Monday, February 25, 2013

Transparency by food poisoning.

Transparent leaders leave nothing hidden; consequently, their clarity results in predictability, consistency and trust.  ~Kathryn Scanland

I'm participating in a training program in a teleclass format.  Last week, as we were all checking-in on the call with the obligatory, "hello, how are you," someone posed the same question back to the trainer.  He paused briefly and then responded with "not so well."  He had been working on a multi-year project that accidentally got deleted.  Fortunately, he had a back-up but it didn't include the previous two weeks of work.  So while the majority of the project could be retrieved, the last two weeks of work would have to be recreated.  He could have responded with the expected "I’m fine," but chose to simply be honest and transparent.

I have one very specific incident that took place well over 15 years ago that will always stand out in my mind as my ultimate example of just simply being transparent.  I had joined a number of friends for Thanksgiving.  I should have taken heed to what our cook said before we began the meal, it went something like this, "the turkey looks done but the temperature isn't quite what it’s supposed to be."   Well, one by one, we all paid the price for that temperature not being quite what it was supposed to be.  The following Monday when I returned to work and someone innocently asked "How was your Thanksgiving?" while passing in the hall, I too paused, and realized I just couldn't put a spin on it or make any positive statement without it feeling like an outright lie.  So I responded with, "not so good."  My colleague looked at me with surprise and a bit of fear, not knowing what he might hear next.  Then I simply said, "bad turkey."

I share this example, which is undoubtedly out of season, because I've often asked myself if the situation really needs to be that extreme for me to simply be transparent?

On Glenn Llopis states: "Being transparent is a powerful thing, if you can trust yourself and be trusted by others.  The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power, leverage and gravitas."

So once we get over ourselves, and release the idea that our gravitas and leverage will suffer and begin to believe that being transparent is more effective than being opaque (the opposite of transparent), powerful things can begin to happen. 

If you think about it, it's even logical.  If something is transparent, it's clear, there's no guessing, there's nothing left to imaginations, there are no surprises, it feels safe.  If it's not transparent then it's opaque.  That means it's solid, dense, obscure, unclear, etc.  If you walked into a room that was pitch black, would you feel safe?  Or, would you feel apprehensive, hesitant, uncertain?  You may begin to let your imagine shape reality.  That density and obscurity will only make it more difficult for people to follow, so how is that holding onto power? 

Don’t be like me.  Don’t wait for extreme measures to force you into transparency.  Instead, go there willingly and unabashedly and see what powerful things might happen!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Are you seduced by blame?

When you blame others, you give up your power to change. ~Dr. Robert Anthony

This week I had several instances where the contrast of blame vs. responsibility was brought to my attention.  I was especially intrigued by the idea that blame can be seductive, even extremely seductive.  Some of the synonyms for seduce paint a vivid picture of what this seduction might look like: bait, beguile, betray, bewitch, bribe (and that's only through the b's!).  Not exactly a positive image.

Like many things that aren't good for us, blame can become addictive.  If we persevere in making the case that someone (or something) is to blame for our problems, this perception can dramatically twist and blur our view of reality.    

I recall an instance when this concept became very clear to me.  A number of years ago I was considering becoming business partners with someone who owned a consulting firm.  During my due diligence process I discovered a number of serious financial management concerns.  When I asked the current owner about some of these challenges he blamed someone or something (like the economy) for each and every one of them.  Then, without really thinking, I asked, "so, what are you actually responsible for?"  Silence. 

With that vivid example in mind, I began to quickly review my own actions, responses, etc. for a lack of responsibility that was substituted with a knee-jerk reaction to pass the blame.  How often had I slipped into the very same pattern of pointing my finger toward someone else?  I also realized that Dr. Robert Anthony is right.  When you blame others, you give up the power to change.  And I'd add to that, you give up the power to change both yourself and the situation.  So, it's a lose/lose scenario.

The International Coach Academy says, "People who play the blame game may then unknowingly mentor others in the blame game.  Families, workplaces and even whole societies can become infected and then trapped in a culture of blame."

Hubert Humphrey said, "We believe that to err is human.  To blame it on someone else is politics."  I’m not intending to make a political statement or take any kind of political position, but it does feel like our governmental officials have become trapped in a culture of blame.  Could this be part of the reason we seem to be stuck in a lose/lose scenario; because we've given up the power to change?

I'm currently reading a book entitled The Happiness Project.  The author engaged in an exhaustive study of happiness and then spent a full year testing many of the various theories.  I find it quite interesting that nearly every "practice" she undertakes to achieve greater happiness involves increasing her "responsibility."

While blame is both seductive and addictive, I'm struggling to find a positive outcome.  Like many things that are seductive and addictive there is a very short-term "high" followed by continuous disappointment and frustration.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wise man that he is, said that "Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility."  

Leaders who are ready for responsibility have the power to change, both themselves and the situation.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Are you a scared leader?

To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance.  ~Matthew 25:29a (NLT)

"It is not possible to commit to everything.  We must make choices.  Trying to commit to everything is a form of gluttony, being unable to say no, not wanting to let others down, scared that saying no may make you lose the one opportunity you might get.  These feelings are all about a mentality of scarcity.  Scarcity is where you think this will never come along again so you have to grab it.  Scarcity is built around a concept of being scared." (International Coach Academy, 2012)

Sound familiar?  We've probably all been there.  We like to label it as being opportunistic, but is it really a form of gluttony, being unable to say no?  If we're leading from a mindset of grabbing every opportunity, is that really another way of saying we’re running scared?

This perspective on scarcity (a form of gluttony) was new to me and hit me pretty much right between the eyes.  Grabbing every opportunity, isn't that just good business?  Isn't that what entrepreneurs do? 

Seth Godin, known as America's greatest marketer, has a different perspective.  Seth says…
In a society where value is created by the manufacture of goods or the allocation of limited resources, it's not a surprise that organizations seek scarcity.  We hesitate to share, because if I give you this, then I don't have it any more.  We erect barriers and create rules to make it difficult for some people to have access to these limited resources.   
Our new economy, though, is based on abundance, the abundance that comes from ideas and access.  If I benefit when everyone knows my idea, then the more people I give the idea to, the better we all do.  If I benefit when I earn a reputation leading, connecting and creating positive change, then I'll benefit if I can offer these insights to anyone who can benefit from them.  With an abundance mindset we create ideas and services that do better when people share.
Over the past several months I've tried to take on the mindset of focusing on what I can give away.  Not materially, but through my consulting and coaching business.   What ideas can I freely share with whoever is interested?  What services can I provide that really don't need to have an invoice attached?  Who can I help get more clients?  What can I share?  That's not the mindset of someone who grew up in the industrial age with parents who were depression babies.  For me, it's been a shift and a welcome change.

If a mindset of scarcity means you're running scared, then maybe a mindset of abundance means you're joyfully and freely sharing your wealth.

Seth calls this an "unconditional gift, one given with nothing expected in return.  It creates conversations and spreads ideas.  It opens doors and creates forward motion.  What happens to the math if when I give you something, I don’t lose anything.  Or even better, what if the act of giving something away actually gives me more?"

Let's stop being scared leaders, we don't need to commit to and grab everything and become gluttonous.  We need to use well what we have been given and share our abundance.  Let's be abundant leaders!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Are you a noble soul?

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.  ~John Milton

Gratitude is the last of the three qualities of a positive climate – compassion, forgiveness and gratitude – highlighted in Kim Cameron's research that I've focused on the past few weeks.

It's surprising to me how much research has been done on gratitude with very similar findings and conclusions, yet we don't strive vigorously to integrate gratitude practices into our daily lives or our organizations.  Gratitude is relatively easy to implement and the effects are both powerful and significant.

Maybe it's because we've been taught, encouraged and even programmed to focus on what we can measure.  In many organizations, what is most easily quantifiable may dominate how we prioritize our day.  Felix Frankfurter, former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said that "gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep."  Because we struggle to put it in a nice and neat "outcomes box," we are quick to overlook gratitude as we rush through our day.

Gratitude really is easy to put into practice.  In study after study it's been found that doing things like visiting someone to say thank you, writing letters of appreciation, sending a note or card, and the infamous daily (or weekly) gratitude journal has a significant positive impact on individuals and their performance.  This isn't some secret, motivational tactic known by only a few, select organizations.  It's common knowledge backed by scientific empirical evidence.

Dean Savoca, of Savoca Performance Group says that, "Gratitude is a muscle to be built, just as we build a physical muscle.  It takes practice and exercise."  He offers some ways to begin to build your gratitude muscle.
  • Before you go to bed, ask "what three things am I grateful for today?" and write them down.
  • Use the philosophy of CANI (Continued and Never-ending Improvement).  Whenever you complete something, ask yourself two questions.  What was great?  What are opportunities for CANI?  This can help to create an "attitude of gratitude" and appreciate what you've done well and identify where you can learn and improve in a way that supports your future success.
  • Think of someone who has helped you recently, or has really out-performed in your organization.  Write them a note, visit them, or give them a call and let them know how much you appreciate them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that "gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy."  And what organization couldn't use a little more joy throughout their hallways, their conference rooms and their internet connections.

It's simple, it's doable and it's very effective.  Aesop, the fabulist, stated it quite well, "gratitude is the sign of noble souls" and shouldn't all leaders really be noble souls?