Monday, August 26, 2013

Do you resist being changed?

People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.  ~Peter Senge

Change.  It's a topic that continues to challenge leaders and followers alike.  I don't typically quote Debbie Reynolds as a leadership expert; however, I think something she said describes most of us at some point in time.  She said, "I wanted to get that sense of peace and even boredom that comes with long familiarity."  

Recently, while sitting on my deck at my lake cottage in Michigan, I listened to many familiar sounds and found comfort in the familiar.  I could hear a variety of birds, many of which I couldn't specifically identify, but yet they were very familiar.  I could hear boats and skiers on the lake, children laughing, the bark of a dog or two, and a train whistle in the distance. 

When I transition to my condo balcony in downtown Chicago I hear many familiar sounds there as well, but the sounds are very different.  I hear the constant hum of the city, sirens passing by, a conversation or two, and the clang of wine and beer bottles being tossed into the dumpster from the restaurant across the alley.  Different yes, but still very familiar.

Contrast this with my trip to Africa in 2010 and I can still recall lying in bed listening to hippos down river having an intense debate, the baboons jumping right outside the door, an elephant or two rearing its trunk to call family members, and the occasional awful shriek of some creature that I could never identify.  At first, these sounds brought excitement and curiosity, trying to match a mental image with each new sound.  But after awhile, it became frustrating.  The sounds were not at all familiar and didn't bring me any comfort.  Instead they brought irritation because I couldn't fall asleep.

Why did I share my experience with all of these sounds?  Because I realized last week the true power of familiarity.  Once something becomes familiar, it brings us comfort.  Even in downtown Chicago, I actually find comfort in the hum of the city and the occasional siren.  Why?  Because it's familiar, I can identify it and in some ways I even identify with it.  It's a reminder of home, of something that brings me comfort.  And in Africa, nothing was familiar.  So even with all of the adventure I still wanted to fall asleep at night and I believed it was the comfort of the familiar that would allow me to get a good night's rest.

We live in an age of constant change and we can probably all agree that's not going to be any different in the near future.  But that knowledge doesn't seem to make adjusting to change, or being changed, any easier.  Raymond Lindquist said, "Courage is the power to let go of the familiar." As leaders, when we are asking others to embrace change and to let go of the familiar, we're really asking them to be courageous. 

Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977, said "It is, after all, the responsibility of the expert to operate the familiar and that of a leader to transcend it."  I agree with Kissinger.  However, we're no longer living in 1977.  Thirty-six years later, change is rampant; it is no longer enough for only the leader to transcend the familiar.  The leader must now bring others along on that courageous journey – to transcend the familiar and be changed.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Effective leaders manage their energy, not their time.

Your first and foremost job as a leader is to manage your own energy, and help manage the energy of those around you.  ~Peter Drucker

Author, Tony Schwartz, wrote the following in his Harvard Business Review Article entitled, "Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time."  "The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource.  Energy is a different story.  Energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals – behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible.  To recharge themselves, individuals need to recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and then take responsibility for changing them, regardless of the circumstances they're facing."

Tony shares a number of examples of rituals throughout the article that have increased executives' energy.  You may read the suggestions I chose to include in this list and say, "I knew that."  Well, then I’ll ask, if you knew it, then why don't you do it?

  • Take brief but regular breaks at specific intervals throughout the workday – always leaving your desk.
  • As little as several minutes can allow you to disengage.  This could range from getting up to talk to a colleague about something other than work, listening to music on an iPod, to walking up and down stairs in an office building.
  • To defuse negative emotions, take several deep abdominal breaths.  Exhaling slowly for five or six seconds induces relaxation and recovery.
  •  Fuel positive emotions by expressing appreciation to others – write a handwritten note, send an email, or make a call.  The more detailed and specific, the more the impact for both you and the receiver.
  • Remove all distractions.  Yes, all, including email, phones, etc.  Work on a project with no distractions or interruptions for 90 to 120 minutes.  This may mean finding your own secret remote office from time to time.
  • Answer email only two or maybe three times a day.  Not every time a new message pops up on your screen.
  • Start your day on the most important topic, before email and returning messages.  You may feel like you've already had a productive day before 10am!
  • Do what you do best and enjoy the most at work, and consciously (that means intentionally!) allocate time and energy to the parts of your life that you deem most important.  Live your core values in your daily behavior.

Ironically, while writing this blog an executive returned my phone call and I asked, "How are you?"  He hesitated and then said, "Well, I only had three hours of airplane sleep last night."  So of course I asked, "Why are you at the office?"  His reply, "Because I'm stupid."

Effective leaders manage their energy, not their time.

Monday, August 12, 2013

An arsenal of grit, stamina, and determination

Leaders have a nonstop flow of fortitude.  ~Bill Hybels

Last week the headline of Crain's Chicago Business got my attention: "A Business of Life & Death: A South Side institution since 1933, Leak & Sons Funeral Home handles roughly a quarter of Chicago’s victims of gun violence."  I watched the video link and read the cover story several times.  Last year Leak & Sons served 107 of Chicago's 511 homicide victims.  That's just slightly more than two per week. 

Spencer Leak Sr. is a leader with a nonstop flow of fortitude.  Quoting from Crain's, "'No mother should experience the death of a son on the streets of Chicago without having the ability to celebrate his life,' Mr. Leak says.  He adds, however, that there are times when his charity causes his accountants and his sons to shake their heads in frustration.  It's fortunate that at 76 years old, Mr. Leak has the stamina to live up to his conviction.  Always dressed in a three-piece suit, he routinely works up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week."

This isn't intended to suggest that we should all start working 14-hour days, seven days a week.  But it is intended to cause us all to pause and ask ourselves if we have a nonstop flow of fortitude, as does Mr. Leak. 

Since his father started the business in 1933, their mantra has been to "turn away no one." Mr. Leak says you have to "look past the profit."  But the Rev. Leak's fortitude goes well beyond his business.  In 1965 he marched alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama.  In the 70s he founded a church in Englewood.  Last year, out of 80 funerals at the church, 65 were for victims of homicide—more funerals than christenings, baptisms, and weddings combined.

All this talk of homicides and death can be bit on the depressing side of the equation.  But if we look at the other side of that same equation we see a leader among leaders, and that’s what I’m trying to emphasize.  His fortitude to walk alongside families grieving the senseless death of homicide, day in and day out, year after year and decade after decade is almost unimaginable.  I would be hard-pressed to find a more suitable example of someone with fortitude.

Synonyms of fortitude include strength, courage, resilience, guts, grit, stamina, and determination.  As a leader, is there something around which you can muster some fortitude? 

Now and then I become concerned that our culture isn't encouraging leaders with fortitude.  When I think of leaders similar to Mr. Leak, they are individuals who have committed themselves to something over the long haul.  They aren't frequent job jumpers or career changers.  It's certainly possible to have a great deal of fortitude and change jobs or careers and keep moving toward a passion or goal.  But I think that's far more rare than the person who truly commits themselves to something and with an arsenal of grit, stamina, and determination they see it through. 

In the coming years, may we all have the opportunity to encounter a few more Mr. Leaks along the way and experience their nonstop flow of fortitude.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lead with questions!

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.  ~Voltaire

I've only recently discovered Michael Marquardt, author of Leading with Questions, and of course now want to read everything he's written.  I'm so intrigued by his work that today's blog post is nearly all his work.  So I want to insure he gets full credit for insights that I believe really can change an organization.

Too often, we ask questions that disempower rather than empower.  These questions cast blame; they are not genuine requests for information.  Other sorts of questions are often no more than thinly veiled attempts at manipulation:  Don't you agree with me on that?  Aren't you a team player?  [My favorites are the questions we ask that are really suggestions dressed up like questions.  For example, Have you thought about…? or Have you considered…?] So the point isn't that leaders just don't ask enough questions.  Often, we don't ask the right questions.  Or we don’t ask questions in a way that will lead to honest and informative answers.  Many of us don't know how to listen effectively to answers to questions—and haven't established a climate in which asking questions is encouraged. 
We live in a fast-paced, demanding, results-oriented world.  New technologies place vast quantities of information at our fingertips in nanoseconds.  We want problems solved instantly, results yesterday, and answers immediately.  We are exhorted to forget "ready, aim, fire" and to shoot now and shoot again.  Leaders are expected to be decisive, bold, charismatic, and visionary—to know all of the answers even before others have thought of the questions. 
Ironically, if we respond to these pressures—or believe the hype about visionary leaders so prominent in the press—we risk sacrificing the very thing we need to lead effectively.  When the people around us clamor for fast answers—sometimes any answer—we need to be able to resist the impulse to provide solutions and learn instead to ask questions.  Most leaders are unaware of the amazing power of questions, how they can generate short-term results and long-term learning and success.
One of the executives interviewed by Marquardt told him, "if you do not create and maintain a working environment where you are always asking questions of your employees and forcing them to think, then you will probably never be any better tomorrow than you are today."
John F. Kennedy, at his inaugural address in 1961, asked Americans to ask a different kind of question when he spoke these words: "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."  Questions have an amazing degree of power, and Kennedy's exhortation to Americans on that cold January morning in Washington, D.C.—to ask what they could do for their country—inspired an entire generation to reconsider their values and priorities, to serve others more than be served.  Questions can indeed be that powerful.  They are surely the most powerful tool that leaders can possibly employ, for they can accomplish enormous results; questions have the potency and force to change individuals, groups, organizations, communities and even nations and the world.