When the Grasshopper Teaches the Master

Little Man Business cut out 72dpi-resized-201.jpgThere is a lot to be said for learning from younger people. While we veterans can teach the invaluable lessons of the past, they can teach us the path to the future. And that is worth paying attention to.

For instance, people of my generation often grapple with the wonders of technology with varying degrees of success. Some of us are totally immersed and intrigued by what can be accomplished in a wireless world, (including all the cool toys that come along with it). Others of us are hard pressed to know how to turn on our computers, if indeed we even own one. But, no matter where we are on the technology learning curve, the one thing we know for sure is that to learn it, we have to consult those who have the skill and it’s highly doubtful that we will find this expertise in people older than ourselves.

That’s why I like the idea of mentorships in organizations working both ways.

It should be pretty simple really.

Take Young Person A, who knows about something and put him or her together with Older Person B who doesn’t know much at all about that particular something. Then let the learning begin.

All right, so it’s not that simple.

People of the older generation… well, we have our pride. We like the idea of mentoring someone younger because it seems to us to flow with the accepted order of things… you know, the Master and Grasshopper type of relationship. However, when it is the Grasshopper doing the teaching, it can make us feel somehow redundant, even stupid and that’s not something one willingly puts a hand up for.

Alternately, people of a younger generation may not see the benefits of slowing down to help us older ones learn things that are, to them, elementary my dear Watson. They may also feel they are carrying a load for someone who might even make more money than they do and from whom they see no reciprocal reward. There’s not much fun in that either.

So to begin with, I think that a successful Young master/Old Grasshopper relationship needs to begin with an attitude check on both sides.

And you spell that R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Of course along with that has to come a certain measure of empathy that allows the older to appreciate the skills and knowledge of the younger; and the younger to give credence to the lessons that only an older generation can teach.

With that established, I can think of a few practical steps that might help the Young Master/ Old Grasshopper set off on the road to building a mutually rewarding relationship. Here they are:

Determine a skill base line

There is nothing more counterproductive, or annoying, than making assumptions about what a person knows or does not know. Spending a little time determining current skill levels within the context of the subject matter is a good use of time.

Take time to set some goals

Technology, for instance, encompasses a huge body of knowledge. To make some headway and avoid being overwhelmed, discuss what you want to be able to do and how it might benefit your work before you start tackling applications that may, or may not, move you in the right direction. Goals will also give you benchmarks against which you can monitor progress. There is something very satisfying about that for both parties in the relationship.

Establish good communication habits

For the most part this means speaking plainly; being truthful; and regularly checking for understanding.

Have Fun

Working with someone to learn something new and seeing that new thing being applied in real time is exciting! Enjoy the journey and the person with whom you are taking it and my hunch is, you will both profit from the experience.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

 

* Note: originally posted in January 2010

Leave a comment

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning

A Leader?

Many years ago, I found this poem. It is one that impressed me and continues to speak to me now. To the best of my knowledge its author continues to be anonymous. Here it is. Enjoy

A Leader?

I went on a search to become a leader

I searched high and low. I spoke with authority, people listened but alas, there

Was one who was wiser than I and they followed him

I sought to inspire confidence but the crowd responded.

“Why should we trust you?”

I postured and I assumed the look of leadership with a countenance that glowed

with confidence and pride.

But many passed me by and never noticed my air of elegance.

I ran ahead of others, pointing the way to new heights.

I demonstrated that I knew the route to greatness.

And then I looked back and I was alone.

And I sat me down and I pondered long.

And then I listened to the voices around me.

And I heard what the group was trying to accomplish

I rolled up my sleeves and joined in the work.

As we worked, I asked,

“Are we all together in what we want to do and how to get the job done?”

And we thought together and we fought together

And we struggled towards our goal.

I found myself encouraging the fainthearted

I sought ideas of those too shy to speak out.

I taught those who had little skill.

I praised those who worked hard.

When our task was completed, one of the groups turned to me and said, “This would not have been done but for your leadership.”

At first, I said, “I didn’t lead, I just worked with the rest.”

And then I understood, leadership is not a goal.

It’s a way of reaching a goal.

I lead best when I help others to use themselves creatively.

I lead best when I forget about myself as leader and focus on my group, their needs and their goals.

To lead is to serve, to give, to achieve

TOGETHER.

leader

That’s what I think too.  What do you think?

6 Comments

Filed under Leadership

Crossing the Finish Line

060812_al_ablow_640So far, there have not been many really hot days in my neck of the woods this summer, but one such day recently reminded me of another summer day quite a few years ago.

I was nearing the end of my degree program, sitting, and sweating, over a particularly tough assignment. It was one I needed to submit prior to my final residency and graduation. I was hot and tired. And, because the subject matter was not a favourite, I was struggling. I wanted to quit. In fact, I remember saying to my husband something like, “I’ve had enough. I just want to give up. What made me think I could do this in the first place?”

He said something like, “I know it’s hard right now. But you’re not going to quit. You’re going to sit there and finish what you started because it’s important to you.”

Well, of course it was…so I did. But at that moment in time, I wanted to pack it all in and I needed someone who cared about me to give me a little push.

I expect we all, at one time or another, have experienced this kind of dwindling interest as the finish line comes into view.

At first, when we embark on a new project or business venture, we are full of enthusiasm, raring to go and dreaming of how it’s going to look, or be, when we have accomplished it. As time progresses, we encounter problems (or challenges, however you wish to express it). Things we imagine don’t quite manifest themselves according to expectations. We experience mission“drifts” and relationship“rifts”, disappointments, victories and defeats along the way. By the time we get close to the journey’s end, we wonder if we are going to make it. Exhaustion sets in and sometimes we start thinking about the next project before this one is done because the next project looks like so much more fun.

It’s not a unique scenario is it? The question for the leader is; how do you, not only get over the finish line but make sure that everyone else does too?

Well, we all have ideas about that I’m sure. Here are a few of mine:

Keep your eyes on the prize ~ When the going gets tough, I think it helps to remember the fundamental purpose of the project; why it was important when you started it and why it continues to be important as you work toward accomplishing it. Consider the tangible rewards that will come from having completed it and also how you’re going to feel when all is said and done.

Celebrate small successes ~ Sometimes a large project can create overwhelm that feels somewhat akin to a snake swallowing a pig. If, however, you were to break it down and take time to celebrate milestones along the way, it might be entirely more digestible and provide sufficient energy to keep going.

Make Time for Rest ~ to function optimally, the human engine requires rest. It is easy to get caught up in the demands of a critical project and tempting to work right through until it is done. However, doing so and expecting others to do so, without respite, is a mistake. We are at our best when rested and focused. The time we think we save by not resting is usually lost when our physical and mental energies go on the wane.

Exercise the empathy muscle ~ This means checking in with people along the way; acknowledging their challenges and the feelings that go along with working toward a collective goal. In other words, recognizing and relating to the emotional ups and downs that occur over the life of a project can be very reassuring. In truth, empathy and encouragement fuel the journey and can make the difference between giving up and going on.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

 

Note: Originally published in the Summer of 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams, motivating & Inspiring

Philosophy and the Corporate Boardroom

philosophyI was having a conversation with my son the other day. We were talking about higher education and business. At some point, those two conversations, while starting out separately, merged. I think it was when he told me about a respected business colleague whose strongly held opinions included the notion that philosophy graduates have no place at a corporate boardroom table. I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since.

It reminded me that in spite of our ever precarious world economy, we continue to cling to what we consider to be tried and true. In so many organizations, finance, economics and the pursuit of individual prosperity continue to be the only subjects worthy of respect and concentration. It used to work. The business world was the land of bottom lines. The workforce did what it was told. The planet was comprised of a collection of unconnected entities. Their markets did not affect each other that much and so they operated in parallel without much worry about the impact they made on each other. They drove for profit and the road to get there was pretty straight.

We still want profit and prosperity…of course we do. But it is a changed world and the route to get there is less evident. That makes leadership more complex than before and the successful leader, a person who must practice both the science and the art of it. It is not that any one individual must have all of the attributes that today’s leadership demands. Rather, leaders must have foresight enough to ask those with skills and perspectives different from their own to sit at the decision table with them.

In my mind that includes extending an invitation to the philosopher.

There are many definitions of philosophy. The simplest one goes like this: Philosophy is the critical analysis of fundamental assumptions and beliefs”

As well, its purpose is to, “investigate the nature and causes of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning”. This latter definition highlights the difference between philosophic reasoning and empirical data that are gained through observation, experience or experiment. Simply put, the one is many shades of grey and the other, mainly black and white. While I think we have always needed both disciplines to achieve business success, in today’s world there seem to be more grey areas than black and white. And so, those who are skilled in navigating in the fog are needed more than ever before.

When some people think about philosophy, I suspect they conjure up the image of people who spend their days with their heads in the clouds contemplating existentialism or other unearthly ideas. So before this post goes off into the stratosphere somewhere, let’s look at how the philosopher might contribute to business success in more practical terms.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking asks us to question our assumptions. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but in general, human beings are really good at assuming. Someone who undertakes the role of philosopher around the decision making table would serve a more than useful purpose by questioning the things we take for granted and challenging our sacred cows. After all, in these rapidly changing times, nothing seems to be sacred any more. Those things we assume or hold so dear could be the very things that get in the way of achieving the prosperity we seek.

Tolerance for diverse opinion

Those with a philosophical leaning have a greater tolerance for diverse opinion because they are curious about ideas; where they come from and their potential for useful application. Developing this kind of tolerance is important. It helps to keep the mind open to possibilities outside the boundaries of current understanding. And, somewhere among all those thoughts and ideas is often something truly worthwhile. It’s like mining for gold. A lot of digging has to happen before the treasure can be found.

Systems thinking

Now more than ever we must seek to understand patterns and how ideas, choices and actions influence each other. Through technology, the World has become more accessible to more people. We see more. We experience more. And we know too, that whatever we choose to do in our individual worlds will affect something else, somewhere else. More often than not, the philosophical types will be the ones who see the connection first and ask the questions that need to be asked so that decisions made and actions taken align with current reality and future possibility.

Do I mean that we must abandon our focus on finance and economics and Individual prosperity? No, I’m not suggesting that. I am suggesting that we make room for greater focus on the way we achieve prosperity; on expanding our definition of what it means to be prosperous; by thinking systemically and critically; and by building our tolerance for diverse ideas and opinion.

Bertrand Russell once said, “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”

I think the philosophy graduate might be just the person to help us do that.

What do you think?

Note:  This post was originally published in May, 2012

2 Comments

Filed under diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

Leadership and Courage

courageCourage has many faces. It doesn’t always show up complete with epaulets and a shiny sword yelling “Charge!!” In fact, I would suggest it more often demands a much subtler approach. Either way, courage is not something we can buy or fake. It lives in the heart of our character. And, it is something we hope to have enough of when we need it most.

Brave leaders go first and inspire others to find their own courage. They defy convention. They admit their mistakes, apologize and make amends when they are wrong. Brave leaders explore unknown territory in service of something greater than themselves. They deliver bad news with clarity, determination and compassion. And, they stay the course when the going gets tough

Brave leaders, too, frequently look in their personal, and organizational mirrors to find something in themselves or in the systems they create that works against their potential for achieving their goals. This calls for a special kind of courage, one that can feel less noble than the others. But workplaces have little hope of thriving long if this work goes unattended or is swept under the rug in hopes that no one will notice.

Here’s a case in point. Some time ago, I met with a friend, a niche specialist in communication. She shared this story with me:

On being invited to meet with the CEO of a company to discuss business opportunities, she entered the premises and almost immediately detected a certain tension in the air. And, while people were impeccably polite to her, she noticed that throughout the office, no one was smiling.

The CEO, a clever and efficient woman, appeared to have all the hallmarks of a successful business leader. At some point in the conversation, she asked my friend if she did other communications work because she had noticed that the e-mails being passed among her staff and out to customers had a tone that seemed terse and unwelcoming. The CEO asked my friend if she could possibly fix that with some communications training.

Of course, my friend, a smart and intuitive woman herself, knew all too well where this conversation was headed. Could she ‘fix’ the tone of the emails being sent from this office? Yes, she could do that. The bigger question…why people were writing snarky emails went unanswered. It could be that this CEO had no idea why but, when pressed, she also was not willing to ‘go there’

This is not an unfamiliar story. In fact, I would hazard to say that more companies than we’d like to think spend inordinate amounts of time and money addressing unpleasant symptoms if only to be able to say they are doing something to improve their employee, and by association, customer experience.

We know of course that underneath it all lurk many cans of worms and a few Pandora’s Boxes that need opening before anything can be truly resolved. This is where that special kind of courage comes in. It is the kind that asks us to face our imperfect selves; to find our humility and to lay ourselves open to closer examination.

When I think about courage in leadership, this quote comes to mind,

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. “ ~ Ambrose Redmoon

Good leadership is about focusing on what’s really important among other things. Sometimes that means having the courage to relentlessly pursue truth, even at the cost of personal pride, in service of building something everyone can be proud of.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

 

Note: This post was originally published in August, 2012

4 Comments

Filed under communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

Collaboration and the Value of the Dissenting Voice

dissent_SSAlthough the word collaboration can conjure up images of people working happily together, I rather think we would get closer to reality if we included a few arguments, some eye-rolling and some exasperated over-emoted sighs to round out the picture. Mostly this kind of friction happens because, as individuals, we differ from each other in culture, experience and skill. The perspectives we hold come from those things. And, as human beings, we can cling to them stubbornly, shutting out the possibility that there may be another way.

But, if we want to truly extract the best ideas and create the best outcomes, we must be prepared to include the likelihood that our view is not always going to be the best. That means making room for the friction and the dissenting voices of those who look at things through a different lens and have the courage to share what they see.

Here’s a quick and entertaining example from the great comedy team of Abbott and Costello:

I don’t know about you, but at times, I have discounted the opinions of others because their logic sounded wrong or what they were saying had, in my view, no bearing on the matter at hand. In those situations, I wonder what might have happened had I spent just a few more minutes listening and trying to understand. Of course, there was always the possibility that what was being said was complete drivel. But, it was equally possible there was something there of great value that was lost because I failed to take the time to really listen.

In a World where time is at a premium, I don’t suppose the behaviour I describe is unique. So many of us spend our days striving to get to the end, or accomplish a goal and yet sacrifice the quality of what we produce by ignoring the voices that don’t seem to have a place on our personal radar screens.

I think there are lessons here regardless of whether we need to make room for the dissenting voice or we are the dissenting voice.

For instance, to make room for the dissenting voice I think it helps to:

Develop a discipline of drawing out those who may be reluctant to speak

Some people can feel overpowered by the common opinion. In fact, they may believe their own view to be less important because it is different. And so they stay quiet so as not to rock the boat. Drawing them into the conversation can make it more real and provide the opportunity for a wider variety of ideas to be shared.

Provide enough time for reflection, curiosity and discussion

Of course if you make room for the dissenting voice, you also must make time for people to ask questions, explore, challenge and think about what is being said. It may take longer but the conversation will be enriched because of it.

Give the ‘Dissenting Voice’ a place at the table

That means, when you come together to discuss some aspect of your work together, assign a virtual place for the ‘Dissenting Voice’. Over the course of your discussion, stop from time to time, and invite people to place themselves in a perspective, they may not currently hold. Sometimes this will give rise to a new idea that may not have otherwise surfaced. And, It will encourage those who really do think differently to become part of the conversation.

Conversely, if you differ in experience, perspective or opinion from the rest, I think it helps to:

Find the courage to stand up and speak

While it can be nerve-wracking to stand up and share an opposing view, it can also be very liberating. Little is accomplished by waiting until a meeting is over to voice an adverse opinion, to no one in particular. If you want to be counted in, stand up and be counted. It matters.

Ask questions that provoke thought

Sometimes a well-placed question can slow the momentum of a meeting long enough to allow thoughts to take a much needed detour. Questions that begin with “what would happen if….?” Or “How might ‘X’ apply to this situation?” can spark ideas not yet explored.

Explain the relevance of your view to the subject at hand

If your view represents a big departure from the prevailing thinking, you stand a better chance of having it heard if you explain how it connects with the subject under discussion and the value it brings to realizing a successful outcome.

Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “ It is the man who does not want to express an opinion whose opinion I want”

From that I surmise that Mr. Lincoln was keen to be informed on many levels, to solve the right problems and to make good decisions more often than bad ones.

When it comes to working collaboratively, I expect that’s what we all want.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

 

* Please note the Clip shown from Abbott and Costello is for learning purposes only and not meant as an infringement on copyright.

** This post was originally published in July, 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development

For The New Leader: Some Truths About Being a Boss

I wrote this post originally in July of 2012.  However, based on suggestions made by some of my very astute readers, I have added a few truths that weren’t included then.  While the additions made do not complete the list necessarily, they do round it out nicely.  So, with thanks to Jamie, Terry and Alex, I offer you a newer version of ‘that which went before’.

==================================

boss_cartoonYou just got promoted. Congratulations! Now you’re in charge. You’re the boss… Le Grand fromage. It feels good…and if you’re honest, a little scary. You’ve read a lot of books about leadership and you have some ideas about what it takes to be a good leader, but now you have to put them into action. That’s the hard part.

So, how can I help?

Well, I can toss out, for your consideration, some simple and practical thoughts about what being a leader is about. It’s not going to be an exhaustive list of course, but hopefully it will help get you started on the right foot. So here goes:

You’re not going to “get there” quickly ~ The process of becoming a great boss is a slow one. In fact, you never really ‘get there’ because with each experience there is something new to learn. Books on Leadership and other peoples’ advice help, but mostly it is how you interpret, and act on, what you read, see and hear that counts.

Knowing yourself is an important part of leading others ~ One of your jobs as leader will be to build relationships of all kinds and at many levels. It’s easier to do this if you know yourself well and what you have to offer. If you are like most people, you will find self-examination tedious, humbling and even exhausting, but once you have a strong grip on who you are, it makes it that much easier to let go of your concerns about yourself and concentrate on other people instead.

Loyalty to the work will more often trump loyalty to you ~ If you think simply being the boss earns you respect and loyalty, you would be wrong. In these times, when organizations are no longer loyal to their workforces, the expectation of loyalty to any one leader is unrealistic. Instead, you must find ways to help people find meaning and satisfaction in the work. Engaging people in accomplishing something bigger than all of you, leads to success in achieving your collective goals and sharing a well-earned sense of pride. Now that is something worth being loyal to.

Even the best laid plans can go awry ~ It would be nice if there was a straight line between the beginning and the end of any undertaking.  But this is seldom the case.  Often, when you set a goal, something will happen to change everything.  And when the terrain shifts like this, so must your response to the new information it reveals. When plans go awry, it helps to step back and reconnect with  your organizational purpose.  Why are you in business? What and/or who are you there to serve? What values do you live and work by? If you know the answers to those questions, they will guide you through uncertain times and increase the odds that your decisions will be good ones.

And, when it comes to decision-making, know what you may, and must not, delegate to others ~ There are a number of reasons why delegation is a good idea. For one thing it ensures a reasonable distribution of workload. For another, delegation provides a means through which people can learn and grow. There will be times though, when delegation is the least appropriate course of action and you alone will have to make some tough decisions for the sake of the greater good, even when it makes you unpopular. Here are some examples .

Behave in the way you would want those who follow you to behave.~ Yes, this is the “lead by example” principle.  It comes up a lot.  But it is surprising the number of leaders who show through their actions that this idea, while good, is really meant for other people. Here is a post you may find useful. It’s called Leading By Example and Some Mistaken Beliefs.

Simple messages have more impact than fancy oratory or business-speak ~ The purpose of communication is to achieve mutual understanding not to look good or perfect your oratory skills. People will appreciate and be more willing to act on simple, clear messages than on those shrouded in the mystery of complicated language.

Power and politics are always in play. Use them both wisely and with respect ~ Both power and politics are part of organizational life. As a boss, you will have certain decision-making authority over others. But don’t confuse this with permission to exercise your will over them. Power is at its best when shared. If it is used to manipulate others or to advance the interests of only a few, it becomes something less useful and more destructive. The bottom line here is: When it comes to power and politics, handle with care.

There are always more questions than there are answers ~ If you think that as boss, you will be required to know all the answers, think again. Those who think they know it all, don’t. Those who think they should know it all place too much pressure on themselves to solve everyone’s problems. However, if you strive to listen more often than talk and develop your ability to ask powerful questions, you might just be onto something.

Managing emotion is critical to earning credibility with others ~ You will have days when you feel snarky, miserable, angry, or otherwise out of sorts. Hey you’re human. It happens to even the saints among us. But your workplace is not the place to ‘vent’. If you do, chances are, you will have bridges to build, or repair. This takes up time that could be used more positively and productively. In short, if you want to earn the trust of your colleagues, find ways to manage your negative emotions. It pays off in the end.

When you are the boss, there is nowhere to hide ~ Not only are you going to make mistakes but other people will too. As the boss, their mistakes, at some point, will become yours. That doesn’t mean you absolve them of the consequences of having messed up. However, it does mean it will be up to you to ensure that those who make them will learn from them. There is no hiding or finger-pointing here. Should you be tempted to deflect ultimate blame away from yourself, you will be rewarded with resentment from the very people you wish to engage.

==============================================

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

P.S. If you interested in reading more ‘Truths’ about leadership, you might consider this:

The Truth about Leadership ~ by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

The Truth About Being a Leader ~ by Dr. Karen Otazo

2 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, Uncategorized