Monday, June 24, 2013

Check your asking-to-telling ratio.

Leadership is about allowing others the chance to flourish.  And you do that by asking questions.  ~Gary Cohen

In past decades most supervisors could do their employee's job, and leaders of the organization could do many of the jobs as well.  But today, far fewer bosses know how to do an employee's job.  Therefore, moving from telling to asking is no longer optional, it's essential.  Leaders who default to "telling" as opposed to "asking" and helping staff develop their own critical thinking skills so they can be more self-directed, may actually be reinforcing a sense of shortsightedness or dependence that clogs up the system and makes the organization less agile.

Thinking back to our high school debate teams, we learned that persuasion happened through well-prepared logic using facts and figures.  Many organizations use this same approach.  If you present your logic, complete buy-in throughout the organization is certain.  Not so much.  Unfortunately, we have also been trained to argue when we're presented with someone else's logic (just watch a little primetime TV).  Rather than stating logic, ask a series of questions that will lead your staff to work out the logic on their own.  Your staff will reach their own conclusion based on your questions.  They will buy-in to a conclusion they have reached on their own much faster (and longer) than they will buy-in to a statement you make, even if it is supported by logic.

This week I came across an article in Forbes online entitled, Ask Great Questions: Leadership Skills of Socrates.  One of the points I found especially helpful.  The author, Michael Lindenmayer, suggested focusing your questions on three P's.
The three P's are: possibilities, probabilities and priorities. These three are sequentially linked. Apply different questions to the different categories. Certain questions generate possibilities. Other questions sharpen the team's ability to assess the probable outcome of potential decisions. The third set of questions help to empower team members to prioritize. While Socrates engaged in philosophical dialogues over long periods of time, you have a venture to run. And that means taking action. Learn to apply different questions to the three P's; it will help advance your endeavor.
Gary Cohen, author of Just Ask Leadership says, "Leadership is about allowing others the chance to flourish.  And you do that by asking questions.  This empowers coworkers to find solutions, embrace responsibility, and become accountable. Moreover, it opens the door to greater productivity and creativity. Indeed, more than ever before, leaders can't know everything. By seeking others' input, they can inspire powerful and positive change."

So tomorrow morning, when we wake up, let's ask ourselves which great questions we will bring to our organization that will advance our mission and allow others to flourish.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wow, you're different!

It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.  ~Audre Lorde

Lately I've been thinking that it's not the obvious differences that make getting along difficult; it's the subtle differences that get under our skin, just simply annoy us, and probably make us a little judgmental.  I've heard a lot of people say they are accepting of people who are different, but then I see behavior that tells another story.  I'd suggest first that their definition of acceptance may really be tolerance.  And second, I’d suggest that the understated differences in perspective and approach are what make us most irritated at the end of the day.

I was reminded of this recently in a conversation with my financial advisor.  I was describing some of the work I've been doing in consulting and coaching and he said the most critical lesson he'd ever learned was that people really are different.  While that sounds simplistic, it's really quite insightful.  In his case, for example, he recognizes that everyone has their own unique comfort level when it comes to their money.  As he described me, some people like to keep a sizeable amount of money in their money market account so they have quick and easy access to cash, if necessary.  While others, are okay to leave a rather small amount in their money market so they can immediately funnel any excess into their investments (which are not as readily accessible).  He doesn't tell people what is the right way.  Instead, he spends time learning their comfort level and then does his best to work with them within that framework.  In other words, he recognizes, accepts and then celebrates his clients' differences.

In organizations I see leaders who get frustrated when others aren't sharing their perspective.  For example, some leaders want to keep as many options open as possible and not be too confined by a narrow focus.  However, their executive team may have a differing perspective and crave a specific focus so they can attack it.  In other cases I've seen the overall pace, or at least perceived pace, cause angst among leadership teams.  And I've had leaders say to me, “it would be a lot easier if everyone just thought the same way I do.”

Hillary Clinton said, "What we have to do…is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities."  While she was speaking on a more global level, I think the sentiment of that statement can certainly apply to organizations, both large and small.

Do we celebrate our differences or do we tolerate our differences and let them fracture our organizations over time?  Synonyms for tolerate are stand, bear, put up with, endure, and stomach.  Not exactly a culture most of us would want to be part of on a daily basis.  Whereas synonyms for celebrate are rejoice, party, have fun, and enjoy yourself.  That certainly creates an image that would make nearly everyone excited about showing up at work on Monday morning.

As leaders, are we celebrating differences or tolerating differences, even the subtle ones?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Who's happy?

Someone who has a dozen mildly nice things happen each day is likely to be happier than somebody who has a single truly amazing thing happen.  So wear comfortable shoes, give your wife a big kiss, sneak a french fry.  ~Daniel Gilbert

Harvard Business Review cover headline, January-February 2012: The Value of Happiness:  How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits.  This cover headline is significant, let me explain. 

In three short weeks I'll hit my 100th blog post.  Throughout the past nearly two years of weekly writing, I've not taken the opportunity to vent a little so I feel like I've earned this opportunity.  Last week while watching the national news (I'll not mention which network), they included a feature story on the IRS.  This isn't surprising given all of their recent controversy and I'm certainly not going to attempt to defend the IRS' behavior. 

During this story the reporters highlighted what they believed was gross over-spending by the IRS.  One item they chose to include on their list of over-spending was $11,000 for a "happiness expert."  I was stunned.  I guess the writers and producers didn't do any fact checking or research on happiness in the workplace before they decided to scoff at the IRS' spending for a happiness expert. 

Not only was happiness the lead story for the Jan/Feb 2012 HBR, it was the theme for the issue.  Here are just a couple of examples of actual scientific support.

In a sweeping meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener found that happy employees have, on average, 31% higher productivity; their sales are 37% higher; their creativity is three times higher. 

Quoting Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, "Psychologists want to understand what people feel, economists want to know what people value, and neuroscientists want to know how people's brains respond to rewards.  Having three separate disciplines all interested in a single topic has put that topic on the scientific map.  Papers on happiness are published in Science, people who study happiness win Noble prizes, and governments all over the world are rushing to figure out how to measure and increase the happiness of their citizens."

I suppose the lesson in all this could be to do some fact checking before going on the national news mocking an organization's tactics for increasing productivity.  But what I'm really trying to emphasize is that happiness matters.  Our mental and emotional health is not only important, it's critical, and organizations should be investing in happiness.  Seeing this scoffed at on the national news made me feel like we took several steps backwards when it comes to understanding organizations and the people who work within those organizations.

If that's not enough, in 1776 our forefathers had the foresight to include in the Declaration of Independence, that all men have a right to the pursuit of happiness.  Have we really lost sight of this virtue?

Monday, June 3, 2013

If you faced Goliath, would you feel fear or possibility?

When Goliath came against the Israelites, the soldiers all thought, “He’s so big we can never kill him.”  But David looked at the same giant and thought, “He’s so big, I can’t miss him.”  ~Dale Turner

It's all in the eyes of the beholder.  Our emotions or how we feel about a given situation is significantly affected by the meaning we give to what we experience.  And the meaning we give to any experience is shaped by the lens or filter through which we perceive it.  David was clearly viewing Goliath through a different lens or filter than the other soldiers.  While they felt fear, David felt possibility. 

That means if we can change the way we look at something, by reframing it, we change the meaning and in turn, change the emotion attached to it.  Reframing isn't always easy, but I do believe it comes more easily with practice.  It might be helpful to first remind ourselves that our perspective on a given situation is exactly that, ours.  There are always many ways to view the very same situation. 

Here are a few questions you could ask yourself to reframe your perspective on a given situation.

If you were feeling resourceful and generous, how might you look at this situation?

What's missing here, that once it is included will make this situation flow?

What if the opposite were true; what would that look like?

Put yourself in the shoes of the other person, what do you think is their perspective?

What would it look like if you were empathetic instead of irritated, frustrated, or angry?

How does that perspective work for you?

Imagine yourself in a week, a month, a year in the future – how much do you care about winning this one argument?

An example frequently used to illustrate the art of reframing is Thomas Edison.  He made somewhere around 10,000 attempts to invent the incandescent light bulb.  Others would scold him for failing over and over and would ask when he was going to stop trying.  It is said that he replied with, "I didn't fail, I just figured out another way not to invent the light bulb."  He reframed failure as a process of gaining more knowledge that would get him one step closer to realizing his vision.  The reframing made Edison feel empowered so he continued.

Another of history's great minds, Albert Einstein said, "You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.  You must learn to see the world anew."

We all have moments where we become stuck or find ourselves at an impasse of some sort.  We can continue to hold on to our same view or perspective with stubborn determination, or we can explore other perspectives and reframe our thinking to get unstuck.  As leaders, we must be willing to continually see the world anew.