for manipulative purposes. It is an attempt to help people grow and develop by first seeking to understand them—their motives, needs, and styles. Once we understand others and their individual preferences, we can better communicate with them, train them, and lead them.
Abraham Lincoln was a master at this. In 1864 the New York Herald explained how Lincoln was able to overcome the difficulties of guiding the nation during the Civil War—“Plain common sense, a kindly disposition, a straight forward purpose, and a shrewd perception of the ins and outs of poor, weak human nature.”
Lincoln was a master at getting out to meet and know the people—from generals to office workers: “Lincoln gained commitment and respect from his people because he was willing to take time out from his busy schedule to hear what his people had to say.” From this information, Lincoln came to understand his people. From this understanding, he motivated them, challenged them, and moved them to achieve.
It is always interesting, upon entering an airplane, to look into the cockpit and see all those dials and gauges. Each one has a purpose. Many help properly guide the aircraft to its final destination. If the pilots don’t monitor the right instruments, they won’t have a clear picture of the flight, where they are going, how fast they are traveling, how high they are flying, or even if the craft is right side up.
Similarly, if we do not read all the “gauges” of other people, we will be forced to guess what their behavior and words really mean. Learning to read gauges gives you the ability to understand and respond to others based on their needs and frames of reference.
Can your team speak freely?
Leadership today is all about two words: It’s all about truth and trust.
When they trust you, you’ll get truth. And if you get truth, you get speed. If you get speed, you’re going to act. That’s how it works.
You and others are willing to work long and hard to accomplish goals. However, as we’ve seen from the stories in recent posts, our efforts can become very scattered and focused on the “urgent.” We need to build accurate, open, reliable feedback systems.
A team leader needs to create a learning environment in which every team member is appreciated, listened to, and respected. In this kind of environment, the opinions of team members are fully explored and understood and are incorporated into the decision-making process. The team actively learns from all members who express their positions and opinions, and as a result, the team is stronger and more efficient.
In the end it will be the ability to endure through the challenges, criticisms, and doubts that distinguishes the great leaders. But if you have staked your reputation on a wrong or unachievable goal, enduring through the challenges will only take your team or organization down the wrong path. What keeps you from that wrong path is good solid feedback. But good solid feedback is hard to come by, especially the higher you climb in an organization.
The power of effective feedback
People don’t like to give the boss bad news or news that doesn’t agree with the boss’s stated position. But without it comes only failure.
Effective Feedback. It’s not just something you ask for. It’s a cherished gift. It’s a wonderful reward for building a trusting organization or team.
An effective feedback apparatus starts with humility. Humble leaders create an atmosphere where feedback from others is desired and honestly requested. Leaders who are focused on growing their people build that growth on feedback. When people know that a leader is committed and wants honest feedback to help reach stated goals, they are more likely to provide the open and honest feedback required. Compassion, integrity, peacemaking—upcoming chapters that will all lead to an atmosphere and culture that is open to and thrives on honest and timely feedback.
The word therefore has only been used in its current form for around 200 years. It’s a relatively new word in our language.
In the original old English, it meant: for that or by reason of that. Or it could be understood to mean “in consequence of that.”
The question is “What is that?”
We all too often give our reason for something without ever explaining what that reason is based upon.
By reason of that
In consequence of that
One of the practices I find myself talking to corporate teams about is conducting good dialogue. Good dialogue begins with clearly stating the “that” which your argument or conclusions are based upon.
Peter Senge wrote the book The 5th Discipline in 1990. In my experience with corporate clients, it was one of the most impactful books written at the time. Every client I worked with during the late 90’s and early 2000’s was anxious to show me what they were doing with systems thinking (the point of Senge’s book) and re-engineering projects to rethink how they were approaching their work. The book itself was over 400 pages long and my personal notes of highlights were nearly 40 pages. That means I highlighted nearly 10% of all the words written. It was impactful thinking!
One of the basic mental models in the book was Triple Loop Learning. It is most often attributed to Chris Argyris who was a colleague of Senge. In this model, they helped us understand that until we get at the beliefs and assumptions that drive our reasoning we will never actually learn or will always fall short of accomplishing major change efforts. Beliefs and assumptions will always overrule systems, policies, procedures, and processes.
Teams that get good at starting with beliefs and assumptions of each team member find renewed understanding and respect for each other and make great strides accomplishing great things beyond what one individual could accomplish.
In my experience, if you were to watch high performing teams from behind a soundproof glass, you would think they were at each other’s throats. They seem to be aggressively going at each other and getting in each other’s face. But, if you removed the glass and began to hear the discussions, you would be aware that they want to understand each other so deeply that they are aggressively going after the beliefs, assumptions, backgrounds, experiences that support everyone’s starting points when dealing with a difficult issue. By understanding beliefs and assumptions, the team is better at solving problems and reaching a committed solution they all will back and support.
So, what is your therefore there for? If you can’t share what you believe without condemnation, ridicule or repercussions your “therefore” conclusions, suggestions or directions will never be understood or respected. Build great teams that can openly share Beliefs and Assumptions so that “therefore” is understood and respected.
Last week we discussed being a dynamic mentor that inspires change in others. But how does one get there?
Here are some thoughts on becoming a mentor to others:
Character Over Skills
First, the best mentoring plans focus primarily on character development and then on skills. As Jim Collins reports, “The good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.”
Set Clear Expectations
Second, I see many mentoring attempts fail because the participants do not sit down together to discuss and set boundaries and expectations. The process flows much better if the participants take time to understand each other’s goals, needs, and approaches than if they take a laid-back, let’s-get-together approach.
Any mentoring relationship should start with a firm foundation of mutual understanding about goals and expectations. A mentoring plan should be constructed by both individuals, even if it calls for spontaneity in the approach. Nothing is more powerful than motive and heart. Both of the people involved need to fully understand what is driving each of them to want this deeper experience of growth and commitment.
I once worked with an organization where a senior executive was trying to help a new manager. Incredible as it may seem, the manager was frequently not showing up on time—or at all—for scheduled mentoring appointments. We doubt that he fully understood the senior executive’s passion for his personal growth. When they later met to discuss the problem, the senior executive explained why he was willing to get up very early in the morning to help mentor the manager. Once the manager had grasped these basic facts, he started taking the sessions more seriously. Good idea!
Although I strongly endorse the notion of mentoring spontaneously during “teachable moments”, ideally I suggest using a combination of scheduled and unscheduled opportunities to learn and grow together.
Catch the Vision
What image comes to mind when you think of the term mentor? You might picture two people sitting at a table in a restaurant, the older person, his or her head topped with waves of shimmering, gray hair, waxing eloquent while the younger listener is furiously scribbling notes on a legal pad. Although this scene may warm our hearts, it seems just a bit out of sync with the real world.
I would like to offer an alternative image of mentoring: Picture two people sitting across from each other in an office. Obviously, an important project is under discussion. The interaction is animated, intense, and often humorous. These people obviously know each other well. Speech is direct and honest. Mutual respect is readily apparent. Some coaching is occurring, but the protégé is not restrained in sharing some insights on the performance of the mentor as well. This relationship is built on trust.
With this picture in mind, I like to define mentoring as a long-term, mutually supportive and enhancing relationship rather than as a relationship in which a highly advanced human being tutors another who stands a step or two below him or her on the developmental ladder.
I’m continuing my series on an in-depth look at a wonderful little book that’s twenty years old this year. The title is Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. You may want to consider dropping back and reading the previous blogs about ABSURD! I think it will put each new one in great context.
Listening is More Difficult than Talking
I’ve never liked the concept of “Active Listening.” It seemed to me that people who were taught the technique simply repeated what they heard so that the speaker knew they had been understood. However, when you repeat back what you heard you sound like a parrot and aren’t really explaining how or what you heard based on what the speaker was trying to express.
One of Farson’s statements in this chapter really hit a cord with me: “Carl Rogers and I introduced the phrase “active listening” in 1955. I would not write such a piece today. The main reason is that I no longer believe that genuine listening should be reduced to a technique.” (Emphasis is mine)
I’ve always asked my clients (and myself): Are you listening with the intent to respond or are you listening with the intent to understand? If we’ll admit it, most of us listen with the intent to respond. I know I’m doing this most of the time. While the other person is speaking I’m creating my checklist:
- I agree with that, I’ll reinforce it.
- I don’t agree with that and here’s how I’ll counter it.
- I can think of at least three points they haven’t even considered yet that I’ll point out as soon as they take a breath.
Rather than truly listening in an attempt to understand what the other person is trying to deeply express, we’re getting ready to either reinforce or counter in our own words, knowing that as soon as the other person hears our point of view, they’ll understand and agree with us.
Author Farson quickly counters that belief with “Research tells us that people are more likely to change when we reverse the flow of communication, that is, when people are not talked at but when they themselves have a chance to talk.” People are more likely to change when they have a chance to talk! Wow, there’s a paradigm shift for most of us. We don’t really convince other people, they convince themselves when we help them talk through the issue by listening and asking questions that demonstrate that we’re trying to understand!
Farson also points out that “Good listening is inordinately difficult, even for experienced listeners.” Listening takes a lot of energy. I don’t have the energy to stay in that mode all of the time, but when I do shift into my “listening to understand” mode it’s amazing how much people respond to that experience. I often spend several hours talking/listening one-on-one with my clients. If I’ve been in the right listening mode, many of them have said to me “You now know more about me than anyone.” That statement in itself is absurd but it’s amazing how different people feel when you actually listen to them.
While Farson makes many great points in this chapter, I want to close this blog on one particular thought that he put forth, “Listening to others means having to be alert to one’s own defensiveness, to one’s impulse to want to change others. That requires a level of self-awareness, even self-criticism that is often not easy to endure.” Listening requires humility. When we really listen we have to question our own understand and perspective on an issue. We may even begin to change our own mind. So while research says that people change when you give them a chance to talk, be aware that you yourself may change by being a better listener. Win-win.
Be careful how you answer, it may define your chances of success!
I’ve been reading A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer. Most of us know Brian because of his movie making partnership with Ron Howard. Look at their film biography sometime. All great films.
But the reason I started reading the book was not because of who Brain was but because of the title, A Curious Mind. For much of my consulting career, the word curious has been an important concept in my work. One issue that I seem to be working on with many leaders and in fact the one that seems to gain them the most traction in becoming better leaders is listening. I try to help them grasp the concept and practice of listening with an intention to understand rather than listening with the intention to respond. It really makes a difference in people’s lives and in our learning ability if we can make this shift to listening to the other person to completely understand what they’re saying and what’s behind or driving what they’re saying. Stop trying to figure out how you’re going to respond to the person and just listen to understand them.
When my clients ask for help at getting better at listening to understand I talk to them about curiosity. Everyone seems to be curious about something. Everyone seems to have at least one topic that they enjoy, are passionate about, never tire of learning about, and are tremendously curious about.
What happens to your mind when you’re pursuing that curiosity?
- How are you thinking about the topic?
- Why do you want to learn more about the topic?
- What happens when you learn a whole new aspect of the topic?
- What happens when you learn something that seems to be counter to what you’ve learned in the past or thought you already knew or understood?
What’s happening is that you’re unleashing your curiosity.
Humble leaders listen to others with curiosity. They want to learn. They want their beliefs challenged and upset. They’re gaining new perspectives. Warren Berger really fleshes this out in his book A More Beautiful Question.
A few of the quotes that caught my eye from Brian included:
- “Life isn’t about finding the answers, it’s about asking the questions.”
- “I’ve discovered that even when you’re in charge, you are often much more effective asking questions than giving orders.”
- “I’m a boss—Ron Howard and I run Imagine together—but I’m not much of an order giver. My management style is to ask questions. If someone’s doing something I don’t understand, or don’t like, if someone who works for me is doing something unexpected, I start out asking questions. Being curious.”
Are you curious? Are you a leader? You won’t be good at leading if you’re not good with curiosity!
A humble leader steps aside so that others can run by and seize the prize of their own greatness. But just how is this done? Let’s take a closer look:
Expect the best of others
Leaders who expect the best of others exert a powerful influence. Many times leaders get caught in the trap of judging others. They measure, categorize, and classify people and the jobs they perform. Put the emphasis on solid behavior and good intentions. It forces managers to assume and reward the best. It helps leaders not make rigid rules that hold down employees who want to soar.
Learn to listen
An ancient adage says “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow anger.” Being quick to listen implies that a leader is paying attention, that he or she is not distracted but is actively hearing what the other person is saying. A humble leader listens with the intent of understanding rather than responding.
Reward honest communication
How do you react when someone tells you bad news? Does the messenger become a target for your arrows? Our reaction to feedback will make all the difference in being able to move forward.
Admit your mistakes
Humble, open leaders show vulnerability. And nothing demonstrates vulnerability quite like admitting mistakes. “I was wrong” is difficult to say, but it is one of the most freeing and powerful statements a leader can make. Admitting your mistakes allows others on the team to relax and admit their mistakes. It allows the team to breathe and grow.
Commit to developing others
Developing others first takes personal commitment and desire. It means taking the time to know people—their preferences, skills, and goals. This is most often accomplished in personal relationships.
Once people understand your goals and you begin to understand their needs and potential, you can then seek their commitment. Good leaders understand the need to develop committed people.
Share the dream
Leaders often make the mistake of not being open or sharing their vision and goals with their people. Your vision is not something to hide. Sharing it with others helps them understand what they need to contribute. You can then develop their potential around a shared vision. A shared vision is the only way to create team unity.
Developing people’s potential (and then being open to their ideas) involves setting mutually agreed-upon goals. Individuals also need to know whether they are meeting the standard.
Reward and recognize
In addition to setting goals, it is important to make people feel appreciated. Money simply levels the playing field. Employees believe you are simply providing fair compensation for their additional efforts; therefore, money pays only for what they have already given. A true rewards recognize peoples potential and goals and helps them develop the needed skills.
Allow for midcourse corrections
Do not be rigid in your planning with people. Invariably, changes in market conditions, employee needs, and other factors will alter plans and goals. That’s life; that’s okay. Developing someone’s potential is not a fixed proposition but rather a fluid system that responds to his or her needs and skills as well as your needs and vision.
Humility is costly, but there are incredible and often surprising rewards for leaders who recognize their own personal strengths and limitations while seeing and encouraging the greatness in others. Sometimes the ramifications of this timeless insight bring a smile.
Please share a “smile” with us today!