Category Archives: building awareness

The Importance of Being Care-full

I often like to make a distinction between caring and care-taking when it comes to leading others. This post, from 2011, gets more specific about what it means to care and why it’s important.

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hands-heartBenjamin Franklin once said, “Want of care does more damage than want of knowledge”

Never is that more true than in the workplace. Of course, there are those who continue to believe that caring for the people we lead is unimportant or a sign of weakness. After all, they would never accomplish anything if they had to spend all of their time worrying about everybody who works there. And others are often heard to say, and quite proudly too, that they take care of their people, which is a totally different thing.

The flaw in this kind of thinking is that caring for those under our charge isn’t about parenting. It is about inviting people to bring all of themselves to work every day and helping them give their best effort willingly to something that matters both to them and to the organization. I think it safe to say that engaging people in this way gets results. That makes it pretty important.

So, what does caring for people look like from a leader’s vantage point? Well, I have some thoughts about that. Here they are:

Judicious leaders care enough to…

Be interested in each person’s skills, talents and ambitions

This is a good place to start and is not dissimilar to taking inventory. You have to know what, and who, you’ve got before you can decide how you are going to help them use it and grow it for both individual and organizational benefit.

Be clear about their expectations:

No one can produce desired results if they are working with a murky set of expectations. So it is incumbent upon the leader who cares to be able to state what s/he expects, as simply and succinctly as possible and to ensure that the person to whom s/he is speaking understands those expectations in the way they were meant.

Tell hard truths

We are all familiar with times when it is easier to avoid the truth than to confront it. But, when someone is not performing well, it is essential for the leader to address it. This often requires some pretty uncomfortable discussions, and can result in equally painful decisions. Caring sometimes means helping others step up… or step off to something else.

Hold people accountable

So you’ve had the conversation. You and your colleague have come to an agreement about what s/he will accomplish and how you will support him/her. It sounds good and you both leave the room feeling good.

Caring leaders know that it doesn’t end there. Follow-up is necessary, first, because those under their charge may need some help. Second, they may need some encouragement. And finally, they may need some reminding about the commitments they’ve made. Holding people accountable for doing what they say they are going to do sends the message that their efforts matter to the success of the whole.

Risk their own vulnerability

Relationships, even those that are forged for professional reasons, are two-way propositions. Leaders who care and want to build strong connections with others are willing to share their own stories, something of themselves that makes them human. No one is a super-hero. If we try to be that, we don’t have time to concentrate on much else

Challenge people to stretch

Sometimes people are capable of going beyond what they have agreed to do, and yet, haven’t. Or, they are assigned something they believe to be too challenging for them, and don’t think they can do it. In either case, the leader who cares will provide a needed nudge, will challenge, cajole, encourage and inspire that extra effort that brings them over the top and helps them win.

Clear the way

Leaders who care will anticipate and provide needed resources. And, they will address obstacles that get in the way of success.

Let go

So by now you’ve made a heavy investment in someone’s development to the extent that s/he is now a top performer. It is natural to want to hang onto that person. After all, s/he is making a huge contribution to your results.

Letting go is hard but it’s also an important part of organizational, and personal, development. Those who go on to greater things will appreciate that you cared. Those who feel held back will quickly forget that you did. Besides in letting go, you get to….

Start Again

This may be good or bad news from a leadership perspective but the truth is that people come and people go. I like to believe that the person who has built a good reputation as a leader who cares attracts those who are willing to learn and to meet him or her halfway.

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

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Patience in Leadership ~ More Discipline Than Virtue

patience

Ben Franklin once said, “He that can have patience, can have what he will”

He was probably right. But, in a world where technology demands speed and the pressure to produce immediate results is all around us, disciplining ourselves to be patient is tough. Nonetheless, for leaders, it is a challenge worth pursuing. Here’s why:

Patience allows us to suspend judgment long enough to make considered decisions

Often, when the pressure is on, we can make snap decisions that we later come to regret. With a little patience, we can give ourselves the benefit of stopping to consider the impact of the decisions we make and whom we might be affecting by making them. And besides, ill-considered decisions usually result in having to take corrective action anyway.

Patience allows for the development of late bloomers

Not everyone learns at the same rate. Some, like the hare, are quick out of the gate and others, like the tortoise, are slower off the mark. Each needs leadership to get to the finish line. Patience requires us to steer the hare and reach back to encourage the tortoise.

If you are a leader with little patience for the development of those who take more time to learn and grow than you’d like, you could be missing something. After all, Winston Churchill was a late bloomer

Patience can help us to be better Listeners

Most of us recognize the value of listening, both to get to understanding and in building solid relationships. To accomplish either of those things there must be patience enough to suspend our own judgments and focus on what is being said rather than on what we are about to say.

Patience can help us manage stress

Getting to the place where we accept that sometimes we just have to wait can diffuse a lot of negative feeling. If we are frequently impatient with those around us, we are likely also frequently frustrated and possibly angry too. Managing our own expectations long enough to put matters into perspective can relieve a lot of tension and ultimately make work a more pleasant experience.

So, if you buy all that, the next question is, how do we develop patience?

Not being the most patient of people, I’m still working on that one. There are however, a few ideas that come to mind and here they are:

Learn to value the questions as much as the answers

There is a lot of benefit in curiosity and exploration. Patiently peeling away the layers of a problem through questioning and listening does, I think, result in a richer and more rewarding outcome.

Know the “impatient” triggers and practice managing them

To develop our level of patience, I think we need to focus on what makes us snap and the triggers that usually take us there. Once noticed, the rest is about practicing in an equally conscious way to improve our tolerance levels.

Keep the long-term goal in mind

It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of short-term results. After all, they can be very gratifying. The problem is, if we spend all of our time chasing quick results, we can easily get sidetracked and lose sight of our primary purpose. Some opportunities are worth waiting for. And, some goals just take longer to achieve. It seems to me that if they are important, they deserve whatever time it takes to accomplish them.

In the final analysis, it’s probably safe to say we all suffer from bouts of impatience, some of us more chronically than others. Impatience in leadership is particularly troublesome because it gets in the way of our ability to do the right things at the right times.

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

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Note: this post was originally published in 2010

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Climbing the Ladder of Inference

It happened again this week. I was going along merrily about my business when I read something very disturbing on someone’s Facebook page. It was one side of a multi-faceted, distasteful, eye-opening situation affecting a significant number of people personally and about which most of the rest of us had an opinion. I took an opinion too, way too early in the game. And, I found myself at the top of the Ladder of Inference feeling embarrassed by my rush to judgment and having to climb my way down again by taking back words I had written in haste and with insufficient thought.

I don’t suppose it will be the last time I’m going to rush up the ladder. However, it is a goal of mine to ensure fewer occurrences. The air is far too rarified up there for critical thought to successfully cancel out, or at least modify, the rush of emotion that fuels an ill-considered journey to the top.

It is with this in mind that I’m re-publishing this post about the Ladder of Inference, just in case, along with me, you also could use a refresher course.

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6c4ec-examineThe other day, while at the supermarket, I was reminded of how easy it is to make assumptions about people. It happened while I was going through the checkout counter. Behind me, were a mother and her little boy, who looked to be about three years old. Together, they had two carry baskets brimming with grocery items.

Realizing she had forgotten something, Mom left the queue to go and get it, suggesting to her son that he begin to put the items they had already collected on the counter. He was very small. In fact so small his ability to comply with this suggestion was in some doubt, at least in my mind. But, soon he was grabbing each item and chucking it as high as he could over his head so that it landed, rather unceremoniously, on the counter above him. He was doing fine until he came to a can of soup. After heaving this in the direction of the other items, it landed on its side. Being fearful that it might roll off the counter and hit him on the head, I took the can up and set it aright, thinking I was doing him a service.

The little boy gave me a filthy look. He looked at the can. Then he looked at me and scowled. And, when his mother returned from her quest, he said, “Something’s not right

Mom, not really understanding what her son was on about, asked him what was not right, at which point, I said,

I think he’s referring to me. I righted the can of soup so it wouldn’t roll off the counter. I was trying to help

To this, the little boy raised himself up to his full height of maybe three feet and loudly proclaimed, “I didn’t want any help!

While a little stunned by the vehemence of his words, I quickly apologized to him, received some words of thanks from Mom and then decided it might be best if I minded my own business.

Thinking about this story, The Ladder of Inference comes to mind. It was developed by Chris Argyris and made known in Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline. It works something like this:

ladder-of-inference
http://www.strategyworks.co.za/2004/11/05/the-ladder-of-inference/
At the bottom of the ladder is information that is clear and observable. In this case, I saw a little boy helping his mother with the grocery shopping. I saw too, that there were a lot of groceries and that the little boy was really small.

I climbed to the second rung from the bottom where I narrowed my focus and selected only the data that interested me. In this case, I concentrated on two things, the little boy and his attempts to hurl grocery items onto the counter above him.

I climbed to the third rung of the ladder and began to make assumptions. First, I assumed that because he was small, he was not really capable of fulfilling his assigned task. And then, I assumed he needed help.

I climbed to the fourth rung of the ladder and concluded, based on these assumptions, that he would be glad of my help. From there, I proceeded to the fifth rung where I connected this conclusion to my belief that helping each other is an important and natural part of the human experience.

When I got all the way to the top of the ladder and acted in accordance with my assumptions and beliefs, I was met with hostility rather than the appreciation, or at least the neutrality, I was expecting.

The point is that it is easy for us to run up the ladder and get things wrong even when we have the best of intentions. Had I simply asked the little boy if he would like help in unloading his groceries (or in his case UPloading his groceries), I would have had the answer I needed, respected his wishes and stayed out of trouble. But I didn’t. So I didn’t.

All of which brings me to this…Good leadership can falter quite easily too, if we fail to check out and validate assumptions before we act. For instance, before every meeting you hold do you assume that everyone knows why you are meeting? Do you assume that everyone will have everything they need to fully participate in the meeting?

What other assumptions might you be making when you interact with those who follow your lead? How accurate are they? What steps might you take to prevent a trip up the Ladder of Inference? What questions might you ask?

Have you other thoughts you can share?

In the meantime and on the lighter side, this is what Oscar Wilde thought about assumptions, courtesy of Benny Hill.

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The Practical Gift of Humility

freemanX-GiftsSome time ago, there was an online discussion that came about from a blog post published by Mary Jo Asmus.  In it, Mary Jo  outlined a number of important gifts people can give to those they lead; the more intangible ones that make a big difference when building a happy and engaged workforce.

At the end of the post, Mary Jo asked us to think about what other qualities leaders might bring and apply at work.

I offered the gift of humility.

Mary Jo said it was a great gift but asked, “How would you give humility to others?”

Well, that started me thinking.  How indeed?  After all, humility is one of those things that is constantly in competition with the ego.  And, it’s not a quality that comes naturally or easily to human beings either.  In fact, we can’t actually give humility to another person.  Even the idea sounds a bit, well, arrogant doesn’t it?

I suppose I could go off on some esoteric journey about the righteousness of humility (a journey on which I would no doubt find myself alone), but right now, I’m more interested in looking at some of its more practical aspects. Here are some that come to mind.

Leaders give the gift of humility every time they:

  • Praise others and give credit for work well done, without expectation of sharing in the tangible recognition that may come from it.
  • Give the challenge of new and exciting assignments to those who they feel will get the best result and grow from the experience, even if doing the work themselves would have earned them major bragging rights.
  • Step behind the rest of their team when accolades are being given for great results.
  • Look in the mirror first, when things go wrong.
  • Make the work and the collective effort of the team more important than their own status or image.
  • Express more pride in their teams, the work and their values than in themselves.

Okay, all this sounds tough.  And it is.  It may appear Paradoxical, but I think that to be able to carry it off, we need a healthy sense of self-esteem, because then we can more easily find contentment and pride in allowing others to shine brighter, or more often, than we do.   It is that, which makes it a gift.

Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility?  Of course not.  Does it mean we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not.  In truth, leading with humility is available to us all.  It simply (not to be confused with easily) takes practice and sincerity.

I’m still working on it. You?

 

Note: this is a revised version of the original post published in 2010

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Leadership and the Importance of Observation

observe-look-magnifying-glassIn Western Society, we’re big on jumping into action. Sometimes it leads to big things too. At other times though, chaos is our only reward for leaping into busy work before spending any time at all finding out what’s actually going on.

Here’s an example:

Many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto. At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one pole to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle. Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles put in our way and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation. It is part of a mental process that Edgar Schein refers to as O.R.J.I. in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of my deplorable “team” experience, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge before us or trying to understand it. We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other. We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead. The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: “oRJI”

Not surprisingly though, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable and inconvenient times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how to delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information you are working from is accurate.

Gather facts about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending, at least initially, feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid data.

Take time to determine the resources and skills available to you

In the case of our team exercise, we spent no time at all determining who knew what or who could do what. As a result, a number of individual egos launched themselves into the project without knowing anything about the skills they had at their disposal or how they could best be used.

Determine what you might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating assumptions is never a waste. Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for many questions and a variety of voices.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, sometimes it is the dissenting voice that holds the clue to a solution.

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The bottom line here is, great teamwork relies on giving time to observation and critical thinking. Launching into action without thought might look good initially but will most certainly require more backtracking and remedial work than you likely have time for. And sometimes, it makes the difference between success and failure.

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

Note: Originally published in August, 2012

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Sincerity…A Leadership Imperative

crossed-fingersSincerity. It is perhaps not a word that springs to mind first when we think about highly successful and powerful business leaders but in today’s uncertain world there are things we need to be able to count on. Sincerity in our leaders is one of those things.

The word sincerity likely has a number of definitions. To me, it is simply about representing ourselves genuinely, without guile or hypocrisy. And, like most worthwhile qualities, talking about being sincere is easier than actually living it.

There are a lot of temptations out there…temptations to pretend we are more knowledgeable, more experienced, more skilled, more empathetic, more important, even wealthier than we really are.  I know.  We have our reasons for doing it but the truth is, most of them are self serving.   And we all know by now that good leadership is rarely about us.

So, not only must leaders be personally vigilant about their own sincerity, they must also be on the look out for it when they are choosing people for leadership roles or helping them develop leadership skills.

In truth, it’s not that easy to spot. It requires us to look beyond the words for consistency and alignment of words and actions.

I’m reminded of a time when I attended a function where sincerity, my own included, was notably absent.

It was Christmastime and our organization participated in a number of activities to support charitable causes. Often, we would “buy” a table at a luncheon benefit with net proceeds going to the charity in question.

On this one particular winter’s day, eight of us were walking from the office building to such a luncheon being hosted at an upscale hotel a few blocks away.

We walked in a bunch; all well wrapped and well shod, happily chatting together about nothing terribly important. There were other bunches of business people as well, walking in the same direction and equally well dressed.

About one block from our destination, we passed a man sitting on the sidewalk. His hair was long, as was his beard and he held in his hand a Styrofoam cup and sign that said something like, “Hungry, Please Help”.

I suppose none of us will really know whether or not this man was representing himself sincerely but he was obviously not doing very well.

My group and I, (engrossed in our conversation and barely noticing the man), walked past him.

The people walking behind us did the same, with one exception. One man stopped long enough to look at the man and say, “Get a job”.

On hearing this, I remember feeling ashamed of myself for not acknowledging the man and giving him something to ease the pain of his day. I remember too, feeling appalled and outraged by the other man’s “get a job” comment. It was an ignorant, throwaway remark that lacked any kind of compassion or decency.

But we all moved on, in a hurry, not to be late for our important luncheon.

We reached our table and seated ourselves. A few minutes later Mr. Get-a-Job and his colleagues also entered the room. The irony of this story became clear then. We were all there in support of the Salvation Army to help raise funds for the vital work they do to ease the lives of people just like the man we had seen sitting on the sidewalk… and so conveniently ignored.

On that day, it was clear too, that although we were physically present at the luncheon, we had left our sincerity behind, choosing instead to focus on being seen to do the right thing rather than actually doing it.

In today’s environment there is little time for this kind of posturing. We are being asked to step up and out of our pretenses. I’m working on it because in my book, sincerity in leadership, (whether we lead only ourselves or multitudes of others), is a pretty big deal.

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

Note: Original post published in July 2011

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Perceptions of Leadership ~ Changing the Record

0716_Slide2_blog_inlineRecently, I  read an interesting article that started me thinking about the messages we send out to our children concerning what it is to be a manager. I was thinking too, or perhaps worrying, that in spite of herculean efforts on the part of many ‘experts’ to change the perception of what it takes to be a good manager, we seem to be failing to convey a more enlightened message than the one that prevailed at the beginning of the Industrial Age.

The Article, written by Hal Gregersen for Businessweek.com is entitled, “What Do Managers Do at Work?

Gregerson and his colleague, Warner Woodworth, collected data from one thousand children between the ages of five and eighteen years old. When asked, “What do Managers do at work?” the responses looked like this:

55%: Managers control people’s actions at work, making sure they do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it.

39%: Managers fix problems at work, any problem (and more often than not, they fix every problem).

6%: Managers develop people’s capabilities by coaching them to become better at what they do.

Less than 1%: Managers understand and serve customer needs.

Less than 1%: Managers make a profit for their companies.”

While I don’t think the sample size here can wholly represent the perceptions of all children in the five to eighteen age range, it appears that among these 1,000 children, the perception of management remains largely entrenched in a command and control model. And that is worrying enough to talk about.

For me, it begs the question: What must we do to change the record… to make sure upcoming generations of organizational leaders have the opportunity to think differently about the work of leadership and management long before they even get their first job?

It’s a big question. I don’t have the answer…just a thought for now, which is this:

Changing the way we talk about our own work experience might provide an opportunity for the next generation to think about work differently, not necessarily how it is, but how it could be or how we want it to be. ~ If we think young people are not listening when we talk about our jobs, our bosses, or our employees, we would be wrong. That means our experiences around leadership, control, problem solving, idea-generation, diversity etc. are, almost always passed along and absorbed.

So, here are a few questions to ask ourselves that might help us to think differently; to change the conversation; and perhaps too, the perception of what a good manager does at work:

What kind of boss would I like my daughter or son to be?
In what way can I champion a positive and collaborative leadership model?
Why is it important?
What opportunities might I provide now that will help my children develop 21st Century leadership skill?
What kind of role model am I?
Alan Keightley said, “Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t’ have to experience the world in the way they have been told to”

With that in mind, I assert that our children do not have to experience organizational life in the same way so many of us do, or have done. But, for a new vision of leadership to fully emerge, we have to start by breaking old patterns…and changing the record. Fortunately, there is some evidence of this happening.  Take a moment to listen to these children on the topic of leadership:

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

*Note: This post is a refreshed version of one written in October 2012

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